A British rock act that formed in the early ’60s, the Zombies had been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
a couple of times prior to this year, when they were finally enshrined.
Singer-guitarist Colin Blunstone admits he had started to doubt the band would ever make it in.
“We had been nominated four times in the last five years,” he says during a transatlantic phone call. “Of course, there was much screaming and shouting for joy in the Blunstone household when it was announced that we had made it. I was happy to just be nominated, but when you’re nominated four times, you start to think you might never get inducted. For me, the really exciting thing is that the induction takes place with your peers. We were also very well-backed by our fans as well and voted in by our fellow professionals. It’s an incredible feeling that your musical adventures have been noticed and appreciated. It’s such a wonderful thing. The induction ceremony is something I will never forget.”
The group comes to the Rock Hall on Saturday, Aug. 17, for a performance and interview. Tickets for the outdoor concert cost $26, and the price of the ticket includes museum admission. Members and donors can attend the performance for free but must make a reservation. The event will take place rain or shine. Rock Hall members and Donor Circle supporters also have exclusive access to purchase a VIP package that includes access to a Hall of Fame Series interview with the Zombies in the Foster Theater at noon, the Hall of Fame Gallery signature dedication and a "premium" concert experience.
The band's induction caps off a tremendous career that, to hear Blunstone tell it, started on a whim. He first met founding members Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy because of a chance encounter with a schoolmate.
“We all went to school in St. Albans, which is about 25 miles north of London,” he says. “We went to one of two different schools. They went to a different school. We had to sit in alphabetical order at my school. They were quite strict. The guy I sat next to was named Paul Arnold. He lived near Rod Argent, and they were putting a band together. He turned to me one day and said, ‘You’ve got a guitar, haven’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ That was like my audition for the band.”
Blunstone arrived early for the initial meeting with the guys, so he was there with "these three strangers" before Arnold showed up and the rehearsal began.
Argent was going to be the lead singer, and Blunstone was going to be the rhythm guitarist. The first thing they played was an instrumental. They then took a break. Argent went over to an upright piano in the corner of the rehearsal space and played and sang while they were on their break. Bluestone was so impressed, he suggested he become the band’s keyboardist.
“[Argent] didn’t want to play keyboards because he wanted it to be a rock band,” says Blunstone. “He said, ‘We want three guitars.’ He left it at that. At the end of that first rehearsal, I sang a bit of a Ricky Nelson song. I never can remember what it was. Rod said, ‘If you will be the lead singer, I’ll be the keyboardist.’ That was the Zombies from then on.”
Arnold wanted to be a doctor and was very involved with his studies, so he couldn’t commit to rehearsals. He left, and bassist Chris White joined the band very early on. The group played what Blunstone refers to as “teenage social clubs” before getting a gig as the house band for the local rugby club.
“That was the first time we played in front of an adult audience,” Blunstone says. “And this was an audience that was known for drinking lots of beer. It was a rowdy crowd, but we came through it. It was really good. That’s when we built up a local following. We went back to play again, and they had to add space on the back of the club because they couldn’t get everyone in. Then, we won a huge rock ’n’ roll competition in 1964 that led to a recording contract with Decca, and we were off and running.”
As the band prepped for recording session, the producer mentioned that the guys could cut some of their own tunes if they so desired.
“He just mentioned it in passing,” says Blunstone. “I didn’t really notice, but Argent did. He wrote ‘She’s Not There,’ and I heard it two days later. I don’t know how long it took him to write it. It couldn’t have taken very long. I knew it was a special song the minute he played it. That was one of the tracks we recorded at our first session.”
Though "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season" would become hits in the States, the group struggled to produce another hit in the UK.
“Decca used to demand a single every six weeks, and at the same time, we were touring,” says Blunstone. “We had to go out and play. People weren’t interested in albums in those days. It was all singles. All the time, there was this pressure to write new material while we were touring. It was new to us. We were 18 and 19 years old. It was very hard to keep on top of everything while were traveling all over the world. With the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to say to those people at Decca, 'What do you expect?' It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that bands are going to fail if you demand a new single from them every six weeks. They won’t have hits. It’s really obvious. That’s what happened to us.”
While struggling to deliver the coveted hit singles, the band had started to write the material for 1968’s Odeyssey and Oracle
, an extremely influential psychedelic pop album it recorded at Abbey Road Studios on a very limited budget.
That album would leave a lasting legacy even though the band would break-up after its release.
“We were in Abbey Road, which was probably the most expensive studio in the country,” says Blunstone. “We had to record very fast to afford Abbey Road. We rehearsed extensively. We knew the material really well. We knew the arraignments and keys and were just looking for a performance. Half the band felt it would be our farewell statement. Half felt they’ve been moving on. I’ve only realized that in the past few years doing interviews. I didn’t think that. I just thought it was an album, and we’d go on. At the end of it, there were quite a few dramas. We had a manager who left a lot to be desired. He was merciless in his financial arrangements with the band.”
The group reconvened in 2004 and has regularly toured since that time.
Blunstone says fans can expect to hear “all the hits” when the group plays at the Rock Hall. White and Grundy will even join the group for the interview session and to play one song together.
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