Classic Rock Corner

The Zombies Resurrection Continues with New Album, Tour and Documentary

The Zombies today: Tom Toomey, Søren Koch, Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and Steve Rodford.
The Zombies today: Tom Toomey, Søren Koch, Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and Steve Rodford. Photo by Alex Lake
When we last spoke with Rod Argent way back in 2004 prior to a Houston tour stop, the keyboardist and his vocalist bandmate Colin Blunstone were only a few years past resurrecting the Zombies.

The highly influential (but short-lived) 1960s British Invasion band hit U.S. charts and radio with “Time of the Season,” “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “I Love You.” At the time, Argent was both “bewildered” and “gratified” by the reception at their return. And when we spoke with Blunstone nearly a decade later in 2013, he was “astounded” at the positive reaction—and that the band was even still active.
Tack yet another decade onto that and Argent  — Zooming from his home studio in England — is still a bit, well, gobsmacked by it all.

“It’s extraordinary, it really is! Because we didn’t get back together with any plan. We were just having fun! I probably told you that in 2004!,” Argent laughs.

“When we first started with this reincarnation, especially in the South, we’d sometimes play to a handful of people. But when we get back there now, the audiences are completely packed! It’s just great. Everything’s on an upward spiral!”
In recent years, there’s been more Zombies activity than in a season’s worth of The Walking Dead. In addition to the current U.S. tour (which stops at Houston’s House of Blues on March 22), there’s a brand new studio album, Different Game. Plus, an authorized book (Odessey: The Zombies in Words and Pictures) and a documentary near completion (Hung Up On a Dream).

But most important is the band’s 2019 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, after being on the ballot four times. Argent and Blunstone were inducted by Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles alongside original members Chris White (bass/vocals) and Hugh Grundy (drums). Guitarist Paul Atkinson, who died in 2004, was also enshrined.
Argent says what he remembers most about the evening was the “fantastic” live performance the band did and the technical proficiency of how the Rock Hall set it up—down to actually showing Argent’s hands during keyboard solos.

“All of the other [inductee] bands were fantastically friendly. And Joe Elliott of Def Leppard invited me up onstage to play keyboards on ‘All the Young Dudes,’” he says. “And the night before at a mixer, one of the members of The Cure said to Colin how much of an influence the Zombies were on them. I can’t quite hear that, but it was wonderful that he said it!”
At the ceremony Argent also paid tribute to then-current bandmate (and cousin), bassist Jim Rodford. He was nearly in the original group and spent more than two decades as a member of the Kinks before signing up with the Zombies reincarnation. Rodford died in 2018 after a freak fall at his home. His son, Steve, plays drums with the current group, and guitarist Tom Toomey and bassist Søren Koch round out the lineup.

Argent said in his induction speech that his entire rock and roll journey began in 1956 when Rodford played him a 45 of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.”

“He lived 400 yards from me, and I was in awe of him because he was four years older. He played a bit of Bill Haley and I thought it was OK. But when he played Elvis, it turned my world around,” Argent says. “In the early days of the Zombies, he also loaned us all his gear. A week before he died, he was playing his ass off onstage. We don’t know if he had a heart attack when he fell, but it was completely unexpected. Bless him!”
For Different Game, Argent says he’s been told that it the group’s “best album,” since 1968’s much beloved and cherished Odessey and Oracle (the misspelling the accidental fault of cover artist Terry Quirk). Its ten tracks run the gamut from energetic rockers (“Merry Go Round,” “Move Over”), to the jaunty (“Dropped Reeling and Stupid”), ballads featuring Blunstone’s trademark breathy vocals (“You Could Be My Love,” “Love You,” “The Sun Will Rise Again”) and a Beach Boys/’50s pastiche (“Rediscover”). Several also feature strings, like a remake of their own “I Want to Fly.”

Argent says the record stands out to him because it was the first one “100 percent done” in house since Odessey and Oracle, this one at his home studio. The band also recorded as much of the project as possible live with everyone playing and singing at the same time.

“I’ve got some wonderful vintage instruments here as well. We wanted that old way of capturing magic in the tape,” he says. “And we were all hyped up about it. You can’t tell where that magic is, but it’s there. And I think some of my best songs are on this record.”
While some Classic Rock bands aren’t interested in putting out new music for various legitimate reasons (no one buys records anymore, only die-hard fans are interested, radio won’t play anything new by older acts) for Argent, it’s imperative.

“We’ve only got one life. And when we get to the end of it, we can say ‘OK, I made some mistakes, but I’ve made the best with what I’ve got.’ And to earn a wonderful living all my life for what I would pay to do, and still get reaction from people. That’s incredible,” he says.

“I think Colin would agree with me. What a charmed existence. So many people spend a third of their lives doing something they don’t want to, then just look forward to retirement.”

click to enlarge
Record cover
The Zombies are also seeing multiple generations in the audience—some not even born yet when they started the recent revival. Argent mentions at a recent gig they met someone who had been listening to the Zombies “since she was 10 years old.” She’s now all of 17. “We made a big fuss about her at the show. And her mother drove her 860 miles to see us!” Argent says.

That’s not saying the day-to-day grind of touring is a bag of laughs—the 77-year-old Argent notes it’s “tough” on the body. And even though they can now zip across the U.S. in relative comfort in a van with “plush aircraft seats and wifi,” that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth.

The cheeky cover of Different Game features a photo Argent took of a real-life incident when that very passenger van broke down in the middle of the desert outside of Phoenix.

“It seems to sum up what being in a band is truly like!” Argent laughs. He says that while on the road, the van was taking “extreme punishment” in temperatures of 112 degrees. Then the air conditioning went out.

“We had enough water in the van to drink, and we thought we could make it to the next stop. And then the engine caught on fire and everything stopped!” he continues. Eventually, they got in touch with a tow truck driver, but it still took two hours for him to get out. And that’s what listeners see on the cover.

Finally, after the Zombies broke up—ironically just before they scored their biggest hit with “Time of the Season”—Argent formed a new band that bared his name. Their own biggest hit was 1972’s “Hold Your Head Up” (which the current Zombies usually perform, alongside their own hits, deeper cuts, new material, and some Blunstone solo songs).
For decades, most listeners have thought the chorus goes (and lustily sang along with) “Hold your head up…whoooaa!” But as Argent always mentions onstage, it’s actually “Hold your head up…wo-man!” It gives the song a completely different vibe of female empowerment.

“Our sound engineer later came up to me and said that nobody understood it, and when I listened to it, it did sound ambiguous!” Argent laughs. “But I’ve gotten communications from people who said that that song had helped them through tough times. Chris [White] originally wrote it for his wife who he just got married to and they were just about to have a baby. But people bring their own feelings to the song. And I think all the best songs have that.”

The Zombies play on Wednesday, March 22, 8 p.m., at the House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. For information, call 888-402-5837 or visit AJ Smith opens. $49.50-$65.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero