The Zombies are one of classic rock’s greats—and one of classic rock’s great paradoxes. Even though the band has been wildly successful—the British Invasion made “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season,” with its famous opening riff and echoey vocals, big hits in the United States—the name is unbeknownst to many.
The reason? While the band is approaching its 60th anniversary, it’s been active for less than half that time.
The Zombies will perform alongside musical genius and Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson at Fantasy Springs Casino Resort on Sunday, Sept. 1, as part of the “Something Great From ’68” tour. I was able to speak to lead vocalist Colin Blunstone about this opportunity.
“I’ve always listened to Brian Wilson’s music with awe. I think he’s absolutely wonderful, and the guys in his band are great too,” Blunstone said. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful experience to tour with him and his band—from a musical point of view, but also just to be traveling with brilliant musicians and fantastic people. It’s going to be a truly wonderful show!”
Earlier this year, the Zombies were at long last inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside Radiohead, The Cure, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson and Roxy Music.
“It was so exciting to get that kind of award in the autumn of your career,” Blunstone said. “It’s a recognition from both your fans and from the music industry that they’ve appreciated what you’ve been doing all of these years. It’s a wonderful feeling and still very exciting.”
The band’s momentous achievement was well deserved, as the Zombies’ career has been full of hard work and sacrifices.
“It was nonstop craziness in the ’60s,” Blunstone said. “When we first came over, we played in New York for the Murray the K’s Show at the Brooklyn Fox on Christmas 1964. We opened on Christmas Day and played for about 10 days, and did six or seven shows a day! Most of the artists did one or two songs, and there were about 15 acts on the bill: Dionne Warwick, the Shirelles, the Shangri-Las, Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, and more. That was our first experience on a stage, and it was absolutely brilliant. We were a little apprehensive since we were only 19 and came to the land of rock ’n’ roll. Every British musician wants to play in America, because this is where the blues, rhythm and blues, and rock ’n’ roll originated. We came in awe of the history of American music, and there was a very good backstage camaraderie, because we were all away from home over Christmas, so there was a great team spirit feeling there.”
The Zombies went on to tour relentlessly. The conditions were not ideal.
“It was quite physically demanding,” Blunstone said. “We were doing huge distances, and often not staying in hotels after shows. We did the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars and played with Del Shannon, Tommy Roe, the Shangri-Las, and Velvelettes. Since some of the artists lower on the bill weren’t earning as much, we would have to sleep on the bus every second night: They would drive slowly through the night so we didn’t have to get a hotel. We would arrive as late as possible in hopes that our rooms would be ready, and we could catch a bit of sleep before the show. We were all very tired at the end of that particular tour.
“Dick Clark had a few different tours out in the States, and the top acts would meet up at the end of the tour. We went up to Canada and got to play with Tom Jones, Peter and Gordon, Herman’s Hermits and a whole host of other artists at the end, which was very exciting. We played very big, sold-out venues, and there was still that ’60s hysteria. It even got a bit scary sometimes, because the audiences got a little bit out of control sometimes. It was a very strange phenomenon to witness.”
Feeling frustrated over what they perceived as a lack of success, the members of the Zombies parted ways in 1967. The band wouldn’t truly reunite until 2000.
“We had been together since 1961, and our first record was in 1964. We had only been together professionally for three years, but we worked very, very hard. I think we all needed a break,” Blunstone said. “In 1967, the band finished. Maybe if we had taken a break, we could’ve got back together. We perceived ourselves as being unsuccessful, and it is only years later that we realized we’d always had a hit record somewhere in the world. Without the internet, we didn’t realize what was happening. We would get the chart positions from countries around the world almost two years later!
“In ’67, we saw ourselves as unsuccessful, but really we weren’t. Everyone thought it was time to move on, and so we did, but then we found ourselves in a very strange position when ‘Time of the Season’ reached No. 1 on the Cash Box (magazine) chart (in 1968), and there was no band. We were all committed to other projects, and it was just too late to put the band back together. … It’s very unusual that we didn’t get back together to promote and exploit the hit record, but it was never even talked about between us.”
The members of the Zombies stayed close. They frequently collaborated on projects, including Blunstone’s debut solo album, One Year, in 1971.
“(Fellow Zombies members) Rod Argent and Chris White produced many of my solo albums, which were quite successful in the U.K. and Europe, but never in America,” Blunstone said. “People think that I just stopped and didn’t start working again until recently when we regrouped, but I was always working; I just had no chart success in America, so there’s really no reference for it.”
What finally led the Zombies to reunite after more than 30 years?
“There was a band put together with Don Airey, who was in Deep Purple and played with Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne and many other rock groups,” Blunstone said. “He called me quite often and encouraged me to get out on the road. He put a band together, and we started touring in 1997. … Eventually, Don and the guys moved on, and we had six shows left with no keyboard player. I rang Rod Argent, who had established himself as a successful producer and had been in the studio for a long time. I didn’t think he’d want to get out on the road again, but he said he’d do those six. … Here we are, almost 20 years later, still playing. I try not to make too many plans, because nothing works out the way you think it will. But 20 years on, and here we are, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It’s always been the same with the Zombies—we’ve always played because we just enjoy playing; there was never any thought of hit records or awards. We just really love music, and that’s always what’s driven us. The music business is very tough, and if you’re not in it because you love performing, writing and recording, then it’s incredibly hard to keep any level of enthusiasm.”
The Zombies will perform with Brian Wilson at 8 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 1, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Drive, in Indio. Tickets are $49 to $89. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.