In today's pop culture, zombies are hot. Their lumbering, slack-jawed forms are moving (albeit slowly) on TV and in movies, video games, and off the pages of books.
So it's sort of appropriate that -- like these monosyllabic, flesh-shedding creatures who get a second chance -- the beloved '60s British Invasion group the Zombies ("Time of the Season," "She's Not There," "Tell Her No") should also have a resurrection decades later.
"We were pleasantly surprised --astounded really -- when we started playing together again in 2000 that there was this huge interest in the band, especially since we didn't put out a lot of material," says original vocalist Colin Blunstone from his home in England. "And it's worldwide. People are just fascinated by the band, and we seriously didn't realize that."
The Zombies will play Fitzgerald's on March 17, right after a busy schedule of appearances in Austin at SXSW.
Blunstone, along with original keyboardist/vocalist Rod Argent, are the two beating hearts of the current Zombies lineup, which also includes Jim Rodford (ex-Argent, Kinks) on bass, son Steve Rodford on drums, and Tom Toomey on guitar. A new record, Breathe Out, Breathe In, was released last year.
"I think it's very natural from what the Zombies have done in the past," he says. "And Rod and I have always worked the same way. This was the ten best songs we had at the time, just like Odessey and Oracle [sic] was the best 12 songs we had then. It's funny to me that people think that was a concept album, and it wasn't."
Ah, Odessey and Oracle. Just the mention of the Zombies' masterpiece (and swan song of the original lineup) gets fans of '60s pop and rock all misty-eyed. It ranks No. 100 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. With quality material from start to finish, it also spawned their best known hit with "Time of the Season."
Yet, it almost never got heard in America. It was mostly through the efforts of keyboardist/singer Al Kooper - a fan who pestered the U.S. arm of their record company to release it - that Odessey finally hit U.S shelves in 1968 (the word misspelling an error by the album cover's artist). Ironically, the Zombies couldn't capitalize on that success and interest, because the band had already broken up.
But as Blunstone--who went on to have a solo career as well as sing with the Alan Parsons Project--points out, there was no thought of getting the boys back together. "It was never really discussed within the band," he offers. "And Rod and Chris [White, bassist] were already putting Argent together, or the beginnings of it."
The Zombies' own beginnings came in 1961, when the group formed near St. Albans in England. Blunstone credits an early bassist member of the group in coming up with their unlikely moniker.
"He left the band because he wanted to become a doctor and his studies didn't allow enough time to rehearse," Blunstone says. And he did become a doctor! He lives in Edmonton, Canada and comes to gigs when we play there.
"But we were desperate for a name, and he came up with 'the Zombies,'" he adds. "I'm not sure we really understood what it was. I'm not sure I know now! But once a name sticks to a band, and once it assumes the identity of the band, you aren't thinking too deeply about what that word means. You just align it with the music."
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Coming up in Part II: the early days of the Zombies, and what Blunstone expects from this year's SXSW. The Zombies and Elephant Stone play Fitzgeralds (upstairs), 2706 White Oak, Sunday, March 17.