BIOGRAPHY

Keyboardist Rod Argent, guitarist Paul Atkinson, and drummer Hugh Grundy met at St. Albans school (U.K.) in 1961 and began experimenting musically. They brought on bassist Paul Arnold, who introduced the others to the talented singer Colin Blunstone, a top student and athlete who was headed for a secure job in an insurance firm before a more glamorous destiny beckoned. The nascent group began their live gigging in local venues doing the 50s rock and soul standards common to bands everywhere at the time. They even did Gershwin's Summertime. Paul Arnold, whose interest was waning (he eventually became a physician) was replaced by Chris White on bass. The band began playing shows around St. Albans in 1962, building up a loyal following over the course of the next year. In 1963, as university beckoned, they began to think about breaking up. Rod and Chris entered the band in a local band contest (The Herts Beat Contest) that had a recording deal with British Decca Records (famous for being the label that turned down The Beatles) as first prize. Rod and Chris hoped that winning the contest would keep the band together. The Zombies advanced through the heats, playing before audiences as large as 2000, and even before the final, they were offered a deal by Decca. Their local fans organized support, and The Zombies went on to win the contest. On an enthusiastic high note, the band turned professional. In 1964, the group began recording. Decca staff producer Ken Jones became infatuated with Argent's She's Not There and pushed for it to be released as the first single, edging out the version of Summertime they'd also recorded, and Chris's You Make Me Feel Good, which became the B-side. The song was the first of what would be many moody, understated, original gems from The Zombies that would make them, in retrospect, one of the best bands of the period. The single was a worldwide smash in 1964 and The Zombies were on a euphoric high. Everything was going right. She's Not There even made it onto the popular TV show Jukebox Jury, which happened to feature George Harrison on the panel that week - and he loved the song. The tune made number 1 in America and the band, full of youthful confidence, felt that nothing could fail.

The next single, White's Leave Me Be, went over well in performance, but failed to shake up the charts. The third single, Tell Her No was a minor hit in Britain, and a Top 10 record in America. The band came to America and did a package tour with artists like Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells and Chuck Jackson. Then they played enormous halls and arenas to wildly enthusiastic fans. Riding the British Invasion craze, they got a taste of the Beatlemania experience. The group was also hugely successful in Japan, The Philippines (where they once had five records in the Top 10), and in other territories of the world. Back in England, where Zombies records failed to do as well, Decca had a full roster of beat groups and was stingy with promotional money for other than its top-selling artists. Suspecting that The Zombies were one-hit wonders, they rushed the group through album sessions (Begin Here came out in early 1965 in the UK and appeared in similar form in America as The Zombies) and were poised to dump them. But the band stayed alive, recording single after single that failed to break through with the success of She's Not There or Tell Her No.

She's Coming Home and I Want You Back were unsuccessful in the U.K., but both were minor hits in the U.S. in 1965. The band also contributed songs to the soundtrack of the film Bunny Lake is Missing and appeared briefly in it as well. Another musically outstanding single, Whenever You're Ready also failed in Britain as did its three successors. Disillusionment set in, with Rod and Chris acting as cheerleaders to keep the enthusiasm going. There were problems, too, with producer Ken Jones, who produced them from the beginning. The band felt that they were becoming more gutsy, but Ken was set on continually trying to recreate the sound of the earliest recordings. They eventually split, amicably, with him. The band wasn't making any money, either, and although the group managed to win a new contract with CBS Records, they decided to break up, but not before recording a final album, Odessey and Oracle, which was self-produced with the intention of being more representive of the band's real sound, and was completed at Abbey Road Studios late in 1967. According to interviews at the time, the misspelling of "Odyssey" was deliberate and had all sorts of deep, meaningful significance. Rod Argent has since admitted the more prosaic reason: the cover artist misspelled "odyssey" and there wasn't time to change it before the artwork was due at the printer, so they let it go and made up a cover story likening the songs to Shakespearian odes. (This anecdote courtesy of Andrew.)

CBS/Columbia was unwilling to release an album by a band that had folded, but staff producer Al Kooper fought to get it issued, and it finally came out in July, 1968. The first Odessy single, the marvellous Care of Cell 44 failed to sell. So did the next single and yet another. Almost as an afterthought, Time of the Season was finally released as a single - a last gasp. It did nothing, but one radio station in America fell in love with it and kept playing. Ever so slowly, it caught on, and then, overnight, it broke all over the country - becaming a Top 5 smash in late 1968 and early 1969. CBS clamored for more product, promoters began offering huge sums of money for the band to re-group, but it had already been a year since the break-up, and The Zombies declined. Rod Argent and Chris had already begun work on the band Argent, and Colin Blunstone had begun a solo career. Eventually, in pieces, the ex-Zombies generated more U.K. chart action during the 70s than they had as bandmates in the 60s.

The Zombies' three biggest hits are now rock standards, and She's Not There has been covered by other artists such as Vanilla Fudge, Santana, The UK Subs, and Colin Blunstone himself during his solo career). The Zombies reunited in 1991, without Rod Argent, for an album called New World that wasn't released in the U.S. Despite The Zombies powerful influence on contemporaries such as The Kinks, The Left Banke, Procol Harum and countless modern-era acts, they have gone down as among the most underrated groups in rock history.

Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent reunited for an album and tour together in 2001< under the Blunstone & Argent monicker, and have continued playing live shows together into 2004. They recently began using The Zombies name again.

On April 1, 2004, Paul Atkinson, who had become a successful music-industry executive, died in L.A. at the age of 58 after a long illness.


SOURCES:

  • Rock Encyclopedia, Lillian Roxon, Tempo Books, 1969.
  • The Zombies E.P. Collection CD insert, Alan Clayson, See For Miles Records, 1992.
  • Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock, various authors, Rolling Stone Press, 1995.
  • Rod Argent Monologue from the Transluxe Records CD Greatest Hits, Greatest Recordings (see Discography page)
  • Contributions from various visitors to this Web page.
  • Interviews with the Band Members from the Ace/Big Beat CD Zombie Heaven Box Sampler, 1997.
  • Interview with Colin Blunstone broadcast on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 28, 1998.