By Ken Sharp
The Zombies came A long way in a short period of time, from the baroque pop of their first U.S. hits, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” to the marvel that is 1968’s “Odessey and Oracle” album. Forty-seven years since its initial release, The Zombies’ swan song is rightfully championed alongside equally seminal masterworks as The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” The Beatles’ “Revolver,” “Let It Bleed” by The Rolling Stones, The Who’s “Sell Out” and “Forever Changes” by Love as among the ‘60s most innovative and groundbreaking recordings. “Odessey and Oracle” is an exquisite song cycle of extraordinary beauty, bolstered by the brilliant songwriting of Messrs. Rod Argent and Chris White, gorgeous vocal stylings of Colin Blunstone and wondrous technicolor production. In 2015, it comes as little surprise that the album has garnered such accolades through the decades. And now, to the unfettered joy of their loyal fan base Stateside, The Zombies’ original lineup — vocalist Colin Blunstone, keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy — sans guitarist Paul Atkinson who tragically passed away in 2006, have reunited to embark on an extensive U.S. tour that finds them performing the classic album in its entirety. Goldmine spoke to founding members Rod Argent, Chris White and Colin Blunstone for a look back at the making of a masterpiece.
GOLDMINE: Rod, explain how your love of jazz, classical and soul music shaped your songwriting for The Zombies.
Rod Argent: I’ve loved music since the age of 4 or 5 years old. I always had the ability to pick out a tune on the family piano. I sort of saw the steps in the scale and I still visualize them like that today — I can just sort of see them. So I could more or less play anything that I heard in my head to a certain degree, as long as it wasn’t too complex. But my mother was very keen to get me involved with music early on. She got me into a great cathedral choir when I was a boy and that was a wonderful exposure to some wonderful music, including Bach. It really opened my eyes to Bach; we had a great Bach organist at the cathedral. So that really opened the vista of great classical music to me. My dad was in a dance band in a semi-pro way from the age of 17 to the age of 83. I guess I heard some of that going on and became very interested in jazz very early on. Rock ‘n’ roll came and rocked my life when I heard Elvis sing “Hound Dog,” but I didn’t stop listening to the jazz that I had heard up to that time and classical music. I saw no reason to stop listening to those things. And then very soon after I discovered Elvis and then The Beatles, in between that I found Miles Davis in a great period — just before “Kind of Blue” with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley — and it absolutely knocked me over. It didn’t diminish my love of rock ‘n’ roll at all. I didn’t see any difference between listening to Bach or Stravinsky or Elvis singing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” or “Mystery Train” or hearing Bill Evans play a wonderful solo on a Miles Davis record. It felt like water from the same well to me.
I guess because of my exposure to all of that different kind of music, maybe some of that very indirectly found its way into our music. I didn’t try and put it in there. When we recorded our first record I thought we were being The Beatles. But, in fact, it very much had its own sound and influences, but they were all sort of part of the soup. Going back to jazz, there was a lot more influences of jazz back then. Manfred Mann is an obvious example. I remember talking to John Steel, the drummer in The Animals. He said that when he played the drum part on “House of the Rising Sun” he imagined he was playing “Walk on the Wild Side” by the jazz keyboardist Jimmy Smith. A lot of the bands in those days were listening to a bit of jazz. Keith Moon’s drumming is wonderful rock ‘n’ roll drumming, but there’s a lot of jazz in there as well in his conception. And certainly with Pete Townshend as well — he was into all of that. Same goes for Manfred Mann. There was a combination of people listening to jazz widely, musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles and also people listening to a lot of American blues and at the same time Motown and black soul music. All of that was a very strong influence on us and so many other groups. I know that we weren’t so overtly a blues band like The Rolling Stones, who went out and played Muddy Waters covers, but we listened to all that stuff.
GM: Colin Blunstone is one of rock’s most exceptional and underrated singers. What made him the right singer for The Zombies?
