Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – The Zombies
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Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – The Zombies

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: The Zombies’ frontman Colin Blunstone takes the test

By Gary Ryan

Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – The Zombies' Colin Blunstone - NME interview
CREDIT: Alex Lake

1In 2011, which two artists covered The Zombies’ 1964 classic ‘She’s Not There’ for the TV show True Blood?

“I’ve got absolutely no idea! Obviously I’m aware of the famous [1977] Santana version. That’s not a very auspicious beginning, is it? I didn’t see the TV show.”

WRONG. It was Nick Cave and Neko Case.

“Oh, I did hear that! It was a very interesting take on it. I remember it now. OK! Well, we better move on then!”

2After The Zombies broke up in 1967, ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill and Frank Beard were two members of a scam four-piece that toured as ‘The Original Zombies’. But what reason did they give for not having a fifth member?

“When ‘Time of the Season’ was a huge hit in America in 1969 we’d already split up, which created a vacuum that the music industry filled with three different fake touring versions of The Zombies. I remember Chris White, our original bassist, was once in the office of Rolling Stone magazine and they got him to ring the manager of one of the phony Zombies bands. Thinking he was talking to a journalist, the manager told them they’d formed the band to honour The Zombies’ lead singer – me! – who’d died in a car-crash! So it was strange reading the news of my own death, which was a little premature, especially in 1971. But I’ve no idea what one of them gave as a reason for not having a fifth member.”

WRONG. Frank Beard told anyone who asked that their missing keyboardist was stuck in jail after getting busted for drugs.

“Well, at least they only told people he was in prison – I was dead! Our original drummer was called Hugh Grundy, and there was a later fake Zombies that managed to find a guy who was also called Hugh Grundy – but he was their bassist and also about six inches shorter. They told people he’d shrunk and taken up a different instrument! Closer to the 1990s, we legally tried to stop the pseudo-Zombies playing because they were getting horrendous reviews, so it was a matter of pride. Nothing worked, until a fan thought they were so atrocious that he went into their dressing room and pulled a gun on them and told them to stop performing as The Zombies! I’m in no way suggesting that’s the answer to every issue in the music industry, but in this case, it was very effective as they were never heard of again!”

3Which AMC show features a dream sequence in its third season which features The Zombies’ ‘Care of Cell 44’?

“Goodness! I’m not doing well and have lost my confidence now! Is it something with zombies in it? I’m crashing here and it’s hideously embarrassing. Er… The Walking Dead?”

CORRECT.

“[Deadpan] I knew that instantly because I have my finger on the pulse!”

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4Name any four bands that The Zombies performed with on DJ Murray The K’s Christmas Show series in 1964 at the Brooklyn Fox Theater in New York?

“Dionne Warwick, The Shangri-Las, The Drifters, The Shirelles, Patti LaBelle and The Bluebells, The Nashville Teens, Dick and DeeDee – on a good day, I could probably remember them all!”

CORRECT.

“We arrived in America with a Cash Box 100 number one record there [‘She’s Not There’] and the reaction was overwhelming. We played 10 nights in Brooklyn and at the Christmas shows [hosted by the] powerful DJ called Murray The K – who billed himself as the ‘Fifth Beatle’ – with multiple acts, which opened on Christmas Day 1964. We did about eight shows per day and everyone bonded backstage.”

Who were the best bands to hang out with?

“We spent a lot of time with Patti LaBelle – who pranked us by having one of the Bluebells feign going through some weird fainting fit and passing out in the dressing room. They kept it up for a little while – as we’re running around like headless chickens unsure what to do – before they all burst out laughing. The Shangri-Las did ‘Leader of the Pack’ and Hugh Grundy got to drive their motorcycle on stage with lead singer Mary Weiss on the back seat. They had another song called ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss’ which she’d start by giving Rod a kiss on stage, so he enjoyed that! We weren’t allowed to go out during the day because there were so many fans outside the theatre. Our guitarist Paul Atkinson ignored this once and was besieged by fans rushing towards him. They tore his shirt off and had him pressed up against a shopfront. At that point, the police ordered everyone to stay inside!”

5The Zombies’ ‘The Way I Feel Inside’ is performed in the 2016 animated film Sing by which animal?

