In 1815, British invaders were repelled by Andrew Jackson’s ragtag group of lusty Creoles, Baratarian pirates, free men of color, and Kentucky riflemen. Now, 200 years after the Battle of New Orleans, the tide has turned. On March 12, one of the British Invasion’s most trailblazing bands – the Zombies – will be welcomed into the Crescent City with open arms by a ragtag group of record collectors, music aficionados, urban-renewing hipsters, and Baby Boomers.
Yes, the band that helped define the revolutionary – and psychedelic – sounds of ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll with songs like “She’s Not There,” “Time of the Season,” and “Tell Her No” is coming to the House of Blues on March 12 in a show presented in association with the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation. And even more amazingly, this marks their first-ever appearance in the so-called Big Easy! Fronted by original members Rod Argent on keys and Colin Blunstone on vocals, the Zombies are touring with critically acclaimed Queens-bred rockers Hollis Brown.
If you’ve been to prior Stomp festivals, you’ve heard the best of the best in antique garage rock, psychedelia, and proto-punk – from Question Mark and the Mysterians and Roky Erickson to the Seeds and the Sonics, from Sam the Sham and Zakary Thaks to homegrown favorites such as Dr. Spec’s Optical Illusion, the Bad Roads, and the Gaunga Dyns. This Zombies appearance is the newest jewel in that grungy ’60s crown. Don’t miss these iconic pioneers of baroque pop kicking out the jams with bonafide British sophistication and a heavy dose of lysergic nostalgia.
The Zombies followed in the Beatles’ footsteps to America, yet while the Fab Four were screaming “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”, the Zombies were serving up a markedly more mature, darker sound, epitomized by the nihilistic lyrics, moody minor key, intense vocal harmonies, and jazzy organ of “She’s Not There” (Decca, 1964). Reaching #1 on the Cashbox chart and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was the first self-penned song by a British act after the Beatles to hit #1 in the States. [Argent later recalled that the opening line (‘No one told me’) in fact came from a John Lee Hooker song.]
That’s not to say that the Zombies weren’t Beatles fans – they were. And likewise, the Beatles dug the Zombies. George Harrison gave his thumbs-up in an appearance on the British TV show “Juke Box Jury,” and according to Zombie guitarist Paul Atkinson: “When I first met Paul (McCartney) – I worked with him in the ‘70s – he actually launched into ‘She’s Not There.’ He knew all the words, he sang the whole thing!”
Battered by this relentless musical onslaught from overseas, suddenly the Yanks were on the run. Whereas before the Brits had been feasting on Chicago blues, Memphis/Sun rockabilly, Chuck Berry riffs, Motown/Philly soul, and horn-infused Fats Domino platters, Americans were now scrambling to imitate the imitators. Trading in his cowboy hat for girlish locks, Tex-Mex music prodigy Doug Sahm formed the Sir Douglas Quintet at the behest of “Crazy Cajun” producer Huey Meaux, who thought its titular pretensions would convey British bloodlines and thus rook the record-buying teenybopper masses. The ruse worked. Likewise, New Orleans R&B stringster Earl Stanley – a hardcore Yat to the bone – donned “Cuban-heeled boots, played a Gretsch guitar and possessed a genuine mop top shaggier than that of many English rock ’n’ rollers,” according to music writer Michael Hurtt. And who could ever forget the Florida-born Royal Guardsmen and their epic World War I opus “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron”?
The above version of “She’s Not There” by Nick Cave and Neko Case was featured on the wildly popular Southern Gothic vampire soap opera “True Blood.” Bloodshot Louisiana swamp-rocker Charles “C.C.” Adcock, a musical contributor to the HBO series, also delivered a snarlingly sensual rendition in a PG-13 duet with retro chanteuse Clairy Browne on the Australian music quiz show “Rockwiz” a few years back. Watch it here.
The roster of artists past and present who were inspired by the Zombies is endless: the Doors, the Kinks, the Byrds, Left Banke, Procol Harum, the Moody Blues, the Merry-Go-Round, Paul Weller, Tom Petty, the Foo Fighters, Beck, and more. Even Elvis reportedly had Zombies records on his personal jukebox at Graceland!
Founding the group in 1962 in the London suburb of St. Albans, the teenage Argent, Blunstone, and Atkinson were joined by drummer Hugh Grundy and bassist Paul Arnold, who was later replaced by ace songwriter Chris White. The band was influenced by jazz and classical music as well as American performers like Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, Nina Simone, and on and on.
To see Rod and Colin shop for records and talk about some of their favorite musicians, watch this video:
After a series of artistic successes (“Whenever You’re Ready,” “Indication,” “Is This the Dream,” “She’s Coming Home”) but commercial misses produced under corporate pressure to keep the hits flowing, the band broke up in December 1967, only to see their swan-song LP for CBS Records, “Odessey and Oracle,” yield one of the definitive songs of the hippie era, “Time of the Season,” which became a hit single in 1969! [The first word of the album’s title was mistakenly misspelled by the cover’s designer, Terry Quirk.]
“Odessey and Oracle” had found a stalwart supporter in Al Kooper, a musician and record producer whose perhaps greatest claim to fame up until then was laying down the mesmerizing organ licks on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” It was lobbying by Kooper, who happened to pick up the record on a London visit, that persuaded the label to release several singles.
Featuring a pioneering use of the Mellotron (which was allegedly left behind by the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios), the album is hailed as a classic of the psychedelic pop era, alongside “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” It is now ranked at #100 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
“Time of the Season” has spawned numerous cover versions, including those by Kurt Elling/Cassandra Wilson, the Guess Who, Dave Matthews, and America. It’s also been sampled by rapper Eminem on his “Rhyme or Reason.” Its influence has even infiltrated Louisiana’s Cajun country: The late, lamented guitar and fiddle master Al Berard cut a shimmeringly gorgeous Francophone tribute for Volume Two of the “En Francais” classic-rock CD series, produced in association with Bayou Teche Brewing to support French-immersion education programs in the state. Watch this luminous YouTube version of “Temps De La Saison” by Sweet Cecilia, the Lafayette vocal-harmony trio comprising Berard’s daughters and niece, who joined Al on the original “En Francais” recording.
The Zombies resisted the natural temptation to reform and capitalize on the record’s success. Eventually, though, they did awake from their undead slumber. After separate ventures that saw Argent’s eponymous band Argent hit with the 1972 smash “Hold Your Head Up” and Blunstone record solo and with the Alan Parsons Project, the Zombies reunited first in 1991 and later in various configurations. The reunions culminated in the original band’s 2008 trio of shows at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre to mark the 40th anniversary of “Odessey and Oracle.”
Besides Argent and Blunstone, the current lineup features guitarist Tom Toomey, bassist and ex-Kinks/Argent member Jim Rodford, and drummer Steve Rodford. This aggregation plays on the most recent original release by the band, “Breathe Out, Breathe In,” credited to “The Zombies Featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent” with some songs co-written by Chris White.
Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2014, the Zombies are still awaiting their official induction. In the meantime, revisit their rock ‘n’ roll legacy via the original wax as well as reissues and boxed sets like “Zombie Heaven,” “The Decca Stereo Anthology,” and “Odessey and Oracle: 40th Anniversary Edition.” Read all about them in the book “The Zombies: Hung Up on a Dream.” And of course, be sure to catch this once-in-a-lifetime show at the House of Blues in the French Quarter.
The concert takes place at 225 Decatur St. in New Orleans, LA 70130. It’s an 18-and-older show. Get your advance tickets today at Live Nation or check out Ticketmaster. See y’all there – alive, dead, or undead! Jolly good, old chap …