Argent: Colin really blew me away when I first heard him. I met Colin on our first rehearsal. We just put a few people together who were interested in forming a band. I knew the guitarist and the drummer from school vaguely. I was a very good friend with the bass player who left the band after the first year and that’s when Chris (White) replaced him. But I’d never met Colin at all. He was a friend of the original bass player. When we met at that first rehearsal I was the singer and Colin was the rhythm guitarist, so we sort of bumbled through our first rehearsal. Then during a break I wandered over to the piano and played “Nut Rocker” by B. Bumble and the Stingers, and Colin came racing over to me and said, “You have to play piano in this band.” And I thought that piano had no part in a rock ‘n’ roll band at that time. (laughs) I was a bit bemused by this and went back to singing. Very soon afterwards we had another coffee break and Colin picked up his guitar and started singing a Ricky Nelson song. Now neither of us can remember what song it was, but I often say to Colin that I can still hear a bit of Ricky Nelson in his voice. I was completely blown away by Colin’s singing and thought he sounded fantastic. His range and pitch was great, quite naturally at that age. And I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what — I still want to sing but you’re gonna be the lead singer.” (laughs) A lot of people don’t realize how powerful his voice is, but at the same time he had a wonderful huskiness to his voice as well. His voice has changed now. It’s inevitable when you get older some of the characteristics change in your voice, but in some ways I think he’s singing better now than he did at 18 years old. Colin’s voice had a very magical quality then, and I think it still has but in a slightly different way now. His voice is very plaintive and very special and he doesn’t sound like anybody else.
GM: What was the most complex Zombies song to record?
CHRIS WHITE: I think it was “Care of Cell 44.” We had to get it completely right to put all the harmonies in. It had more harmony sections than any other song we’d done, even more than “Time of the Season.” The backing harmonies on “Hung Up On a Dream,” which sound like little children, was also hard to pull off, (laughs) all the falsetto things. Everything was rehearsed to perfection before we went into the studio. It would be three hours in Abbey Road and we would record three songs. That’s the way it was. I think the final cost of doing “Odessey and Oracle” before mixing was a thousand pounds.
GM: Let’s jump into the “Odessey and Oracle” album. The album stands collectively as the band’s best work. Can you explain how the band made a jump from beat group–sounding material one year to the amazing creative and musical leap found on that album?
Argent: I think it was a matter of having some control. I believe we owe an awful lot to our producer Ken Jones because the sound he got, particularly on the first sessions we did, was absolutely brilliant and was a real contribution to the records. But I do feel, having said that, having an absolutely brilliant first session where we did “She’s Not There,” “You Make Me Feel Good,” “It’s Alright with Me” and “Summertime” — when Ken came to the second session, instead of saying like he did on the first session, “How can we get the most out of these songs?” I think he said, “What made that first record successful? It was Colin’s breathy vocal.” I bow to no one in my admiration for Colin; I think his voice is absolutely brilliant. But at the same time I don’t think that the reason “She’s Not There” was a success was only because of Colin’s breathiness in his voice. It was because he had a great voice, it was recorded naturally and we got as much excitement out of the whole thing as we could. I think Ken actually took the balls out of some of our later records. It used to frustrate the hell out of Chris and myself very much. We thought we were coming up with great songs and they weren’t being fully realized because of this idea to concentrate on the breathiness of Colin, etc. When we decided to break up, Chris and I really wanted to produce a Zombies album ourselves rather than have Ken produce it. That was the genesis of “Odessey and Oracle,” really. Also that meant we moved from the Decca Studios to Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles had just used the process of linking up two 4-tracks together on “Sgt. Pepper’s.” This really excited us. We felt free of the constraints of having to work somebody else’s way. The ideas were just tumbling over themselves.
GM: There are many beautiful complex choral harmonies on the album that mirror much of what Brian Wilson was doing with The Beach Boys.
Argent: When we did “Changes” we just piled harmonies on in the studio. It was very quick. We left a lot of space for the vocals on that, the whole idea of vocal parts weaving in and out. Some of the things we did sounded of their time because we nodded in the direction of psychedelia or whatever, but there were other things where I felt we were the only people doing it. Some of the choral things I think naturally came out of the fact that I spent a few years when I was younger in a very good choir doing a lot of modern classical music. Listening back to it, it sounds like some of those influences coming through, although I would never have thought that at the time when we were actually doing it. It’s very English, I think, much more English than some of the early singles. It was because we were given a blank canvas and without any preconceptions we said, “Wouldn’t this be a great idea? Let’s do it!” Bang! All of the tracks on that album were recorded quickly.
GM: From a songwriting standpoint, you had two strong writers in the band, yourself and Chris White. What sensibilities did Chris offer with his songs and how did his style complement yours?
