The Zombies singer Colin Blunstone didn’t intend to become a singer in a rock ’n’ roll band. Inspired by his five uncles, whom he says were all multi-instrumentalists, Blunstone originally just wanted to play guitar.
“I pleaded with my parents to buy me a guitar,” he says via phone from his home in England. “When I was 15, someone I didn’t know — Rod Argent — who went to another school, wanted to start a band. He asked one of his neighbors to be in a band. It happened by pure chance that that neighbor sat next to me. I didn’t even choose to sit there. We had to sit in alphabetical order. It was quite a strict boys school. His name was Paul Arnold. He said to me one day, ‘You have a guitar, haven’t you? Do you want to be in a band?’ That was my audition for the Zombies. Even then, when I joined the band, it was as a rhythm guitarist. Rod, who was going to become the singer, became the keyboard playing. [Singing lead vocals] wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I thought I would be standing at the back of the stage looking at my shoes and strumming a guitar. I didn’t think I would be at the front and in the middle.”
While Blunstone describes the last two years of reduced touring as “really frustrating,” he says the band took the advantage of the break to record a new, yet-to-be-released album.“That album was finished a couple of months ago,” he says. “We don’t have a name or a release date, but there is a finished album in the can.”
When the Zombies issued their final album, Odessey and Oracle, in 1968, the lukewarm response from both critics and the general public helped drive a stake into the group, which had had a handful of hits prior to its release, causing it to prematurely splinter. The band didn’t even tour in support of the album.
Famously, the group recorded the bulk of the disc at the famed Abbey Road Studios, the place where the Beatles recorded. In fact, they started recording in the wake of the Beatles, who had just cut Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club. John Lennon's mellotron was still in the studio.
Now, five decades since its release, the album is considered a classic.
“It’s great to realize that the work you were doing all those years ago did have a value,” says Blunstone when asked about what it was like to see the album finally get its due. “It’s energizing to get that kind of response even though it has come after a long time. There’s a real mystery about that album, and it intrigues me how with no promotion and no marketing, it succeeded of its own volition. People have taken notice of it. It’s like there’s some kind of underground promotion going on. Maybe it is just word of mouth. When it was released in 1968, it wasn’t a commercial success and not even a critical success. It’s just over the years that people like Tom Petty, Dave Grohl and Paul Weller have spoken up in support of the album. Rolling Stone did name it one of the top 100 of all time, and yet, it hardly touched the charts. It was on the Billboard charts for one week.”
Renewed interest in the album and the band even caught the Rock Hall’s attention, and the group started getting nominations for induction. It finally received enough votes for induction in 2019.
“It was a fabulous evening,” Blunstone says when asked about the ceremony. “There were 17,000 people there in Brooklyn that night. It was incredible. It was fantastic for us to get that recognition. It encourages you and energizes you to keep going. We’re in the autumns of our careers now, and people are sometimes amazed when they see our touring schedules.”
Blunstone attributes his ability to sing so well to the late Ian Adam, a vocal teacher who instructed him early on. He also says that he works well with Argent on phrasing.
Not ones to simply rest on their laurels, the Zombies have released a handful of studio albums in the wake of Odessey.
“We’ve recorded four albums since Rod [Argent] and I got back together again,” says Blunstone. “It’s been fantastic. I think we both thought our careers as recording and touring artists were over. Rod had established a career as a very successful record producer. I was singing for other people. I was singing jingles and commercials and not touring at all. It’s come as a wonderful surprise to us that we can get together and do it. We didn’t realize there was a world-wide interest in the Zombies. Now, we’re able to tour all around the world and play the music that we love.”
Blunstone says the band essentially records live when it’s in the studio these days. For the forthcoming album, it holed up in Argent’s new studio.
“You get a different energy when you’re all in the studio at the same time,” Blunstone says. “Not many bands do that these days. I sang the vocals live, and the solos are live. The only thing we overdubbed are the backing vocals. We did that with [2015's] Still Got That Hunger and have done it with the new [forthcoming] album too.”
For the live show, the band will play a mix of material, including its hits from the ’60s and new tunes as well.
“We even play some obscure Zombie tracks,” says Blunstone. “I like to think there is something there for everyone. I think it’ll be a very exciting show.”
The Zombies play Ludlow Garage (342 Ludlow Ave., Clifton) at 8:30 p.m. June 30. Info: ludlowgaragecincinnati.com.
This story was originally published by CityBeat sister newspaper Cleveland Scene.