Newly RockHall-nominated Zombies to tour ‘Odessey and Oracle’ next year

Turns out The Zombiesnomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wasn’t the only news relating to the historic British Invasion group to be announced this week.

Now comes word of a North American Zombies tour next spring–to continue to England and Europe later in the year–to include the final full-album performances of Odessey and Oracle reuniting all four surviving members of the group: lead vocalist Colin Blunstone, keyboardist/vocalist Rod Argent, bassist/vocalist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy (original guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004).

Also next year—in March—comes publication of a lavish, LP-sized coffee-table book, featuring lyrics for the Odessey and Oracle songs and many of their other classics, all handwritten by the songwriters and accompanied by original artwork from Terry Quirk, creator of the famous Odessey and Oracle album cover, and Vivienne Boucherat, who has conceived individual illustrations for each of its songs. Text will additionally include Zombies’ anecdotes behind the songs and their recording.

Released in 1968–ironically after the group had disbanded—Odessey and Oracle yielded The Zombies’ landmark hit, “Time of the Season,” the following year. It’s been widely acknowledged since then as a pop album masterpiece, with “Time of the Season” being used in numerous films and TV shows.

Blunstone and Argent, who enjoyed successful solo careers following the original Zombies demise, reunited in 1998 and then revived The Zombies name in 2004. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Odessey and Oracle, the four surviving original Zombies performed three concerts at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre in March, 2008.

Last year White and Grundy again joined their former bandmates for select performances of the album in the U.S., in which The Zombies current lineup–bassist Jim Rodford, guitarist Tom Toomey and Steve Rodford (Jim’s son) on drums–also played. Those shows furthered the band’s remarkable resurgence as a major concert draw more than 50 years after they first hit big with “She’s Not There”—their 1964 single inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame just last year.

As many reviewers have noted, The Zombies today have somehow never sounded better.

Concert Highlights–Colin Blunstone at City Winery, 5/13/14

Every song Colin Blunstone sings live is a concert highlight—which is my cop-out way of saying that I got to his Tuesday night show (May 13) at City Winery late after Tammy Faye Starlite’s Broken English/Marianne Faithfull presentation at Joe’s Pub, then spent most of it standing in the back hearing it with one ear, the other catching up with old friend Deb Hastings.

I can tell you that “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which he was singing when I walked in, was a revelation. But you knew that.

Same with “I Don’t Believe in Miracles,” which ended with a high note held long and steady, Blunstone exuding a joy in singing rarely seen—Tony Bennett coming to mind.

“That’s the difference between falsetto singing and singing in full voice,” said Deb, Bo Diddley’s longtime bassist/bandleader, whom I’ve known since she was my photographer at the Madcity Music Sheet in Madison, Wisconsin, many eons ago.

The only other singer I knew that can approach Blunstone in this or any regard, I told her, is Howard Kaylan of The Turtles. I then related how several years ago The Zombies and The Turtles were on the Hippiefest bill and shared the same dressing room trailer at Coney Island.

Old friends with The Turtles and friendly with The Zombies, I stood back and took in maybe the most relaxed and fun backstage scene I’d ever witnessed: Here were two bands who’d done it all, one British Invasion, the other an American one that had followed shortly in its wake, both with historic hits—and both with extraordinary lead vocalists. Both were 40 years or so past their prime, yet you couldn’t tell the difference, eyes closed.

And when The Turtles played, Colin and Rod Argent watched from the wings. And when The Zombies played, Howard and Mark Volman did the same.

After The Zombies’ set, Howard came over to me, clearly overcome.

“I can’t do it now,” he said, gravely, “but toward the end of the tour, I’m going to tell Colin how much he influenced me.”

Now I was overcome. I mean, here was one of the greatest singers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll confiding in me how he was so in awe of another one of the greatest singers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll as to be unable to approach him without weeks of preparation.

Making it that much more compelling, for me, was the fact that up until this moment, I never saw the connection, realizing now how obvious it was and is.

Meanwhile, I did make note that Blunstone was singing “Any Other Way” at City Winery—accompanied by a fabulous acoustic guitar solo from Zombies guitarist Tom Toomey (Zombies drummer Steve Rodford was also in Blunstone’s band, which also included, during a brief interlude, a string quintet). He explained that the song, which he wrote, fit in with his preference for story songs.

“I love songs with story lyrics,” he said. “It makes it more interesting if you know the story in the song.”

He then introduced one from his new solo album On the Air Tonight, “So Much More.”

“This one is a deep, emotional, strip-you-naked type thing, about a person who was so courageous and inspirational, who arose out of awful trouble–and then it all went completely wrong and she married me! This song is for Mrs. ‘B.’”

And then he retold the wonderful story of his supernatural vocal quality, where he had learned “voice tricks” from his singing teacher, including “lifting from your pelvic floor” (or in less technical terms, “singing from your ass”), projecting one’s voice from the back of one’s neck, and, in a more arcane tip directed primarily toward female vocalists, presumably, singing “tits over shoulders, girls!”

These applied to specifically “Time of the Season,” which with “She’s Not There,” were the only two Zombies songs Blunstone sung. Closing with the latter, he bore out Toomey’s intro as “one of the greatest voices to come out of the U.K.”

And after being made aware of his effect on Kaylan, Blunstone, with all modesty, said, “He’s so wonderful.”