Argent: First of all, I’d say that Chris in his heart is a more romantic writer than me. Think of songs like “This Will Be Our Year” — or I know it’s reflective, but a song like “Beechwood Park” — the romance that’s in the actual writing of the song. I tended to be more looking back to a combination of rhythm and blues feelings and influences, but usually with a few weird and classically derived chord changes and quite often some jazz-derived chord changes. So it was a bit of a weird mixture, but it’s how I naturally heard things, whereas Chris tended to be more romantic in his approach to songs, particularly as his writing flowered. I mean no disrespect to Chris, but I preferred his writing later on. I thought right around “Odessey and Oracle” he was writing absolutely wonderful material.
GM: How about sharing thumbnail sketches of a few of the songs on the album, starting with “Care of Cell 44”?
Argent: Most of the songs that I write aren’t story songs. That’s very unusual for me to have sort of a little story in a song. That’s what it was, really. It really turned the whole love thing on its head by writing to someone in prison and being really excited that they’re coming home soon. It felt like a catchy idea to me. I think the song really stands up; the sound on that is terrific as well. I wrote all those songs on the piano.
GM: Chris, “This Will Be Our Year” is one of your most moving songs.
WHITE: I wrote that on keyboards. I’d always dabbled on the keyboards — I’d taken piano lessons, but it’s easier to carry a bass around. The song just came out of the chord sequence. It’s just a nice, positive song. Sometimes you get fed up about moaning about things (laughs). It doesn’t really apply to anything; it just came out of a fun mood.
GM: The sparse instrumentation of “A Rose for Emily” adds to its beauty.
Argent: I remember going to bed one night and thinking, “I’ve really been slacking; I haven’t been doing much work. I’m gonna get up at 8 o’clock in the morning and I’m gonna write a song.” (laughs) And I actually put in my diary, “Eight o’clock, write song.” And I went to the piano that morning and it just came out of nowhere. I’d been reading a William Faulkner short story called “A Rose for Emily.” The title had stuck in my head and I began to play with images in my mind. It was written very quickly.
GM: Chris, you sing lead vocals on your song “Butcher’s Tale.”
WHITE: I was reticent to sing it but I was forced into it. I was horrified and fascinated by the First World War and that song came out of that. Then I’d bought an old American pedal organ in a junk store, so I had that in my flat at the time. So it was written on that. We even carted it into the studio on the top of a van into Abbey Road. I was interested in musique concrète as well. Rod said, “Your quavery voice suits it totally.” (laughs) The weird thing was when Al Kooper forced CBS to put the album out in America they put it out as the first single. I was flattered but I just couldn’t see it as a hit. (laughs) But I think it was the anti-war thing at the time, and they actually printed it with all the lyrics on the back. “New York Mining Disaster” by the Bee Gees inspired it. That was a really good song. I thought you can deal with subjects apart from love and lost love and romance. I thought I’d use something that I know and it just flowed out.
GM: There’s a distinct melancholy nature to “Odessey and Oracle.” Did that feeling pervade the material because you knew the band was breaking up?
Argent: That feeling was certainly very far from our minds when we were doing the album, but things do have a habit of coming through. It may be that some of that feeling found its way through. We were 100 percent into it; we thought we were doing something very good. The sessions weren’t tense until the end. The last third of the sessions got tense because Colin, in his head, had left. And the very track we recorded was “Time of the Season.” I was always very dogmatic about the way I wanted my songs sung. We used to sit down at the piano and I’d say to Colin, “Could you make that note a little bit early?” Very technical, really. He was usually very cool about that. By this time, as he’d left the band in his head, he’s had enough of it. (laughs) With “Time of the Season,” he said, “Look, if you’re so bloody good, you sing it.” I said, “Oh, come on, Colin, you’ve got a great voice — you sing it.” And he did, he sang it beautifully.
GM: And “Time of the Season” is perhaps the most beloved Zombies song.
Argent: It was the last song to be recorded for the album. It was written very quickly — in fact, it was written very close to the last recording session The Zombies ever did. I remember playing it to Chris in the room of the flat which we were both sharing at the time. I remember thinking in my own mind that it was a hit record. I do think the song stands up. It has some of what our other best singles had in that it doesn’t sound like anyone else. It’s a weird amalgam of very English, almost choral, singing in the chorus. The way we actually took the rhythm section out of the chorus is really unusual on the part ... (sings “time of the season for loving” part of chorus). We actually took the drums out for that part when it got to the hook line. (laughs) That was probably one of the only times that was ever done. Usually you punch it up for the chorus.
