Former Zombies come back to life

Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent made hits like She's Not There and Time of the Season during the British Invasion.

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

When a pair of artists suddenly find a resurgence of interest in music that was released more than three decades ago, one option is to ride the wave to see where it goes.

In the case of Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, former members of the Zombies, some coincidences brought them together a few years ago, and the result was the resumption of a collaboration that began in the 1960s.

A short tour of the United States will include an appearance at Glenside's Keswick Theatre on Saturday at 8 p.m. The pair will be promoting a new CD, Out of the Shadows, which will soon be released in America. British folk singer Al Stewart will open the show.

Blunstone and Argent, respectively, were the lead singer and keyboardist-songwriter of the Zombies, one of the many bands that hit the charts during what was called the British Invasion period of American pop music (1964-67).

The other original members were guitarist Paul Atkinson, drummer Hugh Grundy and bassist Paul Arnold. Chris White replaced Arnold and added a second songwriter to the group.

The Zombies shook the world in 1964 with She's Not There, a hit that was followed by Tell Her No. That record was a top-5 hit in America and elsewhere, but what was missing for the band was the straw that eventually broke the camel's back.

While it was successful everywhere else, the band found little success in its homeland — the United Kingdom. The five members recorded one more album in 1967, Odessey & Oracle, and then split up.

What followed usually happens only in the movies, but Odessey began to sell, and a single, Time of the Season, rose to the top of the charts in America more than a year after the band members went their separate ways. All attempts to reunite them to cash in on the record's success failed.

"If you asked all five members, you'd probably get five different answers," Blunstone said about the breakup during a telephone interview. "From my point of view, I think that I was just disappointed and drained. We had toured constantly for three years, and when we recorded Odessey & Oracle and didn't get the response that we had hoped for, some of us just thought that it was time to move on."

The Zombies had been dropped by Decca Records, which probably contributed to the breakup, but Argent and White had a few more songs in hand, and the band got another shot with CBS Records.

"I've always felt that whatever you do should come from the heart," said Argent. "We had always been unhappy with the production of our singles up to that point, so when we went with CBS, we told them that we wanted to produce our own album."

The label acquiesced but put little promotion behind the first few singles that were released. All of them flopped, so the band split up.

A short time later, Al Kooper, a longtime record producer and the founder of Blood, Sweat & Tears, discovered Odessey & Oracle and convinced CBS to release it stateside, and Time of the Season eventually emerged as a huge hit.

"Chris and I wanted to stay together, but once the decision had been made to split up, we all felt that it was best to move on," said Argent. "Time of the Season was the fourth or fifth single released from the album, and by then, I was already far along with my next project, and when (the record) became a hit, it really wasn't a good idea to backtrack."

That's not to say that the members didn't enjoy their chart success in America, especially when She's Not There broke in 1964. The Zombies toured our country and appeared on several television programs.

"We did quite a few, actually," said Blunstone. "We did the first Hullabaloo in New York, and I know we did Shindig. They're the two that come to mind. We didn't do The Ed Sullivan Show or American Bandstand, although we did do a Dick Clark tour. He'd put some bands together, and we'd go out on the road for a few weeks.

"It was quite frustrating when we didn't have any chart success in the U.K. When people ask me why, all I can say is, 'I don't know.' If we knew what was wrong, we could fix it. We had a lot of success in the Far East, but the U.K. market was a tough nut to crack."

The two artists eventually found success in the 1970s. Blunstone recorded a series of solo albums that contained songs that were hits in the U.K. and in Europe. Argent went on to form the band Argent, which also included lead singer/guitarist Russ Ballard, bassist Jim Rodford and drummer Bobby Henrit.

Argent's first two albums (Argent and Ring of Hands) went somewhat unnoticed, but 1972's All Together Now yielded the band's biggest hit, Hold Your Head Up.

"The first two were my favorite albums, but they weren't successful commercially, but the third album was a big hit in America, England and in other parts of the world," said Argent.

Argent's songs were also covered by other artists. Three Dog Night had a top-10 hit in America with Liar, and KISS made the top 20 in the U.K. with God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You.

But all good things come to an end, and the group disbanded in the mid-'70s. Argent went on to write and produce for other artists, for stage musicals and for television. Blunstone continued to record solo albums and for other artists, most notably as a featured singer in the Alan Parsons Project.

Like many things, the Zombies may have been a little ahead of its time. Interest in the band picked up in the 1990s, and it was the release of a four-CD boxed set that led to an impromptu reunion.

The five members were at the Jazz Cafe in London's Camden Town when Blunstone and his band were engaged to perform at the launching of Zombie Heaven.

"It was an amazing thing," Blunstone said. "At the end of the night, all of the Zombies literally just walked onto the stage, and we started to play. We hadn't rehearsed or anything."

"When I got to the gig, all of the other Zombies were there," recalled Argent. "It was the first time that we had been together in years. An American journalist told me that there was a rumor going around that we were going to get together. Colin came up and asked me about the rumor. We didn't know what to do. None of us had rehearsed.

"Colin went through his set, and then a disc jockey who is popular here in the U.K. came up and said, 'Look, you're all here. Why don't you do a few songs?' It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. We did two songs — She's Not There and Time of the Season. Paul Atkinson couldn't remember the chords for Time of the Season because he hadn't done it since we recorded the album. He just unplugged his guitar for that song."

That magical night led Blunstone & Argent out of the shadows — literally. Although they had sat in on each other's projects before, they seriously began to consider performing together.

"We got together by chance, so we thought we'd tour together," said Blunstone. "And when we decided to record together, it was as though we had just played together last week when it actually had been thirty years."

Argent said the same thing, which leads one to wonder if the artists are simply meant to be together — whether by fate or destiny?

"It's difficult to put into words other than to say that I agree with you," said Blunstone.

"I'll accept that (premise)," agreed Argent. "When I first got together with Colin, it was with the Zombies, and I really didn't know him (at the time), but for some reason, it just worked. All these years later, it still feels right.

"We had done a few gigs together, and I had a few songs, and Colin asked to have a go at them, and we went from there. We just suddenly wanted to work together again. I feel happier creatively than I've felt in years, so maybe it is just completing the circle."

Out of the Shadows, which was released last year, was produced, released and marketed by the two artists and got a lot of air play in the U.K. and abroad. A single, Sanctuary, charted in Europe. The CD will soon be available in the United States.

"We're in negotiations at the moment with an American label," said Blunstone. "We had hoped to have it released in time for the tour, but I don't think that it's going to happen. It might be available in October."

And if it sells, Blunstone & Argent have a follow-up CD planned.

"We have about six or seven songs, so far," said Argent.

What should fans expect at the Keswick show?

"A lot of Zombies stuff, including some obscure singles and some songs from Odessey & Oracle, some Argent stuff, some of Colin's songs that were hits in other parts of the world and maybe three or four songs from Out of the Shadows," said Argent.

"I think there is something for everybody in our show," said Blunstone. "I'm looking forward to it."

This story was published on Sept. 18, 2002, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


Visit Rod Argent's Web site.

Visit Colin Blunstone's Web site.

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