When keyboardist and songwriter Rod Argent was in his 19th year of life (1964), his band The Zombies charted two top 10 singles: “She’s Not There” (#2) and “Tell Her No” (#6). When he was 23, The Zombies hit #3 with “Time of the Season” despite having split a year-and-a-half earlier.
Although the band was dead, its popularity was still very much alive.
If you haven’t heard any of the aforementioned Zombies songs, which is impossible, then maybe you remember “The Way I Feel Inside” from the movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
No? Well then you’ve heard Rod Argent playing piano on the theme to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Rod Argent and his longtime bandmate Colin Blunstone will be undead only in the sense of being very much alive when the current incarnation of The Zombies creeps into the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Sunday. Argent spoke with me about his life and career, past and present.
When did you and Colin Blunstone decide to start working together again?
We got back together again because in 1999, I did a charity concert for a jazz musician friend of mine called John Dankworth, who was building a new theater and was trying to raise money for it. Colin was in the audience, and he come [sic] up and just sang on the spur of the moment “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There.” We had such a ball going it that afterwards he said, “Why don’t we just put six gigs together for fun?”
So we put a fabulous band together, and it was so nice that, completely unplanned, that has turned into 13 years of touring around the world. No planning at all. It just grew to that, which is extraordinary.
Was the audience expecting it? What was the reaction?
Oh, they loved it, they really did. And it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and they absolutely loved it.
It’s got to the stage now where it’s very important to us to actually get excited about new material. For the last album [2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In] to get really great reviews both in the US – people like Huffington Post – and in the UK was very gratifying, actually.
Have there been any covers of your songs that have particularly impressed you?
I think the obvious one is the Santana version of “She’s Not There,” which I thought was absolutely great. And that completely knocked me out because I’ve always loved Santana, and the fact that that song brought them back to Hit Parade status, chart status, again after quite a few years without a hit gave me a kick.
Dusty Springfield did a version of one of my songs called “If It Don’t Work Out,” which I thought was terrific as well, on the Everything’s Coming Up Dusty album. I wrote it for her. We were on tour with her in the UK. At the end of one week she said to me, “Would you write me a song?” And I wrote it that weekend and played it to her. She loved it. It turned out to be the first track on the album but it was never a single.
Is it true that you had difficulty entering the United States back in the early days of The Zombies?
Oh yeah. The unionization of the music business in the States was enormous at the time. It was extremely difficult to come over, and it had to be in exchange for other musicians. I know one point we came in exchange for Duke Ellington who was really – is still – one of my heroes, actually. I thought that was amazing.
When did it sink in that Odessey and Oracle (1968) was considered to be a classic in some circles?
It started about 12, 13 or 14 years after it came out. People started to talk about it, and it gathered momentum.
About a week ago he was on Radio 4, which is a pretty up-market radio station in the UK. He was talking about Odessey and Oracle and he said the same thing again, and he played “Beechwood Park” from it. That was really nice.
And many people started saying similar things about it – emerging artists and well-known artists. Tom Petty wrote in the Zombies box set (Zombie Heaven) that if The Zombies were around today, they’d rule the world, or something really, really nice.
Dave Grohl, from the Foo Fighters, last year on a Scandinavian television show was asked, “What is the track that changed your life?” And he thought about it and he chose “Care of Cell 44” from Odessey and Oracle.
It goes on and on. The Vaccines, who are a very hot teenage indie band in the UK, last year made a 45-second video on the Net saying that it was their favorite album.
How large does the legacy of your post-Zombies band Argent loom?
We always play “Hold Your Head Up,” and that’s a really highlight of the set, actually. The majority of that song was written by Chris White, the bass player for The Zombies, who became sort of a silent member of Argent, in the sense of being a co-producer and a co-writer. He actually wrote “Hold Your Head Up” out of an idea from when he heard us playing a version of “Time of the Season.” We played a sort of experimental version of “Time of the Season” and took it into a different improvised area. He was in the audience and loved what he was hearing and wrote a song around it. That song became “Hold Your Head Up.” It has a real link with “Time of the Season.”
Al Kooper, who was a vocal champion Odessey and Oracle when CBS Records wanted to pass on it, lives in Somerville, a town next to Arlington. Will you be seeing him while you are in town?
Very possibly. He supported us about a week ago in Philadelphia. It was the first time that we ever played together. It was lovely seeing him, and he said that might well be coming up to the Arlington show.
Without Al, [Odessey and Oracle] wouldn’t have been known by anybody. He took it to Clive Davis and said, “Whoever’s got this album, you’ve got to buy it and release it.” [CBS president] Clive Davis said, “Well we’ve got it, but we passed on it already.” [laughs] Al said, “Well you can’t. You have to put it out.”
So he had everything to do with that album coming out.
With Et Tu Brucé