The Zombies On The Band And The Blues (Part Two)

Pete meets up with keyboard ace and composer Rod Argent for a general chat and the latter’s five Blues Choices to make up the group’s ten. Over tea and cakes, Rod’s love of music is ever more evident…

John Bull/Rockrpix


JLTT: It’s always easy to find The Zombies records in the racks, right before ZZ Top

RA: (Laughs) Ha! Well we learned something last year that we didn’t know before, that when we originally broke up and then had a posthumous Number One in America, worldwide actually apart from the dear old UK with Time Of The Season…there were then a number of fake Zombies bands going around! Claiming they were the original group when they weren’t. One of these bands, it transpires, later became ZZ Top! Which I think is hilarious…clearly they only want to be in bands with the letter Z!

Of course there was also at one point a fake Fleetwood Mac doing the rounds. The last record that you put out, the most recent album, I think it plays as a set of songs better than any other album you have out’ve seen my review. I became absolutely enamoured with the New York it a love song to the city?

It’s more than that,’s a love song to the first experience we had of that city. When Colin and I stepped off the plane, we had huge trepidation. This is 1964, we are very young. We were top of the Charts in America and we did the Murray The K show.

She’s Not There?

Yes, our Number One hit. Our very first show started at eight in the morning on Christmas Day. Six shows a day in Brooklyn, we only had to play two or three songs each show like all the other acts on the package. BUT we were playing with people like Ben E King, The Drifters, The Shirelles, Patti Labelle…who became a big friend while we were there Dionne Warwick, Chuck Jackson a huge regional star then. We were pretty scared because there we were, callow white kids doing our version of rhythm and blues! Playing in front of some of our heroes. The greatest black soul stars and we were thinking they’re going to hate us. But they didn’t at all, they really took us to their hearts. It was a lovely experience. So the song is about that whole Patti Labelle used to have long conversations with us, telling us about a new kid on the block that we ought to see. Turned out to be Aretha Franklin, at that time still doing her cabaret period. So we got to check out Aretha and Nina Simone was another one. We bought all the records we could. So the fact that they did’s in the second verse, really.

Chris Barber told me a very similar story about arriving in Chicago, to play at Muddy’s. Deep respect, nothing got stolen, the cops spoke to him as fans!

Exactly! That is totally how we found ourselves being treated in New York, Pete. The thing is, they had very open musical minds. They weren’t musically narrow or snobbish at all. There was a difference in the black-white split – now this was before Martin Luther King was killed. But we always used to play to quite a large contingent of black kids as well as the white fans. On the Christmas Day shows it was almost totally a black audience for some reason. They used to sing the choruses and we loved it, those voices out there. Patti and Chuck would sing bv’s off stage!

You can’t buy that, can you?

Eighteen, nineteen years old and this is happening… But it was what we all really wanted to do, to create in that field.

Let’s talk about Al Kooper. He loved the O & O album

We run across Al these days, still. He will always come by and see us, but his health is not as good as it was. He was the hottest A & R man around back then and got signed by Clive Davis then at CBS. Al was sent over to England to check out the scene and the groups ,,,he wrote on the US release notes was say that out of two hundred albums, our one just stood out for him. He reported to Clive Davis, saying that CBS had to buy the rights for America. Clive said he had passed on it, so Al said he’d need to un-pass! They then put out Bushes Tale – a great Chris White song but never a single – as a single. So that died. As a last gasp they put out Time Of The Season, by this time eighteen months later. And one DJ in Idaho started to play it on the radio. And as could happen back then, it was like a stone thrown in water making ripples and other stations started to play the song. It took six months for it to reach the upper part of the Charts. Then it sent up to Number One.

Slow dominoes…

Absolutely that, yes! We owe Al big-time…but you know the story of him and Dylan..

Playing the organ even though he was a guitarist…

When the producer wasn’t looking he wandered over to The Hammond..ended up on Like A Rolling Stone..Bob said turn the organ up!