GM: The Zombies only released two studio albums in the ’60s; the jump from “Begin Here” to “Odessey and Oracle” is miraculous. Looking back, are you amazed by the band’s swift progression as songwriters and record makers?
Argent: No, I’m not that surprised. But Chris (White) kept phoning me up and telling me that “Odessey and Oracle” was becoming a cult record, and I didn’t believe him. (laughs) So I never used to take any notice. I hadn’t listened to that record for years. Then I went back and listened to it and it was better than I remembered. (laughs) Also, it reminded me that it sounded so English — much more English in a sort of a pastoral sense that I’d ever remembered. But in a way it also just sounded like us. I couldn’t be objective about it; it just sounded like us playing and singing. We made “Begin Here” in ’64. In those days albums were pretty much tacked onto a single. It was The Beatles who made albums important in their own right. They were not important before that; they were looked at as just a way to make a bit of extra money, because singles were where the real commercial push was. So we had “She’s Not There” and that was successful, and our producer said, “OK, we’ve got to make an album.” He put two days aside to record and mix the album. Chris and I between us had only written about half the tracks necessary to make an album, and the rest had to be covers. We were given usually just one take to record these songs. And I remember doing “I’ve Got My Mojo Workin’,” which I always used to perform on stage, and it always went down a storm. But for some odd reason I decided I wanted to try a different vocal approach on this track. So I went in with my harmonica — I used to play harmonica at that time — and sang it and I came out and I heard it and went, “Oh God, I hate it! I’m just gonna go back and sing it how I normally sing it.” And Ken Jones said, “No, that’s it — next record, next track.” We had one take and he wouldn’t let me go back and replace that vocal. We had much more time to work on “Odessey and Oracle.” I think our producer, Ken Jones, did a wonderful job on the first session we had, which was “She’s Not There;” the B-side “You Make Me Feel Good;” “It’s Alright With Me,” which was the first song I’d ever written; and “Summertime”— I think all those tracks sound terrific. But we did get very frustrated with his production on some of the singles leading up to “Odessey and Oracle.” Chris and I said, “We have to produce an album ourselves.”
To Ken’s credit, when we told him that’s what we wanted to do he helped us. He got us into Abbey Road to record and I don’t know how he did that — pretty much as The Beatles were walking out we were walking in. They were walking out just having recorded “Sgt. Pepper’s” as we were walking in to record “Odessey and Oracle.” We were kids let loose in a candy factory, because suddenly it was all down to us and we had our own ideas. We didn’t have much money so we’d rehearsed everything. We got the basic tracks down very quickly. But then, because we had a few more tracks, we had the freedom to experiment more. If I suddenly heard a counterpoint harmony like I did on “Changes,” I was able to say, “I can hear another line, I’m gonna go in there and do it” and I just did it. So we had the chance to do that and in quite a quick way throw in our ideas on the recording session. We were really pleased with the album. When we finished it, we loved it and thought it was the best we could do and it got great reviews, but just nobody listened to it. (laughs)
GM: The band’s work prior to “Odessey and Oracle“ was strong yet the songs, sounds, production and performances on “Odessey and Oracle” are on a different level. Did you get a sense while working on that album that this was a watermark?
Colin Blunstone: I’ll tell you how I felt: I felt that this was really the best we could do. I know that Rod and Chris often talk about us knowing that it was gonna be the last Zombies album.
GM: Colin, did you know this would be the band’s swan song?
Blunstone: Personally, I didn’t, no. But either we remember it differently or they just had a different vision than me. I didn’t realize that it was going to be our last album. I couldn’t have put my heart and soul into it; I would have found it very difficult. So I didn’t know it was gonna be our last album. But I felt it was our peak as a band. I think the main writers, Rod and Chris, had really developed, specially Chris. I think his writing on “Odessey and Oracle” is really fantastic.
