It’s gotten to where an honest Zombie can’t catch a break.
Look around. Zombies have been all over television. They have invaded cinema screens.
So how can an ardent and completely authentic Zombie make his way in 2013? When you are British pop veteran Colin Blunstone, you simply follow the same professional instincts you have relied on for more than 50 years.
Of course, Blunstone isn’t your garden-variety, flesh-munching undead. He is the founding vocalist and frontman for the Zombies, the immensely influential ’60s pop band with the astonishingly brief life span — brief, that is, until it rose from the dead.
“It’s a very exciting thing to see,” Blunstone, 68, said by phone from his home in London, shortly before the Zombies began its third North American tour of the year. “The way I look at it, we haven’t had a hit record in recent years. So when I see the audiences building up and getting more and more enthusiastic, it’s because of the way we’ve played. It’s a word-of-mouth thing. That makes this a very exciting project to be involved in. It’s exciting just to be in a band at this time in our careers that is still gaining new fans and playing in bigger and bigger places.”
The Zombies’ commercial heyday was nearly a half-century ago. After a string of hits (“She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “I Love You”) built around Blunstone’s almost operatic tenor singing and the groove-conscious keyboard work of Rod Argent, the band cut what would become an almost iconic psychedelic pop album, “Odessey and Oracle.” That’s when legend takes hold of the story.
“Odessey and Oracle” was recorded in 1967. But the Zombies disbanded amicably before the record was released in 1968. In 1969, one of the album’s sleekest pop singles, “Time of the Season,” became a worldwide hit. Since then, several pop generations have championed the Zombies, from hordes of ’70s and ’80s rock celebrities to younger college and indie-pop crowds.
“If a group like The Zombies appeared now, they would own the world,” wrote Tom Petty in the liner notes to the 1997 box-set anthology “Zombie Heaven.”
“We recorded ‘Odessey and Oracle,’ and then the band finished,” Blunstone said. “We never went out and played those tracks. I think that started this mystique about the band. ‘Why did this happen? Why didn’t they reform and come out and play?’ The fact of the matter was that we were all committed to other projects. I don’t think any of us have ever really wanted to look back. That might sound a bit strange and ironic now that we are in another incarnation of the Zombies.”
There were a few attempts to resurrect the band in the ’90s. But what has led to a fully operative Zombies lineup led by Blunstone and Argent that has lasted nearly 13 years began as unceremoniously as the dissolution of the original group.
“All of this came up quite by chance,” Blunstone said. “I originally got back together again with Rod to play six concerts. We were very specific about that — just six concerts. But we both enjoyed it so much, really from the first half-hour of the first concert, that we just thought we would keep going. And here we are 13 years later still playing.
“When we first started again, we didn’t call the band the Zombies. In the U.K. and in Europe, we were playing mostly songs from our solo careers with hardly any Zombie tracks. But after we got back together again, we were very pleasantly surprised to find there was a huge interest in the Zombies. Bit by bit, we started playing Zombies tunes. We had to relearn many of them. That was the beginning of what we’re doing at the moment.”
Connecting again with Argent wasn’t difficult. The keyboardist co-produced three of Blunstone’s post-Zombies solo albums. Although Blunstone’s solo popularity was largely limited to Europe, he found new audiences through vocal cameos on early ’80s records by the prog-rock-minded Alan Parsons Project. Argent, who continued a songwriting relationship with Zombies bassist Chris White, found international fame in the early ’70s with a band that bore his name and a major 1972 hit, “Hold Your Head Up.” The bassist for Argent (the band), Jim Rodford, was retained for the current Zombies incarnation along with his son, Steve Rodford, as drummer. Guitarist Tom Toomey joined in 2010.
The reconstituted Zombies have cut three studio albums of new material, the most recent being 2011’s “Breathe Out, Breathe In.” A fourth is near completion.
But the most remarkable aspect to the band’s return isn’t that it is simply enjoying a second artistic life but that it is doing so with Blunstone and Argent performing with a level of sharpness and vitality that few ’60s reunion acts can muster.
“Rod and I just love to play. It’s just something in our DNA, I suppose. It gives us a great sense of fulfillment and excitement,” Blunstone said. “We just laugh at it all sometimes because we never ever thought that at this time in our lives, we would be playing live as much as we are. Neither of us expected to be doing this. But that adds just a little bit to the excitement.”