“I’m aware ‘The Way I Feel Inside’ is in the film, but I haven’t seen it. What animal was it?”

WRONG. It’s a gorilla named Johnny, played by actor Taron Egerton, famous for portraying Elton John in his 2019 biopic Rocketman.

“I was on Rocket Records – the label founded by Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Gus Dudgeon and Steve Brown among others – in the late 1970s. I had some good lunches with Elton and some great nights out with Bernie when I was in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I didn’t give them any hits, which was a shame because they were a wonderful label built around giving artists exactly what they needed.”

6Which Shakespeare play is quoted on the sleeve of The Zombies’ seminal 1968 album ‘Odessey [sic] and Oracle’? 

“Was it The Tempest?”

CORRECT.

“Ooh, that was a stab in the dark! I’m glad I got that one! Apart from the DJ Kenny Everett playing tracks off it, ‘Odessey and Oracle’ was ignored when it came out in the UK and nearly wasn’t released in America. Al Kooper forced its release on his first day working at CBS [Records] as their star producer. He went to see [label boss] Clive Davis and told him: ‘Whatever it costs, we have to get this album ‘Odessey and Oracle’’. Clive told him they already owned it but weren’t going to release it. But when it was finally released there – and even when ‘Time of the Season’ was a huge hit there – ‘Odessey and Oracle’ wasn’t a commercial success. But there’s been this belated appreciation of it over the years where Rolling Stone named it as one of the Top 100 Albums Ever, and Paul Weller called it his favourite record of all-time. Even though it was never a critical success at the time either, through word of mouth it’s become held in high esteem by more and more people each year.

“We recorded ‘Odessey and Oracle’ in Abbey Road Studios a few days after The Beatles had finished ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and played John Lennon’s mellotron that he’d left behind on it. If he hadn’t forgot it, it would have been a very different album! Geoff Emerick [famed Beatles collaborator] engineered some of ‘Odessey and Oracle’, and we last ran into him when we supported Arcade Fire in 2018, where he said: ‘Listen, I’m really serious, we must work together again’. But a few days later, he died.”

7Who inducted The Zombies into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019?

“Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles.”

CORRECT.

“I was thrilled she gave our induction speech – she’s so eloquent and wonderful.”

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8You released a version of ‘She’s Not There’ in 1969 under the pseudonym Neil MacArthur. What number did it chart at?

“Was it 28?”

WRONG. 34.

“Oh dear! I thought it was higher than that! I’d retired from the music industry at that point, but was contacted by producer Mike Hurst, whose work with Cat Stevens made me want to work with him. We did three Neil MacArthur singles, and ‘She’s Not There’ was a small hit, which got me back into the music business. A year later, I was talking to The Zombies’ Chris White, who’d set up a production company with [fellow Zombie] Rod Argent, and we agreed to go into Abbey Road Studios and do my solo album ‘One’. All the players, including producer Peter Vince, were in place from ‘Odessey and Oracle’, and I’m about to release a 50th anniversary version of that 1971 solo debut this year.”

9The Zombies played Glastonbury in 2015. Name any of the headliners that year.

“Glastonbury had a wonderful atmosphere, but I can’t remember anyone else who played. Isn’t that terrible?!”

WRONG. Florence + The Machine, Kanye West and The Who were the bill-toppers.

“Blimey! I’d have loved to see The Who – we certainly played with them in the 1960s. Florence + The Machine are my 34-year-old daughter’s favourite band of all-time.”

10Which record-breaking 2017 podcast uses The Zombies’ track ‘A Rose for Emily’ as its closing music?

“[Laughs] Well… at least I’ve been consistent! I’ve hardly known any of the answers, and I’m afraid it’s not going to be a last-minute turnaround! But I’m aware of it and all the band were amazed by the success of this podcast, and were thrilled by the use of ‘A Rose for Emily’. But I can’t remember the name of it!

WRONG. It’s S-Town. When can we expect new Zombies music?

“We’re halfway through a Zombies album which will definitely be released next year. We record together live as opposed to recording our parts separately, and we’d started before the pandemic. Then COVID-19 came along, which made getting everyone together difficult, especially our Danish bassist Søren Koch. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we’d have been finished ages ago.”

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