Now this is not a criticism of anyone, but I think Rod was writing great songs right from the beginning in ’64, but I think Chris was still learning his craft a bit over the years, and I mean, why not? Of course that’s what you’re gonna do. But by the time you got to “Odessey and Oracle,” I thought his songs were fantastic. Everyone else I know feels that was the right time for the band to end; that’s what they’re always said whenever I’ve been around. I’m the other one who’d be interested to know what we could have done hadn’t we split up. It all might have fallen away from “Odessey and Oracle” after that, we might not have grown but I would be interested to have known what we could have done next. In particular because Rod and Chris had come into such a rich vein of writing. Also, I think that Abbey Road really suited us as well. We were using two wonderful engineers there, Peter Vince and Geoff Emerick, and I think that really helped as well. Abbey Road was real cutting edge in the recording industry at the time. I mean, it’s still a wonderful studio, but at that time it was a probably the best studio in the world.
GM: Speaking of famed Abbey Road Studios, did you cross paths with The Beatles while recording “Odessey and Oracle”?
Blunstone: The closest we got was that we were the next band into the studio after The Beatles. We were told that some of the percussion instruments we were picking up off the floor were from The Beatles sessions for “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Also, the mellotron which Rod used on the album, we were told it was John Lennon’s mellotron that was in the studio and Rod started playing it. And if it hadn’t been there quite possibly there wouldn’t be any mellotron on the album. (laughs) It just happened to be there; it’s so strange that by chance that these things happen. So we just missed; they’d just finished “Sgt. Pepper’s,” although mostly they recorded in Studio 2 and we recorded in Studio 3, but they did do some recording in Studio 3 as well.
GM: What was Al Kooper’s role in bringing attention to the album?
ARGENT: It was absolutely essential and vital. That record would have been lost 100 percent for sure without him. He was the hottest face, as well as being the hottest producer on the scene at that moment, and he joined CBS and Epic under the aegis of Clive Davis. He came over to the U.K. and picked up 200 albums and went back to Clive Davis and said, “I found one album and I don’t care how much it costs to get this album from whoever has got the American rights. I believe that you should buy this album no matter how much it costs.” And Clive Davis said, “Well, we’ve already got it and I passed on it.” And Al said, “Well, you can’t, you’ve gotta put it out!” So Clive said, “OK, this’ll be on your head but we’ll put it out.” They weren’t gonna release it. The album had died in England. The first single they released from the album was “Butcher’s Tale,” a song written by Chris, which might be my favorite track on the album. It’s an extremely moving song but it was not a single in a million years. Al said, “You’re crazy, what are you doing? Why are you releasing that as a single?” I think they thought they were cashing in the Vietnam War. I’ve got a feeling there was second single and I’m not sure what it was; it might have been “Care of Cell 44” or “Friends of Mine.” But then the third single and last gasp was “Time of the Season.” It was a really slow burner in the way that things could be in those days; songs could come out and really grow really slowly. One DJ in Boise, Idaho, loved it and continued to play it and it gradually spread to neighboring areas and then it caught fire. It went to No. 1 in Cashbox, which was the equivalent magazine to Billboard at the time. We always regarded that and “She’s Not There” as a No. 1 American single. So without Al we would have been dead and buried.
GM: “Odessey and Oracle” has reaped major acclaim, with Rolling Stone magazine selecting it as one of the top 500 albums of all time — No. 100, to be exact. Do you find it ironic that it began to garner notice after the band had already split?
ARGENT: I was just amazed and incredibly gratified that all those years later it was receiving such acclaim. Paul Weller is a big fan of the album and started championing it, and many other bands have done the same right up until the present day, and I’m just extremely grateful for that. It’s lovely that it still has things that are relevant.
GM: Decades since its original release, “Odessey and Oracle” has transformed into one of the ‘60s most beloved albums, when did that retrospective love for the album first come to your attention?
Blunstone: I couldn’t be specific about that; it was sort of just a gradual feeling. As I said earlier, when we did one it I felt that album was the best we could do. I thought it was really good. (laughs) You shouldn’t say that about your own work but I did! I was desperately disappointed when nothing much happened with the album. It was still a very singles-orientated business at that time. I mean, things changed over the next two or three years. But we had one or two singles out in the U.K. and very little happened. At one point the album wasn’t even going to be released in America, and it just seemed that the band had kind of run its course. I just remember feeling desperately disappointed that “Odessey and Oracle” really didn’t get any recognition; it got one or two quite good reviews but that was about it. Because I was so disappointed, when people started saying five, six or seven years later that they really liked that album and there was a really great groundswell for this album, I didn’t really believe them. I would be polite and say, “Oh great” but I didn’t believe them. It’s taken a good many years for me to really understand that there is huge appreciation for this album that was pretty ignored at the time. The music industry is a total mystery to me and it always has been.