Well that Al Kooper supersession with Mike Bloomfield and Steve Stills guesting..that was supposed to be my inspiration Randy California of Spirit, Still depped.

Ah! I saw Spirit at The Fillmore. They were great and I think they might have been on with Colosseum.

John Locke the keys man had some influences that I sometimes scent in your playing…Debussy? Satie? Horace Silver…

Well I knew their works and for that era of jazz like Silver yes, intimately and I still listen to that as well.

Herbie Hancock?

(Warmly) Oh yes! I loved Herbie. When Argent was on CBS, so was Herbie and he had just started his Headhunters band. I loved the pre-electronic time of his

I come in as the Warners electric style uncredited Eric Gale on guitar

I walked into this club, it was in a quarter in Chicago. Let’s just say we were the only white people in the place. I had to see him, I knew all his stuff with Miles. Herbie played his first set and I walked up to him in the interval and asked him to play one of his much older pieces. Maiden Voyage. He couldn’t make me out, asking for an older piece BUT he opened the second set with that request…

But the first use of jazz on a pop record was She’s Not There, the piano break.

Hmm, other people have said that to me..Metheny for example

Moreover Roger McGuinn of The Byrds

I found that online, he said hearing that made him want to transpose that feel on to the guitar, for Eight Miles High

And I See You, threaded with fast jazz motifs. Then, Chicago Transit Authority

The backing band on a Dick Clark tour were did , the players later became CTA. We were self-contained but for the singers on the package, they were the band! First ten years of my life I only liked classical music, I didn’t like the pop music around at the time. Then I heard Elvis singing Hound Dog. Completely blew me away, not just me obviously. I then didn’t want to hear anything as much as the rawest rock’n’roll I could track down. BUT I never stopped listening to Stravinsky and Bach and so on. Then The these are all the ingredients in the soup, if you like. When we made music it went through our own filter. And it came out as something completely different. Jeff Berlin knew Jon Hiseman and insisted we go and see a young Pat Metheny. I was so blown away, it was marvellous. We met him afterwards. He said that the modal stuff in She’s Not There made him take a direction with his own music. But that element in my style was unconscious, unknowing..but there.

When I heard Zappa, I felt The Zombies had helped open the door to what he was developing. Frank loved Johnny Guitar Watson as much as Bartok and just used everything in his own brew.

When the FM radio thing happened in America, It was so free and so wonderful, you could enjoy a mix of musics. All DJ-led …the first Crosby Stills & Nash album, the presenter played the whole album through! Radio audiences exploded, because there was a thirst for fresh things.

One cut on the album, it’s the closest I have heard you get to Steely Dan.

(Laughs) A few jazz chords?

But the vocal is Colin’s clear English voice, so it’s The Zombies. Little One sounds like a showstopper in a West End musical.

(Laughs) Do you know, that started life..I’ve got a forty year old daughter and back when she was born I wrote the first couplet of that song and that was just ‘Oh Little One, what do you mean to me?’ That was the whole thing and I never finished it. She presented us with a grandson. And I thought, I’m going to finish that song, finally

It is a Broadway melody

I know what you mean, it was started a very long time ago, But I’ll tell you what I miss about modern music, though I’m not an expert and don’t get to hear everything that comes along – you probably do! – what I just loved about all the Sixties acts was that nearly all of them were rooted in say rhythm & blues, or had a working knowledge of The Blues and it had excited them, discovering all that. AND might be listening to a lot of jazz eve if there was no jazz in their playing. I remember John Steele in The Animals saying that when he was doing House Of The Rising Sun he was imagining he was playing Walk On The Wild Side. The Jimmy Smith tune. That connection seems to have moved into the background these days, from what I can hear.

