The Zom­bies res­ur­rect their fa­mous al­bum

The Washington Post Sunday - - THIS WEEK - BY ROGER CATLIN style@wash­post.com Catlin is a free­lance writer. The Zom­bies Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. at the Lin­coln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. $45. 202-888-0050. www.the­lin­col­ndc.com.

“Time of the Sea­son” may have been one of the Zom­bies’ big­gest hits, but tim­ing was never good for the Bri­tish group, which first hit the charts in 1964 with the ur­gent “She’s Not There.” Head­ing into the Abbey Road stu­dio to record its am­bi­tious “Odessey and Or­a­cle” al­bum in 1967, the band was on the verge of break­ing up. And by the time the “Time of the Sea­son” made it to No. 1, its

mem­bers were scat­tered onto other projects. The al­bum’s rep­u­ta­tion grew over the decades as other acts cov­ered, sam­pled or oth­er­wise ex­tolled its songs. But it wasn’t un­til 2008, when key­boardist Rod Ar­gent and lead singer Colin Blun­stone, who had been record­ing and play­ing to­gether again for more than a decade, con­vened the orig­i­nal band to per­form the al­bum in Lon­don. That con­cert was the first time the band had per­formed live some of the com­plex songs from “Odessey” (fa­mously mis­spelled in the psy­che­delic al­bum art and left that way).

Now the Zom­bies— mi­nus the late gui­tarist Paul Atkin­son— are do­ing an “Odessey” tour for the first time.

We talked re­cently with Ar­gent, 70, about the al­bum and the tour, which stops at the Lin­coln Theatre on Oct. 8.

How much of the con­cert is “Odessey and Or­a­cle”?

The idea is to re­pro­duce a recre­ation of the al­bum note by note in the sec­ond half of the con­cert with the orig­i­nal play­ers, aug­mented by oth­ers. And then on the first half, our cur­rent in­car­na­tion will be play­ing a set that in­cludes, as well as ob­vi­ous Zom­bies hits, less well-known Zom­bies stuff from our al­bums, as well as songs from our new al­bum, “Still Got That Hunger,” com­ing out Oct. 9.

The band was break­ing up as it recorded “Odessey”?

My mem­ory is that it was in the air that we might be head­ing to­ward a breakup. Not that we weren’t get­ting along, but it was a fi­nan­cial thing. The two writ­ers, Chris [ White] and I, had money com­ing in from sin­gles. There was al­ways a hit some­where in the world. But the rest of the guys were re­ally liv­ing from earn­ings of what we were do­ing live.

We were based in the U.K., where we only had one hit, so the live in­come was re­ally go­ing down. The gui­tarist Paul Atkin­son had got­ten mar­ried and said, “Look, I’ve got to make some money; I have to move on, guys.” That’s why we split up. So at the time, we were des­per­ate to get our own ideas across on these songs.

What was Abbey Road like then?

We walked in just af­ter the Bea­tles got done record­ing “Sgt. Pep­per,” so we ben­e­fited from their stu­dio in­no­va­tions. We were us­ing more tracks than we were used to us­ing. We were like kids in the candy store, over­dub­bing things for the first time, get­ting the har­monies we wanted and just be­ing able to record things in the way we wanted to do it.

John Len­non left his Mel­lotron in the stu­dio, and with­out ask­ing him, I just used it. I think it might have been their elec­tric harpsichord that they left in the stu­dio, too. They forged some new record­ing tech­niques that we jumped on and were able to use be­cause we were us­ing the same engi­neers, Peter Vince and Ge­off Em­er­ick, won­der­ful engi­neers. It was ac­tu­ally a great ex­pe­ri­ence. When we fin­ished, we thought it was a re­ally good al­bum, but it didn’t sell any­where.

Did “Time of the Sea­son” stand out to you at the time?

It was the very last thing that I put on. I re­mem­ber writ­ing that, and I re­mem­ber ac­tu­ally say­ing to Chris, “Look, I think this song could be a hit.” And we recorded it very quickly. Min­i­mal re­hearsal.

