Colin Blunstone stood on the stage of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on March 29, 2019, a huge grin on his face, and basked in the glorious sight of 17,000 starstruck music fans cheering on the band he’d co-founded an astounding 55 years earlier. “This wonderful occasion,” the singer told the crowd, “is an absolute joy and makes it very, very worthwhile. Thank you!”
The “wonderful occasion” was the long-awaited induction of The Zombies into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group—key figures in the fabled British Invasion of the ’60s—had been eligible for induction for decades and now it was finally their turn. Although The Zombies had only scored three Top 10 hits—“She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season”—the last climbing the charts some two years after the group had already disbanded, they were still adored and their influence had only expanded through the years. An album they’d recorded in 1967, Odessey and Oracle, virtually ignored in its own time, had subsequently been recognized as one of the most brilliant works of its era, routinely finding its way into “best of all time” lists and inspiring raves from fellow musicians and rock fans of all ages.
One such admirer, Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, delivered the speech at Barclays inducting The Zombies. She called Blunstone’s voice “wondrous,” adding, “The tone and timbre of it is like silk and velvet and linen woven through each and every syllable you sing. Your voice is just plain sexy!”
“It was incredible. It’s a validation,” says Blunstone about the Hall of Fame induction. “It makes you feel that what you’ve been doing had some value.”
For all of the accolades bestowed upon The Zombies, though, the band’s brief initial tenure is only part of the total Colin Blunstone story. Graced with one of the most distinctive, alluring and soulful voices in contemporary music, one that is every bit as strong today as during The Zombies’ early years, Blunstone has also enjoyed a long and fruitful solo career. He has released 10 albums of his own over a period spanning more than 50 years, and has lent his remarkable pipes to the recordings of many others, most notably the Alan Parsons Project, who featured Blunstone on their 1982 hit “Old and Wise,” as well as on several albums.
It all began officially in 1971, with the release of Blunstone’s debut solo album, One Year. Much like Odessey and Oracle, the LP enjoyed only limited appreciation in its own time, with the single “Say You Don’t Mind” (written by former Moody Blues singer/future Wings member Denny Laine) finding its way to the UK top 15 (although both the album and single evaded the public’s collective ear in America). Ironically, perhaps, it was nearly a Zombies album in all but name, co-produced by two of Blunstone’s former bandmates, keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White; the pair also co-composed three of the songs on One Year and Argent, the band recently formed by the keyboardist, served as Blunstone’s accompanists on a few tracks.
One of those tracks, “She Loves the Way They Love Her,” was chosen to open the album, and stands as one of its highlights, alongside Colin’s own “Caroline Goodbye'' and a couple more covers, Mike D’Abo’s “Mary Won’t You Warm My Bed” and an exquisite reading of Tim Hardin’s classic “Misty Roses.” The latter is one of several tunes on the album incorporating a string section, giving One Year a lush baroque sensibility that perfectly complements Blunstone’s expressive vocal style.
One Year has, like Odessey…, taken on a life of its own, attaining such a mythic stature in the decades since its release that a recent reissue included 14 bonus tracks—demo recordings that had long been lost—under the title That Same Year, more than doubling the original length of the album. “I think One Year and [the 1972 follow-up album] Ennismore are probably the two strongest solo albums,” Blunstone says today, but there were periods of doubt when he wasn’t even sure whether he wanted to continue; he even held down a menial day job for some time while he sorted out his role in the rock pantheon.
“I didn’t know if I really even wanted to get back into the music business,” he says. “I was so saddened by the demise of The Zombies. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put myself through that again.” Like many in his field, he was feeling overworked, over-pressured, particularly by the grind of touring. “Something has to give if you are touring constantly and trying to record constantly. You have to make choices. So my solo band came off the road around ’73 and then I joined Rocket Records and I recorded three albums for them.”
Although Rocket co-founders Elton John and Bernie Taupin encouraged Blunstone, who lived in California for part of that period, the singer wasn’t able to replicate the acceptance he’d enjoyed with The Zombies. He recorded a cover of the Motown hit “What Become of the Broken Hearted” with the British keyboardist Dave Stewart (not the Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame) and accepted Alan Parsons’ invitation, while keeping off the road for many years. Both preceding the Parsons involvement, and after, there were other solo albums—Echo Bridge, The Light Inside, The Ghost of You and Me—that found critical favor and pleased devoted fans but did not receive wide distribution.
Finally, at the urging of a keyboardist friend, future Deep Purple member Don Airey, Blunstone returned to live performance. The two formed a band that lasted some 18 months. "After Airey left", says Blunstone, “I had another keyboard player who turned up 10 minutes before the show and didn’t know any of the songs. I thought I was gonna have a heart attack. At that point I phoned Rod Argent.”
At first, Colin’s fellow Zombie, who had become a successful producer, wasn’t sure he wanted to return to live performance either. “He played six dates, really enjoyed it, and then we had to have a sit-down and talk about what we were gonna do,” says Blunstone. It seemed obvious: Adding bassist Jim Rodford, Argent’s cousin, who had been a core member of the Argent band as well as spending a lengthy tenure with The Kinks, they began playing concerts. The shows were all received enthusiastically but, they soon discovered, audiences wanted to hear more Zombies music. Reluctant at first to trade in on the legacy, Blunstone and Argent spoke with the surviving Zombies, who gave the two their blessing. The Zombies were back!
And now, more than two decades later, they are still at it, touring prolifically and recording new music, including the highly regarded albums As Far as I Can See... (2004), Breathe Out, Breathe In (2011) and Still Got That Hunger (2015). A new Zombies studio album is nearing completion as 2022 comes to a close. Although Jim Rodford has passed, his son, Steve Rodford, currently holds down the drum stool; Tom Toomey plays guitar and Danish musician Søren Koch occupies the bass position. On some Zombies tours, the entire Odessey and Oracle album has been recreated live, with original members Grundy and White reuniting onstage with Blunstone and Argent. A live album/DVD, Odessey and Oracle (Revisited): The 40th Anniversary Concert, capturing their show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2008, was released to commemorate one such event. (Original Zombies guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004.)
Blunstone still loves what he does. He has continued to revisit his solo career on occasion—he released On the Air Tonight—in 2012, and hopes to devote more time to that pursuit in the future. But he will never get tired of giving audiences “She’s Not There,” “Time of the Season” and the rest. “We play the hits because people want to hear them, and we enjoy playing them,” he says of The Zombies’ concerts, “but we also write and record new material. I think there’s a sort of a mystique about The Zombies. We’d underestimated how much interest there was in The Zombies. Completely.”
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