GM: But it must be so rewarding today to know the album is held in such high regard.
Blunstone: It is very exciting and it’s great because it does validate what we were doing at the time. So it does take some of the hurt away (laughs) from the reaction that we got at the time. Yeah, it’s wonderful; it’s great to get a sportive reaction to your work at any time; the fact that it was a little bit delayed is neither here nor there; it’s just great for your work to be appreciated.
GM: Why does “Odessey and Oracle” continue to endure and attract new legions of fans?
ARGENT: I think it’s a couple of things. Last year The Vaccines — a really young indie band who are making waves here in the U.K. — they made a 45-second video on the ’net saying that this was their favorite album, so it’s still going on. But I think the honesty of the album’s got a lot to do with it. We were never saying, “How can we make this track commercial?” We were just doing what we’d always done, and that is to try and get excited about a musical idea and make it work. So that was the foremost thing in our minds. We weren’t just trying to be fashionable. We were honest about the writing process and we were not just trying to lock into what was selling and how records were sounding at that moment. I think in the short term it didn’t do us any favors, because it generally wasn’t like everything else that was out there at the time — therefore people didn’t naturally see it as being obviously commercial so they didn’t play it. But in the long term, perhaps “Odessey and Oracle” doesn’t date as some of the other albums from that period do.
GM: In many ways the band split at the peak of its artistic powers. Was there more creative fuel in the tank? Do you regret splitting up after “Odessey and Oracle” was released, or was it better to go out on top?
ARGENT: I think there was definitely still more creative stuff in the tank. But it was a purely commercial consideration. Because Chris and I were the writers, we had a very good income. We didn’t realize this until much later, but in the three years that we were together we always had a hit somewhere in the world. We just didn’t know this because communications weren’t good in those days. But we had a very honest publisher and the writing royalties kept coming through. So Chris and I were doing very nicely, but Colin and Paul (Atkinson) and Hugh (Grundy) were not doing nearly as well. Paul had just gotten married and said, “I’ve got no money, I’ve got to leave the band,” and Colin felt the same, and that was really why the band split up. And that’s why Chris and I wanted to stay together. Chris became sort of the silent member in Argent. You have to remember, “Time of the Season” became a hit in ’69 and we’d recorded it in ’67. “Time of the Season” didn’t flower until ’69.
GM: The Zombies did a few shows in the U.K. where you performed the “Odessey and Oracle” album in its entirety with founding members Chris White and Hugh Grundy. What was the thinking behind taking this show out on the road again in the States for an extended tour?
Blunstone: Well, the shows are the response to so many people asking if we’re gonna come on and play the “Odessey and Oracle” album show in its entirety. Originally, I think we were commemorating the 40th anniversary of when we recorded that album, which we recorded in 1967, I think. We were just gonna do one night at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with the original guys and it was so popular that it grew to three nights and then people around the U.K. said, “Well, are you gonna come and play around the country?” so the next year we played shows in Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow and a bigger venue in London and we thought that was it. But then a lot of people from the States have been asking us over the years if we would ever think of doing it and in the end we thought, well, it would be fun. We’ve got exactly the same team involved so it’s the original guys — Chris White, Hugh Grundy, Rod and myself — sadly, our guitarist Paul Atkinson passed away. Then we’re using our touring band and Darian Sahanaja from Brian Wilson’s touring band. So it’s mainly the same team as we had before although we‘ve got a new guitarist called Tom Toomey who will be doing this for the time. So for the “Odessey and Oracle” segment, Chris will play bass; Hugh will play drums and from our touring band; Jim Rodford, who is a fantastic harmony singer, will be singing some harmonies; and Steve Rodford from our touring band will be playing some percussion, and it works really well. And also, just by coincidence, Chris White’s wife, Liv, is a very good harmony singer, as well, so she’ll be singing some of the top harmonies. So it will be the original band playing the original parts. I’ll tell you a funny story. When we first thought about this in the U.K., I was talking to Rod and he and I had been playing constantly for the last 15 or 16 years all around the world and we’re pretty road hardened but Hugh and Chris haven’t. I said, “Maybe we should have a get together and just play through “Odessey and Oracle” and see how everybody plays. As far as I know, Chris hasn’t picked up a bass since 1967; Hugh had played a bit but he hadn’t been on the road. So we agreed that it was a good idea to get together. Obviously, Hugh and Chris had practiced and rehearsed a lot for “Odessey and Oracle,” so when we got together and played they were absolutely note perfect (laughs) and Rod and I were all over the place. We were secretly checking up on them, and they were immaculate.
