Colin Blunstone recalled how, as The Zombies left for their first tour of the United States in 1964, his mother pushed through a crowd of screaming teenage fans at Heathrow Airport in London to hand him a few sandwiches wrapped in plastic, and an apple. Like any good mother, she didn’t want her son to go hungry on a long trip.
“There she was. I couldn’t believe it,” Blunstone confided with a bemused expression as he recounted his twin feelings of amazement and embarrassment over that long ago moment.
But there is more to this story, which Blunstone told Aug. 28 at the Grammy Museum Experience Prudential Center in Newark. After the band landed in New York, an armed officer who inspected his bags found the food and, with a blank expression, began eating the apple.
“What I could do? He had a gun,” Blunstone laughed as he described the surreal encounter. Then, however, the officer did something still more unexpected — he invited the band to dinner at his house on New Year’s Eve.
This improbable tale was one of several entertaining anecdotes that Blunstone and Rod Argent, another co-founder of The Zombies, related during a 90-minute question-and-answer session. Billed as “An Evening With The Zombies,” the program was an intimate gathering that featured the two musicians before a crowd of approximately 50 people. Museum director Mark Conklin interviewed the two, and audience members were given a few minutes to ask their own questions before the night ended with a few songs.
The one-of-a-kind event was part of a burgeoning effort by the local branch of the renowned museum to place itself on the cultural map in the Tri-State Area.
For those unaware, the museum offers several exhibits of musicians and singers, including those who hail from New Jersey — yes, someone named Bruce is featured — along with other works of interest, such as a display of stunning photographs from Woodstock. But the museum is more than memorabilia — it has a wider mission to foster musical education by providing curriculum guides for educators.
To broaden its reach, Conklin is also scheduling sessions such as the one held with The Zombies as a way to make the venue, literally, come alive. And this recent event suggests the concept has legs.
For fans, the museum offers an inviting forum in which to experience an up-close moment. Conklin, however, provided a crucial element himself since he doubled as host and interviewer. Armed with several smart questions and a disarming style, he kept the conversation going for nearly an hour.
But Blunstone and Argent also made his job easy.
Most audience members appeared to be lifelong Zombies fans, so it was not difficult for the pair — both of whom have easy-going and friendly demeanors, and can be quite chatty — to charm them. Moreover, the band has had a high profile lately, having been inducted this past spring into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Not surprisingly, their talk varied from tidbits about the recording process — Argent explained how they recorded their most recent album without some of the modern studio tricks that are now so common, such as click tracks — to their earliest days as a five-piece band.
Argent, the group’s primary songwriter and accomplished keyboardist, recounted how he was first turned on to rock ‘n’ roll at age 11 after hearing Elvis Presley sing “Hound Dog,” and then was later influenced by his older cousin, the recently deceased Jim Rodford, who was something of a local phenom with his own band in St. Albans, a half hour outside London.
Blunstone, the group’s lead singer, discussed their first recording session — which yielded “She’s Not There,” one of their biggest hits — although the experience almost convinced him to abandon music after the cranky engineer continually cursed at the band. But after the session lasted into the wee hours of the morning, the engineer passed out. “He was put in a cab and we never saw him again,” Blunstone said with a smile.
Of course, they talked about their most celebrated album, Odessey and Oracle, which was criminally overlooked upon its release in 1968 but is now widely recognized as a pop masterpiece and was cited as No. 100 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The chat covered the odd spelling for Odessey (the artist was simply a lousy speller), the initial disappointment that the album didn’t sell well, and their subsequent breakup within a year. Argent soon formed a band called Argent (they had a hit single, “Hold Your Head Up,” in 1972), while Blunstone briefly worked in an insurance firm (no publishing royalties to keep him afloat, you see).
But The Zombies are not an oldies act. They also spoke of more recent recordings and noted that they continue to tour. In fact, one of the three songs they played to close the evening was from their latest album, the aptly named Still Got That Hunger, which came out in 2015.
Fittingly, they finished by playing “Time of the Season,” a timeless classic that helped cement their place in pop history. It was a perfect, if predictable, end to what was likely, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to more fully enjoy and appreciate a favorite act.
For the museum, it was mission accomplished. And for The Zombies and their fans, it was an enjoyable step on their decades-long “odessey” together.
The next “An Evening With …” presentation at Grammy Museum Experience Prudential Center will feature Angélique Kidjo, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Visit grammymuseumexp.org.
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