We liked the re­sult very much. We had no idea when it was fin­ished that it would be a hit even­tu­ally. And in fact, it was re­leased as a very last gasp over in the U.S. We only put out one sin­gle in the U.K., and that was “Care of Cell 44,” which didn’t do any­thing, so we split up be­fore the al­bum ac­tu­ally came out.

Did you con­sider get­ting the band back to­gether in 1969 when it fi­nally be­came a hit here?

We hon­estly didn’t. By that time, I’d got­ten guys to­gether and we’d got­ten en­thu­si­as­tic about form­ing a new ven­ture, which be­came Ar­gent, and I didn’t want to let those guys down. It felt like the wrong thing to do just to throw ev­ery­thing away and cap­i­tal­ize what ad­mit­tedly would have been a lot of money. I seem to re­mem­ber be­ing of­fered $1 mil­lion, which was a lot of money at the time, to put the Zom­bies back to­gether and tour in the U.S.

And be­cause we didn’t, other peo­ple went out and did it. It’s very amus­ing. I found out the other week that one of the fake Zom­bies groups out there was formed from two of the guys that be­came ZZ Top. Which I thought was re­ally amus­ing, be­cause I love that band.

When did you learn later that “Odessey and Or­a­cle” was gain­ing cult sta­tus?

It wasn’t un­til 12 years later, I re­mem­ber Chris White phon­ing me up, say­ing a lot of young kids were lis­ten­ing to it. Paul Weller, who was an enor­mous hit at the time in the Jam, started say­ing this was his fa­vorite al­bum and that he buys ex­tra copies of it to give to friends who didn’t have it. From that time, it did start to gather mo­men­tum, other peo­ple started talk­ing about it, and to­day it sells more than it ever did, even af­ter “Time of the Sea­son” was a hit.

Zom­bies in gen­eral are quite a cur­rent cul­tural phe­nom­e­non to­day through “The Walk­ing Dead” and other things. How did you get the name ?

It came from our orig­i­nal bass player, Paul Arnold, who left to be­come a doc­tor in Canada, and we barely knew what zom­bies were. This was 1961, and I loved it im­me­di­ately. I thought, this is a name no­body else is go­ing to have. And it sounded faintly ex­otic in a dis­tant way. We vaguely knew that it had some­thing to do with crea­tures cre­ated by voodoo in Haiti. But that was about it. “Night of the Liv­ing Dead” didn’t come out un­til 1968. Colin and I have still never seen a zom­bie movie, which is cer­tainly crazy. It’s quite amus­ing that it’s so uni­ver­sal now.

It seems as if you’re look­ing ahead on your new al­bum.

Ab­so­lutely. But we’ve al­ways felt that, hon­estly. The thing that’s ex­cit­ing about be­ing on the road, with what we con­sider a great band — the feel­ing is just like it is when you’re 18 years old. It’s not any dif­fer­ent. When you get to our ad­vanced age, you have to sur­vive; you have to con­serve your­self a bit af­ter the show, and in your lifestyle. But when you’re on­stage, you’ve got that joy of be­ing able to ex­pe­ri­ence things ex­actly as you did when you first started out play­ing. And that’s a huge priv­i­lege, and it’s hugely en­joy­able. And then you get that back from the au­di­ence — it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence you re­ally can’t beat.

MATTHEW WHITE

Bri­tish rock band the Zom­bies at the Trou­ba­dour night­club in­West Hol­ly­wood. When “Time of the Sea­son” be­came a big hit in the late 1960s, the Zom­bies had al­ready dis­solved and be­gun work­ing on their own projects. Now, the sur­viv­ing mem­bers are pay­ing trib­ute to “Odessey and Or­a­cle” — the al­bum that fea­tures “Time of the Sea­son” — dur­ing a new tour, which stops at the Lin­coln Theatre on Oct. 8.

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