The Zombies — the rock band and, for that matter, the fictional undead monsters — are arguably more popular than ever. The band was recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in recognition of their hit songs “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season,” plus their acclaimed 1968 album “Odessey and Oracle” recorded just before they broke up.
Original Zombies Colin Blunstone (lead vocals), Rod Argent (keyboards, vocals), Chris White (bass, vocals) and Hugh Grundy (drums) will be at The Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara on Sunday, Sept. 8 to perform “Odessey and Oracle” in its entirety, plus other Zombies and post-Zombies favorites.
Then the genius songwriter Brian Wilson will perform selections from the Beach Boys albums “Friends” and “Surf’s Up,” plus other Beach Boys favorites. Tickets are available by clicking here.
White, who wrote more than half of the songs on “Odessey and Oracle” and was the primary songwriter for the post-Zombies band Argent’s hit “Hold Your Head Up,” spoke to Noozhawk about the upcoming show.
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Jeff Moehlis: Are you looking forward to making the trip to Santa Barbara to perform?
Chris White: Oh, very much so. Rod [Argent] and Colin [Blunstone] have the touring band, and Hugh [Grundy] and I join in when we do “Odessey and Oracle” from beginning to end. We’ve done three tours now doing “Odessey and Oracle.” And, of course, playing with Brian Wilson is going to be wonderful. So I’m really looking forward to it.
JM: Were you a big fan of the Beach Boys back in the 1960s?
CW: Absolutely. I mean, that era of him putting out “Pet Sounds,” which really turned us on to his creative style … . And, of course, when we do “Odessey and Oracle” we use Darian Sahanaja, who is Brian’s main keyboard man. He comes to play with us as well. So he’s doing a double shift this tour [laughs].
JM: I want to ask you about one of the earliest Zombies songs, “She’s Not There.” When you were recording that song, did you think that it would be a big hit?
CW: When we decided to actually try being a professional band for six months, when we won a contest, we expected everything to take off. It was the time of The Beatles and their incredible invasion of America musically. We half expected that as long as we did something really good, it might take off. We didn’t expect it to go to No. 1 in America. It was 1964, and we really didn’t expect to be at the Brooklyn Fox for a Christmas show in 1964, because America was a magic land. It was really exciting when we got over to America.
JM: Any memories of that first trip to America that you’re willing to share?
CW: [laughs] Well, yes. I remember we were driving in to New York, and first of all the skyline, the music on the radio, the sound of sirens on cars — because we used to have bells on our police cars — and hearing gunshots at night. We weren’t used to any of that.
But the show with all those fantastic acts, and doing eight shows a day over Christmas, that was unbelievable. Working with our heroes, you know — Ben E. King, The Shirelles, The Shangri-Las, Chuck Jackson and Patti LaBelle. This was a magic moment for us, being right at the home of rock ‘n’ roll, which really moved us. And then later touring with Del Shannon. The excitement of playing with your heroes is one of the things I remember most.
JM: Fast-forwarding a couple of years, you guys recorded “Odessey and Oracle,” which had a number of your songs on it. How did the band’s approach to that album differ from the earlier recordings that you had done?
CW: Quite simply, we were cheated by our manager at the time. He sent us to the Philippines for about 18 pounds each for 10 days, and we thought we were playing in a hotel bar, and what it turned out was we were playing at the Araneta Coliseum, and we were playing for 30,000 people a night for 10 days. So when we came back, we didn’t have a manager, and we didn’t have a record deal because Decca had dropped us, and Rod and I decided that we wanted to produce an album ourselves. We were happy with our first producer, but he made everything sound a little bit soft, and we were never allowed to go to the mixing sessions.
So we said, “Let’s do it ourselves,” and we got into Abbey Road, and of course it was just after “Sgt. Pepper” had been recorded. The Beatles had just left. And we had the advantage of using their engineers at probably, at that time, the best studio in the world. We only had 1,000 pounds, and we had to really rehearse our stuff before we went to the studios, and we did the songs as we could hear them in our head. So this was the first time we really did it ourselves.
On top of that, John Lennon had left his mellotron in the studio, so Rod immediately jumped onto that, and after rehearsing stuff that was added, which colored the whole album. We just did what we heard in our heads. It was just a magic time. But nobody wanted it when it got released [laughs], so that’s when we split up.
JM: Of course, it became a huge album later. When did you become aware that “Odessey and Oracle” had become a bit of a cult album?
CW: One of my sons had just went to college, and he phoned me up and said, “Dad, the kids here all think it’s a great album. They’re playing it all the time.” So I phoned up Rod, and I said, “Rod, I think it’s become a bit of a cult album.” This was about 15 years ago. And he said, “Oh, is it? No it hasn’t.”
And then all of a sudden people like Tom Petty and other artists quoted it as their favorite album. Then we were suddenly realizing we’d never actually performed the album. So at the 40th year anniversary, we got together just to perform it, we thought, for one day. It turned out to be three days in London. And then we decided to do it in America, and it’s been fun ever since.
JM: I should congratulate you for your recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
CW: Thank you.
JM: It was long overdue in my opinion, and a lot of people’s opinion. How important was that to you and the band?
CW: Well, listen, we got inducted, and the day we got inducted, on that same day 50 years earlier, “Time of the Season” went to No. 1 in Cashbox. So it seemed like fate was paying us back. We still remain friends. I think we’re one of the only ’60s bands that like each other still [laughs]. We’re all in our 70s, and you can’t sway us. Our heads can’t be turned by it. And it was such an honor to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with so many heroes who were there before us. So it was a pleasure, an absolute pleasure.
Click here for the full interview with Chris White.
— 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 website, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.