GM: Having seen the Zombies perform at the House of Blues in Hollywood back in the mid-2000s with Paul Atkinson a month or two before he died was thrilling. You only did a two-song set but once the chorus kicked in for “She’s Not There” and you had the addition of Chris White singing his harmony line, the sound of the Zombies was alive and well.
Blunstone: It’s quite a strange thing. If you hear my voice and Rod’s voice and Chris’s voice separately, they’re quite different and also quite distinctive. But there’s something about those voices when we sing together something quite special happens; those voices really work together. The other thing is the Zombies harmonies are really quite unique as well in that it’s not just three guys going, “OK, you sing the melody, you sing the top harmony and you sing the bottom harmony.” To a large extent with the original band, and this is a little secret, I ended up being lead singer quite by chance. I was gonna be the rhythm guitarist but somehow I became the lead singer. I was a little bit of an unsophisticated singer so what they would do is say, “You sing the melody as you hear it.” Now because I’ve got a high voice and remembering when we got together that I was 15 years old, I would often drift into the top harmony. They would set what I heard as the melody and often I would just naturally drift into the top harmony, especially on choruses. So we had that and Rod would try and fix a simple harmony for Chris because Chris obviously has to play bass at the same time. To me it’s one of the wonders of the world that anyone who’s playing a bass guitar can sing a different harmony. They may well be playing a bass note that’s got very little to do with the chords you’re singing to. So Rod would try and set a relatively simple harmony for Chris and then Rod would just fill in the holes, which often left a really difficult harmony for Rod because I was all over the place and Chris was singing nearly one note and Rod had to fill in the other bits. (laughs) So many people have said to me that they’re desperately trying to work out the harmonies on a certain Zombies track but it’s difficult because that’s the way we did the harmonies. We did it to suit us and I can’t imagine anyone else would set their harmonies up like that.
GM: Taking “Time Of the Season” out of contention, what is the milestone moment for you on “Odessey and Oracle”?
Blunstone: I do like two or three of the tracks more than the others but I remember at the time I especially liked “Care of Cell 44.” I think that song is an absolute classic. It shows you how good I’m at in picking singles. I thought that was the standout single on the album. It was very fresh and what a wonderful lyric. It’s just a very well crafted song, and it was a thrill and a pleasure to put the lead vocal on it. I think it’s a wonderful song.
GM: Finally, fill us in about The Zombies new studio album, “Still Got the Hunger.”
Blunstone: For the most part, the album was recorded live. We were all in the studio together, all playing together and I was singing with the band. We would do five or six takes on each song and try and piece bits together, so it’s not absolutely one take live. But as for the whole feel of the album there’s a lot of energy and spontaneity in it because we’re playing off one another, we’re all playing at the same time. So many people go into the studio separately and you might not even see the other people who are playing on the album because you record separately, but we wanted to do it exactly the other way around. In fact, we sort of took our idea from “Odessey and Oracle.” With that album we had such a small budget we decided to really rehearse extensively so when we got into Abbey Road we could literally just play it through and that was it. It was recorded very quickly and it’s the same case with “Still Got That Hunger.” It was recorded very quickly, especially the basic tracks because we rehearsed extensively outside of the studio. We knew what we were gonna do and just went into the studio and just laid the tracks down. There’s some very good songs on this new album.
To order the December issue (digital edition) with The Zombies on the cover (and extra material not found in this online article), click here. Or to order a print copy of the issue call 715-445-4612, Ext. 13369.
Top features in this special "British Invasion Issue" include:
• The Zombies are back: The British band’s musical masterpiece gets all the love it deserves
•Beatles Vision: Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg talks about new “Beatles 1” release
•Yardbirds 101: Original Yardbird talks about the legendary band in the ‘60s and today
• Beatles card collecting
• A talk with Beatles expert Bruce Spizer
• 50 Kinks songs worth the cred
• Savoy Brown
• Beatles book roundup
• Record Store Day: Black Friday Edition
• Third Man Records
Plus, reviews, obits and Collector's Corner
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