The Zombies
The Zombies

Formed 55 years ago in St. Albans, England, The Zombies first experienced worldwide success in 1964 with “She’s Not There,” only two years after forming. “Tell Her No” followed a few months later, also reaching the U.S. Top 10. Even though The Zombies continued to release and record solid pop-rock material, no major hit singles followed over the next few years, and The Zombies quietly disbanded in late 1967, prior to the release of 1968’s Odessey & Oracle. Even though The Zombies were broken up, Odessey track “Time Of The Season” mysteriously went to #1, ultimately becoming the group’s biggest hit.

Word of The Zombies’ greatness would spread like wildfire in the following decades. “Care Of Cell 44” has been covered by Elliott Smith, Matthew Sweet, and Of Montreal, being called one of the 200 Best Songs Of The 1960s by Pitchfork Media. “She’s Not There” was on the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time list from Rolling Stone and has been covered by Santana, Vanilla Fudge, The Doves, Nick Cave and Crowded House, to name a few artists. “Tell Her No” has been covered by Juice Newton, Del Shannon and Tahiti 80. “Time Of The Season” was named 35th best song of the 1960s by NME and has not only been covered by The Guess Who, The Dave Matthews Band, America and Scott Weiland, but also sampled by Eminem, Melanie Fiona and ScHoolboy Q. And that’s without mentioning Zombies covers from Foo Fighters, OK Go, Tennis, Ronnie Spector, Yo La Tengo, or Dinosaur Jr. Or the successes that the members of The Zombies had with solo albums and other recording projects.

The first studio reunion album from The Zombies was 1991’s New World. The next one did not follow until 2004 with As Far As I Can See. Since that 2004 release, The Zombies has toured regularly with vocalist Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent at the helm. Now joined by original bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy, The Zombies will be playing at Town Hall on Mar. 25. In addition, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Odessey & Oracle, the band will be appearing at The Strand Bookstore on Mar. 15 in support of the book, The Odessey. March 2017 will also bring the release of Odessey in CD-digipak form for the first time, in addition to a greatest hits compilation on vinyl via Varѐse Sarabande.

Downtown spoke with Chris White about Odessey, the band’s history with New York and what he has coming up. More on The Zombies can be found at www.thezombiesmusic.com.

Where was the first gig you ever played in Manhattan? What do you remember about it?

Chris White: That was Murray The K’s Brooklyn Fox Christmas 1964 show! Our first taste of the U.S.A. It was a fantastic experience — meeting and working with great artists like Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, The Drifters, The Shirelles, Dick & Dee Dee, The Shangri Las, Patti LaBelle & The Bluebells, The Vibrations, Dionne Warwick and The Nashville Teens. What a time that was, and at least 6 shows a day. The Bluebells introduced us to some great records.

When was it that you first realized that Odessey & Oracle was an influential album? Or at least that its initial lack of commercial success was not the album’s full narrative?

CW: That was when other artists kept referring to it and telling others that they should listen to it — about 15 years after its release. Paul Weller used to buy it for his friends and acquaintances. He told me in 2008 that it was the reason he started writing songs, and that from a man I really respect.

For you, is it troubling that so many people want to look back on work that you did close to 50 years ago? Or is nostalgia not a bother to you?

CW: Not troubling at all. For me it is still fresh and meaningful. And we get to play it 50 years after its conception.

After The Zombies disbanded, you remained active as a songwriter. But what did you do professionally right after The Zombies’ breakup?

CW: Rod and I wanted to keep making music, so we formed a production company and put together Rod’s next group, Argent. We decided to write together and we co-produced Colin’s first three solo albums. I produced for several other artists and did the first demos for Dire Straits.

Music by The Zombies has been covered by numerous major artists. Do you have a favorite Zombies cover?

CW: Not really. Songs are like a language and I love to hear how other artists interpret the songs. There are so many good versions.

Do you have a favorite Zombies song for you to perform live?

CW: Yes, after playing the album together for the first time in 2008, I grew to be completely enthralled by “Hung Up On A Dream.” Playing it made me see how good Rod’s song was.

Nowadays, the concept of the zombie seems to be more popular than ever. Are you a fan of any zombie-related books or movies these days?

CW: No, but I am working on a Zombies musical about the year we made Odessey & Oracle, and that does involve the legend of “zombies,” but also the legend of The Zombies and the circumstances around the making of the album.

You were undoubtedly one of the first bassists in rock to have interesting bass lines that were not just focused on the root note. Was there a bassist that particularly inspired this? Did you write a lot of songs on bass?

CW: My father. He played upright bass and taught me to play it as well. But he said that the bass has to root everything along with the drums. In a lot of Rod’s songs, he asked me to try and follow his left-hand keyboard lines, which I loved. You can’t write songs on a bass though, you need the chords. But it’s nice to find some great riffs on the bass.

When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?

CW: Music is a way of life — can’t do anything else.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?

CW: Not recently! I haven’t been long enough in New York to eat so far.

Finally, Chris, any last words for the kids?

CW: Someone once said, “If you can find something that you enjoy doing, you’ll never do a day’s work in your life.” And just DO IT. Don’t be scared of asking for help or guidance — if you don’t ask, they can’t say YES! Never regret trying.