The Zombies, who come to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa 8 p.m. Saturday, April 23, broke up virtually penniless in 1967, only to see “Odessey and Oracle,” their 1968 sophomore bow, spawn the 1969 American Top 3 hit “Time of the Season.” By then the individual members had moved on to other projects.
Fast forward to six decades to 1999, when founding members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent hit the road to perform as a duo, evolving into a full-blown Zombies reunion that’s carried on to the present day. It’s an astonishing turnabout for this beloved baroque pop act that not only wound up getting critical acclaim, but earned themselves a devoted cult following that translated into the group’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The ever-modest Blunstone is humble about the response and affection his band has been receiving at this late date.
“Isn’t (our) induction incredible? I’m really thrilled, actually. Firstly, that loyal and tenacious fans voted over 320,000 times for us in the fan vote. It’s just mind-boggling to me that you can get 320,000 votes. And secondly, that the members of the Rock Hall should have voted to induct us because all musicians are looking for peer group acceptance,” he admits. “It’s such a lift to get that kind of reaction from fellow professionals. It’s really beyond my wildest imagination that we should be honored in this way and I’m extremely grateful.”
Also known for their other 1964 hits “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No,” The Zombies arrived as part of the British Invasion alongside The Animals, Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, Hollies, Kinks and The Dave Clark Five. Only 18 when the band was started, Argent and Blunstone were joined by fellow St. Albans natives Hugh Grundy, future A&R exec Paul Atkinson and Paul Arnold, who was replaced by Chris White when the band went to record their first album.
The combination of Blunstone’s airy vocal phrasing and Argent’s deftly-played organ runs gave the band’s material a sophisticated, chamber pop nuance that took them beyond the charts and earned them a number of latter-day famous fans, including the late Tom Petty and Paul Weller.
The posthumous fame The Zombies had after their first break-up led to an odd situation where American promoters wound up putting three different fake Zombies groups on the road in 1969 to capitalize on the success of “Time of the Season.”
In those pre-Internet days, when fans only knew what the band sounded like and couldn’t use Google to see what they looked like, it was an easy scam to pull off. One outfit even included Frank Beard and Dusty Hill, the future rhythm section of ZZ Top. The actual Zombies were eventually told about this, and White wound up talking to the manager of one of these fake groups for an article that was eventually written about this scenario. Blunstone gets a kick out of this anecdote.
“Someone at Rolling Stone (magazine) got Chris White to come into their office and phone the manager of one of these bands and not say who he was,” Blunstone recalls. “Chris then asked him to explain about The Zombies band. So the manager told him this story about how they were all huge fans of The Zombies, and since the lead singer was killed in a car crash, they wanted to honor him and the band by keeping the music going, and that’s why they were playing (under our name). Then Chris White told him he was The Zombies bass player, and that the lead singer wasn’t in a car crash. Reading this in print, it was almost like reading my obituary when I was 22 years old.”
Despite the band breaking up, The Zombies stayed in touch. Argent and White went on to find success, while Blunstone reaped his own solo acclaim in the United Kingdom with a string of hits that never quite cracked the American market. Argent and White even produced Blunstone’s first two solo outings – both recently re-released in deluxe editions — and White wound up taking the production helm for Blunstone’s 1974 effort “Journey.”
The latter-day Zombies roster found Blunstone and Argent rounding out the lineup with guitarist Tom Toomey, the late Jim Rodford on bass and Rodford’s son Steve on drums.
Rodford, who was Argent’s first cousin, was previously the Kinks’ bassist from 1978 until 1996. He joined The Zombies in 2004 and played with them until his death in 2018. A recent memorial service/musical performance was held on the year anniversary of his death in his hometown of St. Albans. Joining Argent and Blunstone were the surviving members of The Zombies — Chris White and Hugh Grundy (Atkinson died in 2004) — and opening the show was ARC, made up of Rodford’s granddaughters, Anya and Cara, and his son, Russ. It was a cherished moment for Blunstone.
“I like to think that Jim was smiling down at us and enjoying the evening,” Blunstone says. “It was an emotional evening with tinges of sadness, but it turned out to be a wonderful evening as well with plenty of laughter.”
Showing no signs of slowing down, Blunstone is busy touring solo and with The Zombies, with plans to record a new album with the latter. It’s all a bit of a whirlwind that the slight vocalist is being sure to embrace at every turn.
“So in the last few years, things have gone very well for The Zombies. We’re mature enough now to really appreciate it, because we know how tough this business is,” he says. “That’s why I think we’re very fortunate to enjoy this kind of adventure at this time in our lives. It doesn’t happen to many people that they get these kinds of opportunities at this time in their lives. Believe me, we’re really, really enjoying it and what we’re thinking about is what comes next.”