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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 5:22 am | Fair 46º


Jeff Moehlis: Time of The Zombies

British rock 'n' rollers to play at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai, with opener Bruce Sudano

The Zombies will perform Sunday at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai. Click to view larger
The Zombies will perform Sunday at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai. (Andrew Eccles photo)

There aren't many people who can truthfully say, "I was a teenage Zombie." Two of them — Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone — are Zombies again, part of the reformed British '60s band that brought us songs like "She's Not There," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season."

More than 50 years since their first hit, The Zombies will be performing at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai on Sunday. Tickets are available by clicking here.

Opening the show is Bruce Sudano, whose musical career has intersected with Tommy James, Dolly Parton and, most notably, Donna Summer, who he was married to, managed and co-wrote songs with, including "Bad Girls."

Argent and Sudano talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show and their amazing careers in music.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming concert?

Rod Argent: They'll get a real mix of stuff. They'll get maybe half of Odessey and Oracle, they'll get the single songs that you would expect like "Time of the Season," "She's Not There," "Tell Her No." You'll get one or two more obscure Zombies tracks as well. You will also get one Argent song that has a huge connection with The Zombies, because "Hold Your Head Up" was actually written not by me, but most of the song was written by Chris White, the original bass player for The Zombies.

And you'll also get about four or five tracks from the new album as well, which we're very proud of. We actually made the Top 100 album sales [laughs] last October, the first time for 50 years that The Zombies had a Billboard album. They called us up. So we were very proud of that.

JM: I understand that after "She's Not There" became a hit, you guys came over to America and played in New York City. What do you remember about that first trip as a band to America?

RA: It was extraordinary. I mean, you have to put yourself back into those days, really. It's not something that anyone who's young now could really understand. These days, countries have their own identity, but they have a lot in common with each other. They're being so cosmopolitan now, and it's so easy to travel now, that you can go to a hotel in most parts of the world — I mean, there are some exceptions, obviously — and you sort of get similar experiences. Also on the streets, even though things have their own characteristics, the cars look roughly the same, a lot of elements of life are roughly the same now. In those days, it was just not like that.

And the first time I went to New York, America for us was this mythical place, with musical superheroes. I loved rhythm and blues, I loved jazz, along with classical music as well, but all the heroes were American, from Elvis ... When I heard him in 1956, that was my baptism into rock 'n' roll, and I can't tell you the effect that had. But Elvis seemed like he was from another planet. And then people like Miles Davis, that I loved, and the band that he had with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley around 1958. I just adored it. Ray Charles, everybody that I loved was American. And then to actually be able to come over to America, and play in New York, it just felt like a dream. I was 19 years old — Colin and I were 19 years old.

JM: "Time of the Season" eventually took off. Can you tell us a bit about writing and recording that song?

Bruce Sudano is the opening act for The Zombies at the Libbey Bowl on Sunday.
Bruce Sudano is the opening act for The Zombies at the Libbey Bowl on Sunday. (Darren Lau photo)

RA: It was written very quickly. We needed one more song to finish the album. It was the last song we recorded. It was one of mine. We had a fairly quick rehearsal of it — Colin had only heard it a couple of days before — and we went into the studio and while he was recording it ... I mean, Colin's always been a friend. We've been friends all our lives. But he got a bit p***ed off with me because I started, as I always do, saying, "I think you could push that phrase a bit more, Colin," or "That thing there just needs to be a little bit ahead of the beat," or whatever. And he said, "Look, if you're so ****ing good, you come and sing it." I said, "Now, come on Colin, it's the last track." So it makes us laugh a bit when we think about it, because the words are, "It's the time of the season for loving," [laughs] but this was going on in the studio.

JM: Bruce, were you a fan of The Zombies back in the day?

Bruce Sudano: Without a doubt. As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, my first band did a cover of "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No." Then later on with Argent, "Hold Your Head Up" was a big favorite. So yeah, they were definitely part of the equation in my early formative rock-and-roll-band Brooklyn basement-rehearsal saga [laughs].

JM: What can people look forward to for your performance at the upcoming show?

BS: I basically do 30 minutes. I do it as a duo — it's an acoustic duo — which on the surface when I say that it may not seem like it's a good fit with a rock 'n' roll band like The Zombies, but I've done numerous shows with them over the last year and a half, and it actually works really well. My set is topical in that I tell stories — my songs are stories. I do a combination of some new songs that I haven't recorded yet, which are kind of politically topical, and then I do a couple of songs from my last couple of albums, that are emotionally charged, based on the saga that I went through with my wife. And then I do a couple of older songs from the catalog, songs that were recorded by other artists that I had success with. It's kind of like that.

I have a little bit of edge [laughs]. Even though it's an acoustic thing, I have a little bit of a soulful and rock 'n' roll edge to my deal. It works really well with The Zombies. It's actually quite complementary.

JM: How did the song "Bad Girls" come together? What was the process like?

BS: We were having these conversations with Donna. Casablanca Records was on Sunset Boulevard, and across the street there was this place that I think still exists — there were lots of call girls walking up and down the strip right about there. Donna and a couple of the other black girls, and even the white girls, that were working at Casablanca would go across the street to call us a trolley and they would get confused with the call girls that were working at the place next door.

So Donna had this thing in her mind, and she wanted to write a song about it. There was another friend from Brooklyn who had a studio called Magic Wand in Burbank, and when he had downtime we would go to the studio and set up mikes and just vibe on things. Someone would have an idea, we'd set up some vocal mikes. Joe [Esposito] and I would be on acoustic guitar, and Eddie [Hokenson] would be playing a percussion instrument, Donna would be on a mike, or I'd be on piano, depending on what we were doing. And we would just jam. "Bad Girls" came out of one of those jams, and that's how it happened. Just like that.

JM: I understand that there's a musical in the works about Donna. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and what the status is?

BS: The status is that we just completed a six-week workshop, as step one, just to see where we are with the script. Now we're making some adjustments. We're looking to be on Broadway in the not-too-distant future. Too soon to say exactly when, but we're working, and it's going to be amazing.

Click here for the full interview with Rod Argent. Click here for the full interview with Bruce Sudano.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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