Every band when I was late teens wanted to be different..Savoy Brown, Steamhammer, East Of Eden, Jethro Tull…you probably weren’t aware that your music had that great jazzy slant..on Indication with its modal coda..but in amongst Dave Clark and The Pacemakers it sounded like a trip elsewhere…

I only know one way to write a song. That is to take a musical idea and follow it through and not be limited by traditional notions of song form ..forty seconds of this, key change there..we never did all that as it just wasn’t our style. I remember thinking about starting She’s Not There, going through ideas and I put on a John Lee Hooker album. And the opening track was No-one Told Me. I liked the way that phrase tripped off the tongue. I thought I’ll construct a full story around that. The actual melody of that is based around a blues scale.

I often quote it when solo’ing in minor keys! If you slip in Moves Like Jagger the younger heads in the audience start bobbing..

Haha! Exactly what Dizzy and Charlie Parker liked to do! But an audience will savour that. They will sense that there is life in the the States we play to really large audiences, because we have built everything up to sound as we do, the whole band wants it to sound good and connect. What knocks me out is that we have many older fans who have been with us for years, however nowadays there is a large younger contingent out there, eager to hear us. An eighteen year old girl came up after a show in America and she was there with her mother and her grandmother who had seen us originally. She said she came along under duress, but A Song For Emily had brought her to tears and she wanted to say thanks. So if we can still do that…

But you and I could walk around the Hayward looking at Renoirs, say and afterwards we might have different favourites but we’d both feel connected to the spirit of what was created, Songs can do that

Absolutely! Transcending time and having an effect…and keeping that happening, everyone in our band is listening to the others, responding to where the sound is going.

I had a Hohner Pianet for a while, because of you..did you record with them?

Oh, all the time, yes. I loved my original Pianet. The Mk One had a sticky pad that hit the note and if the sticking failed it went dooiiyang! The newer modified ones have the lower end but I just can’t that brighter upper end, somehow.

I used to put mine through a tremelo pedal..probably due to Donny Hathaway Live

(Enthused) Oh yes! When they do You’ve Got A Friend, always reminded me of the Brooklyn Fox shows we spoke about..the whole audience starts singing, softly.

The only other live album getting close wasn’t released here, The Isleys Live.

We toured with the Isleys, in ’65. Great people

My favourite song of yours is Indication

Steve Van Zandt likes that one. He often plays it on his New York radio show.

(Rod signs the album that has this track, for me and another for an American pal)

On my favourites, one night I was listening to Ray Charles, as I often did. And I thought I would try writing a song with the same sort of structure. That’s Where Edge Of The Rainbow comes from. I guess it’s gospel filtered through us but chordally it has an early Ray Charles vibe about it. So I am choosing as a favourite Hard Times

By Ray Charles. Knocked me out when he came along, actually and so many songs of his I just loved. Drown In My Own Tears, the live album. Recorded with one mike, over the band – and what a great sound ! Then I’ll choose one by Bessie Smith, I think, going way back. The version of St Louis Blues that wasn’t released as a record BUT it was in the film ..and at the beginning she sings ‘My man’s got a heart, like rock..’ they used that and us in the film Kill Bill and I was in heaven ! Next something by Robert Johnson, maybe Come On In My Kitchen. Which I think is fabulous. Then something by Cream, Sittin’ On Top Of The World.

Chester Burnett..I used to talk about him with Jack Bruce. Him and Thelonius Monk!

I loved Cream doing that, on Wheels Of Fire. I didn’t know that song before they did it.

No Dr John?

Oh I like him, that New Orleans style. In fact one of my colleagues Peter Van Hook who I did a lot of production work with in the 90’s did produce an album by him. So I have one more choice, for this segment..Wee Wee Baby, Muddy Waters. I’ll tell you who was a fabulous blues organist – Stevie Winwood, wow! Can I add BB King Three O’Clock Blues? I’d never heard him sing better than on that recording.

Job done, Sir

This has been fun, thanks a lot

Pete Sargeant


(Thanks to Rod, Sacha at Hush PR and John Bull at Rockrpix)

Feature Image Photo Credit: John Bull/Rockrpix

Live Photos Photo Credit: John Bull/Rockrpix

Band Photo Photo Credit: Supplied By PR

You can read our review of The Zombies latest album ‘Still Got That Hunger’ here:

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