On March 29, 1969, “Time of the Season” by English rock band the Zombies hit number one on the American Cashbox singles chart — despite the fact that the band had broken up 18 months earlier.
Fifty years later to the day, on March 29, 2019, the Zombies, with founding members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They’ll join fellow inductees Stevie Nicks, Radiohead, the Cure, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, and Roxy Music.
“It was wonderful to hear,” Argent says of winning after four nominations in five years. “It feels like a big honor and a big validation.”
The Zombies will play the Broward Center for the Performing Arts Friday, February 22, just weeks before the induction ceremony. Argent says fans can expect their favorite Zombies classics, deep cuts, recent hits, Argent tunes, and maybe even something new.
A younger generation of fans is being exposed to Zombies music through throwback culture such as Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which features the song “This Will Be Our Year”; a Chanel ad with Keira Knightley featuring “She’s Not There”; and Eminem’s “Rhyme or Reason,” which samples both the music and sensual, breathy vocals from “Time of the Season.”
“The fact that we’ve really built something up the second time around, from a live point of view, we’re pretty proud of that,” Argent says of gigs that are drawing impressive numbers of young people.
With the support of fans both old and new, the Zombies’ most recent album, 2015’s Still Got That Hunger, debuted at number 35 on Billboard’s Top 100 Rock Albums. Its success propelled the band’s Odessey and Oracle, the album that originally contained “Time of the Season,” to rechart after almost 50 years, prompting fans everywhere to ask once again, “Don’t these guys know how to spell?”
“They said, ‘It’s too late. It’s gone to press. It’s done,” Argent says of the record company’s response when he pointed out the misspelling of the word “odyssey“ on the album cover. “We weren’t important enough to them to want to spend any more money.”
Argent’s flat mate, Terry Quirk, was the artist responsible for the error. And as any proper English bloke would do, Argent covered for him. “I said to Chris [White, the Zombies’ bass player] that we’ll just have to say to people that it’s a play on words,” he explains. “The play on the word ‘ode’ and the idea of a journey, an odyssey. So it’s like a journey in song.”
They stuck with that story for more than 30 years until one day Argent finally spilled. “Colin [Blunstone] looked at me and his jaw dropped open and he said, ‘You never told me that! For all these years I’ve believed your story!’”
The Zombies released Odessey and Oracle in 1968 after experiencing significant success with the single “She’s Not There,” as well as “Tell Her No” from their 1965 album The Zombies. Today Odessey and Oracle holds the 100th spot on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
But despite chart-topping hits and a reputation for stellar live performances, the band didn’t last. Argent and White were financially secure (due to publishing credits), but other members were left struggling after the band was ripped off for about 2 million pounds for unpaid live performances. “When we split up originally, it was absolutely about money,” Argent says.
Argent, along with White as a sort of silent member, went on to form the eponymous Argent, which spurred hits such as “Hold Your Head Up” and “God Gave Rock and Roll to You,” the latter of which found success in a modified version by Kiss that is still a favorite at that band’s live shows today.
The Zombies are well known for stellar live performances.
Photo by Maggie Clarke
But in 1969, the Zombies were on top — or they would have been if the band hadn’t split up in 1967. Fans demanded to see them despite the fact there were no longer Zombies to be found. And then, suddenly, like in a horror movie, there were Zombies everywhere — musicians impersonating the Zombies, that is.
“It’s so funny that just a couple of years ago, ZZ Top — Frank Beard and Dusty — actually owned up that they were one of the fake Zombies bands before they were ZZ Top,” Argent says of the surfeit of impostors that seemed to materialize overnight. “I never really cared — it just made me laugh.”
But not everyone was laughing. One night, Zombies superfan Tom Petty quickly learned that a band he had gone to see was a fraud. “He said they were terrible and went backstage and told them: ‘You’ve got to stop playing! You’re not the Zombies!’” Argent says of how the iconic singer-songwriter was able to put the kibosh on one imitator.
But like the undead, wannabe Zombies just kept appearing. Argent recalls another incident with a guy who kept insisting he was original Zombies drummer Hugh Grundy. “This guy pulled out a gun and pointed it at him and said, ‘You are not Hugh Grundy.’ And then the guy said, ‘OK, OK, I own up to it,’” Argent recalls. “That was the end of that band.”
While fake Zombies cashed in on unsuspecting fans, Argent took time to spread his wings, collaborating on a myriad of albums. “I was supposed to be playing on the whole Who Are You album, but I’d agreed to do a project for Andrew Lloyd Webber,” Argent says of backing out of the Who recordings after only four songs in favor of Webber’s rock album Variations.
But zombies come back to life, and, true to their name, in the early 2000s, Argent and Blunstone reunited, ready to embrace the future. “It felt good,” Argent says. “It didn’t feel like just raking over the embers.”
Argent, now 73, is excited to come to Florida, where he says fans have been more supportive of the current incarnation of the Zombies than they were in the band’s early years. It’s all just icing on the cake of a career that has spanned more than a half-century and just keeps getting better.
“There’s nowhere I would rather be than where I am right now,” Argent says. “To be able to make my living for the whole of my life, make a really good living, out of what I otherwise would have woken up and paid to do with my days… I’m nothing but grateful, and I don’t regret anything.”
The Zombies. 8 p.m. Friday, February 22, at the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $49.50 to $169.50 via ticketmaster.com.