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.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations focus on 1970s and beyond

It’s been 10 years at least since I and a number of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee members were let go, ostensibly, the form email firing us said, to bring in younger ones more conversant in 1970s rock. Then a couple years ago there was a final bloodletting ridding the committee of virtually all nominators—many of whom had been on since the RockHall’s launch—who had any knowledge of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when rock ‘n’ roll really was rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, with today’s announcement of the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, the turnover is pretty much complete. First time nominees Pearl Jam and Tupac Shakur, both in their first year of eligibility, are most certainly shoo-ins, with the other 17 nominees also coming mainly from the ‘70s and after.

Looking at the nominees from my g-g-generation, I’m happy to see The Zombies back on the list—one of the few ‘60s artists who sound just as good today as they did 50 years ago, when they broke artistic ground in the British Invasion. The MC5 are back, too, and also deserve to go in—though neither are no-brainers for RockHall voters with fading memories or who are just too young to remember. Other pre-‘70s nominees are first-timers Steppenwolf and Joan Baez—both deserving but likely too far back in the past, and five-time nominee Joe Tex, who will likely have to wait at least for his sixth.

The two other ‘80s acts—Jane’s Addiction and Depeche Mode–are both first-timers, and thanks to short-term memories would seem to have a good shot at going in unless Pearl Jam and Tupac cancel them out. That leaves 10 nominees—all from the ‘70s–which it’s been determined that I know little about, no matter that I wrote the first book on The Ramones.

Starting with punk/new wave, then, first-time nominee Bad Brains are worthy, but probably too obscure for a more mainstream electorate, who might prefer The Cars, back with their second nomination. On the R&B tip, I just don’t feel it for Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan (both second-timers), though disco’s Chic, with their record-setting 11th nomination, just might turn the trick this time, if only to put them out of their misery—plus Nile Rodgers and his late Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards just went into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Chicago went in last year, which may bode well for the softer ‘70s rock of Yes, now on its third nomination, and first timers Journey and Electric Light Orchestra, with ELO getting the nod here on merit.

The final two nominees—Kraftwerk and J. Geils Band—are significant, for sure, but probably also limited in the glitz factor that is now such a major part of awards recognition, even by what should be such a credible organization as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But credibility, as everyone knows, disappeared from the RockHall long ago.

More (Lesley) Gore

The New York Times Magazine has an annual end-of-the-year section where it commissions outside writers to pick someone who died in the past year and write a longer and more subjective piece than the straight obituaries. I was glad that Lesley Gore was one of the 20 or so chosen last month, and that the writer, Rob Hoerburger, did such a good job.

I think she was the first “celebrity” I met when I came to New York, other than Davy Jones and Tommy Boyce–both of whom I met at an East Side club whose name I can’t remember but is long gone. I think it was a Chem bank that was on the ground floor of the office building at 1775 Broadway where I worked at Cash Box, where I saw her walk in and followed her, gherm that I am. I’m sure I wasn’t the first lovestruck 30-year-old male to impose myself on her 20 years after buying “It’s Judy’s Turn to Cry.” That we became dear friends over the many ensuing years remains among my proudest achievements.

I worked hard on her behalf, writing about her at Billboard and examiner.com and here. I tried to get her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while I was on the nominating committee and when I got kicked off—probably for bringing her and Nancy Sinatra and other deserving and still missing female rockers up every year—I put her in my own Rock ’n’ Roll Pantheon at examiner.

I was at BookExpo at the Javits Center on Feb. 16 when I saw an email alert on my phone that she had died. I was in the press room and maybe someone noticed tears streaming down my face. I had been calling her and leaving messages, and it wasn’t like her not to return them. Now I knew why.

I mentioned in my own last roundup of the people who died in 2015 who had affected me how Lou Christie, who had performed with Lesley since the early ‘60s, had said how she was one tough broad, essentially. This, of course, I knew. In Hoerburger’s piece, he had a great quote from her: “You gotta make your 16-year-old self proud.”

Lesley and Lou and Nancy, The Turtles, Chris Hillman, The Zombies, Eric Burdon, Darlene Love, Peter Noone, The Cowsills and all the other artists from my 16-year-old self that I’ve gotten to see and sometimes gotten to know, who are—or were—just as great as I remember them, as they were back then, for them I am so grateful. I’ve written this before, that they make you proud of where and when you came from, who you were and who you still are.

I’m proud that I knew and loved Lesley Gore.

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.”