This article by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press on September 7, 2006.
The Zombies were not a bunch of brainy British nerds.
More than 40 years after a Decca Records press release and some bad publicity photos created that impression, Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone is still trying to debunk the myth.
“At a time when you had bands being really wild and reckless and all that kind of thing, we had a really tame image and atrocious photographs,” says Blunstone, whose band first hit the charts in England and America with “She’s Not There” in 1964.
If the Zombies had an image problem back then, that’s no longer the case. Revered by aficionados as one of the most creative bands of the 1960s, the Zombies have reunited — sort of. If you read the fine print, it’s actually “Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent of the Zombies,” but that’s almost close enough.
They’ll play at Durty Nellies in Palatine next week, as part of a tour organized by Steven Van Zandt, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage presents The Rolling Rock and Roll Show.” The Zombies have top billing, but the show also features a younger generation of rockers: the Mooney Suzuki, the Woggles, Gore Gore Girls and local band Catfish Haven.
The problem that the Zombies faced in their early days was that everyone around them was thinking short-term, Blunstone says. Their manager thought they’d be popular for six months. Their producer effectively captured the sound of schoolboys learning to play their instruments but didn’t understand that the musicians were becoming more sophisticated.
And the press office at Decca just wanted an “angle” to promote the young band.
“All they could think of was we’d just left school and we hadn’t done badly – this sounds so… I’m embarrassed to say this — but they thought we hadn’t done badly in our exams,” Blunstone says. “So we were pushed forward as a rather scholarly, intellectual band, which is far from the truth. Many other bands have more claim to that than us.”
After being kept out of the studio during the mixing of their early singles, the Zombies finally got the chance to produce a record the way they’d wanted. The result was a masterpiece of lush pop, “Odessey and Oracle.” But within weeks of finishing that album in 1967, the Zombies broke up, discouraged at their lack of commercial success.
Then something totally unexpected happened — one of the songs from the album, “Time of the Season,” became a huge hit two years after the Zombies had disbanded.
“In some ways, it was gratifying that people recognized what we were doing, but it was a bit frustrating, really,” Blunstone says.
Keyboardist Rod Argent went on to some success with the band Argent, including the hit song, “Hold Your Head Up.” Blunstone’s solo records sold well in Britain, but never dented the U.S. charts.
Blunstone began performing solo concerts in 1997, more than 20 years after his previous tour. A couple of years later, when he was playing at a party celebrating the release of a Zombies box set, some of his old bandmates came up for an impromptu Zombies reunion.
“I found it quite alarming, really, to see them walk onstage,” Blunstone says. “I said, ‘Well, what’s going to happen here?’ And I must admit, it surprised me, because there’d be no rehearsals, and the last time we’d played together was 1967. And it sounded really good. It just felt very, very natural.”