tom smith | make green bay weird | aug. 2019
Legendary British rock band The Zombies are playing Oshkosh at the Leach Amphitheater on August 15. Hits like “Time of the Season,” “She's not There” and “Tell Her No” have recently landed the band in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I had the honor and privilege to interview, via telephone, their singer Colin Blunstone.
I see your tour with the Zombies kicks off at the Leach Amphitheater in Oshkosh on August 15th. When you see a concert date in Wisconsin, what comes to mind?
You know, the thing with me is that I remember venues more now by seeing them than I do by the name, and so I'm a little vague about areas and specific venues, but I think because we've been touring for such a long time that it's probably inevitable. To be honest, when you mentioned Wisconsin to me I remember when I was at school, there happened to be a guy in my class at school and he came from Madison, Wisconsin. So if you're asking about my first thought, that's my first thought.
How about the Green Bay Packers American football team, does that come up to you ever in your mind?
Well I lived for some time in L.A. a long, long time ago, and so I supported the Rams many years ago. I know that they left L.A. and now they've gone back. I went to one game and I really enjoyed it. I like American football. When I was living there I could pretty much watch it all day over the weekend and I really enjoyed it. I don't know the finer points, you know, I know the basics.
The next date of your tour is in Cleveland at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Is this date to celebrate your induction into that hall of fame?
Well, I think it is. I'm certain we will be celebrating our induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was, I mean when we were first nominated, which was about four or five years ago; we've been nominated for four of the last five years, and that first time it was quite a shock. As time went on, because we were nominated four times, I think we started to think we would only ever be nominated and then the icing on the cake, we were actually inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year. We played in front of 17,000 people at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn alongside Def Leppard, Stevie Nicks, Roxy Music, Radiohead, The Cure and Janet Jackson, it was a fantastic evening, I'll never forget it, it was really, really exciting. The induction speech for us was given by Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles and she just gave a wonderful speech and there wasn't a dry eye when she finished, it was very moving.
Now that you are a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, can I ask you what artists you think deserve consideration?
You're reminding me I have to take my voting rights seriously, I'll have to investigate, but right now I haven't really looked into it, to be honest.
Well I've never talked to someone who has voting rights — I'm an unpaid lobbyist for the MC5.
Duly noted, duly noted.
I've worked at record stores here in Green Bay, Wisconsin, since 1984 and I see a reoccurring pattern of young adults who play in great local bands getting into The Zombies — to what do you attribute the timelessness of the music you have created?
Well, I think there were two really special things about The Zombies. I think Rod Argent is a very special musician, you know, the songs he wrote and the way he helped produce the other songs that we recorded, that did make that music very special. And going on from there with two writers — Rod and Chris White — I had no idea when we started the band way back, when we were basically a school band, that we would have two prolific and sophisticated writers in the band. So I think Rod's musicality really sets us up to be different and also the writing of Rod Argent and Chris White and the songs that they wrote do definitely have a timeless feel about them. Now I don't think they intended that, it's just something that happened, maybe it's to do with it being really well-crafted songs, but they definitely do have a timeless feel about them.
Are there any younger musical artists that you'd be intrigued to collaborate with?
I'm not a great collaborator. To be honest, as far as writing is concerned, I've collaborated with very few people. Basically if I sat down and somebody started playing the guitar and we hit it off I'd write with anyone if we get along ok.
I've read that The Zombies have a long-time desire to tour with Brian Wilson. Are there any other artists you'd be fired up to hit the road with?
Yeah, I think all the greats of my time. I really do think that the people that you respect in your formative years are the musicians that shape you for a lifetime. I'd love to tour with all the greats from the '60s and the '70s, you know them by one name, maybe that's a test how successful you've been, like McCartney, Elton, Sting, I'd love to play with any of those, they're just absolutely wonderful artists.
Pop culture these days has been dominated by zombie television shows and movies. When the band picked that name in the '60s, did you think the term 'zombies' would be such a thing 50 years later? How did the band pick the name?
Second part first: It seems a silly thing to be talking about, but a band has to have a name and we were stuck, I remember we were the Sundowners for a number of weeks and no one liked that and we were just desperate. And when the original bass player in The Zombies, Paul Arnold, just came up with this name Zombies. To be honest, I'm not really sure I knew what a zombie was, I'm not even sure I know what a zombie is now, but it was catchy and it stuck. Paul Arnold left the band before we made the first record and went on to become a doctor. But did we think there would be a whole zombie movement? Absolutely not, no. I'd like to think that we played a small part in zombie culture, I don't know if that's true, but it's a nice thought. But certainly there were no zombie songs, zombie TV programs, no zombie magazines, comics, or whatever — it was a very unusual name, it stuck. I think I was arguing against it because it was so left-field, but it was very catchy and it stuck.
You've seen a million changes in the recording industry throughout your career. What do you see for the future of the recording industry?
Well it's a bit of a mystery, so many changes. If I could answer in a lighthearted way first: When I entered the music business at 18, the music business was a mystery to me, a complete mystery to me. There's been so many changes, it changes week by week, big changes, but the fact of the matter is that it's still a mystery to me. So I'm really fortunate in that it hasn't changed for me. But it certainly is changing, I guess the main thing is that records and CDs really don't sell like they used to, like for instance you would tour to promote an album in the '60s. But now really you make an album to promote the tour, it's regressed. I think a large proportion of peoples' records are at concerts, which never happened in the '60s. Merchandise didn't exist, that has been another huge change that's happened.
Well, I hope it keeps going because I've only had two jobs in my life; I've had a job in this record store for 31 years and another record store for four. So for me, too, I've been in this bubble too. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have this job at the record store, so fingers crossed it stays around somehow.
Absolutely, I mean I couldn't agree more. I love record shops, it's one of my treats to go into a record shop and buy vinyl as well as CDs, and I would hate it if — well, I mean record shops aren't going anywhere, they're becoming something of a rarity.
Luckily the youth have brought that vinyl resurgence back, they're a big part of it, so I see hope for the future.
Absolutely, I really like vinyl and I'm so glad it has come back into vogue.
Catch The Zombies Aug. 15 at the Leach Amphitheater during Waterfest.
More info at waterfest.org.
Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show in 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.