* On how The Zombies formed, the very first lineup and their initial instrumentation:
Colin Blunstone: “I didn’t know Rod before we got together at that first rehearsal [in April 1961]. I went to a different school, and I sometimes say, that if we didn’t sit in alphabetical order in my school, I wouldn’t be in The Zombies. Because the guy who sat in front of me was named Paul Arnold; he was a neighbor of Rod’s. And it just shows how much charm goes into these things. Rod had gotten an idea of forming a band, and he sort of cornered a couple of guys at his school. The drummer, he just played side drum in the army cadets — he’d never played a full kit of drums. That was Hugh Grundy. And he heard the guitarist, Paul Atkinson, playing in a folk club at his school. So he just approached them. Paul Arnold, who went to my school, was making a bass guitar in [woodworking class]. He never played a bass guitar, but he was making one, and that got him in. And because I sat behind him, he knew I had a guitar, and he said, ‘Do you want to come along and be rhythm guitarist?’
“That band stayed together, with the exception of Paul Arnold, who wanted to be a doctor. He had to study really hard, and he just didn’t have the time to commit to the rehearsals. He went on to become a doctor, and he works in Edmonton in Canada now. When we play up there, he always comes along [laughs].”
* Chris White later became the bassist for The Zombies. Blunstone switched from rhythm guitar to lead vocals, with Argent moving from lead singer to keyboards as well as serving as the bandleader and arranger of the group’s unique vocal harmonies.
Blunstone: “It wasn’t that common in those days, having three people in the band singing harmonies. And people have often asked me, ‘What was the harmony structure on that song? We could never quite get it.’ And the reason is: Rod is a really good harmony singer; he sang in a cathedral choir until he was about 18. And what we used to do when there was a harmony coming up, Rod would say to me, ‘You sing what you think is the melody.’ And I would often drift into the top harmony because I have a naturally high voice. So we would establish that, whatever that was, and that would be our starting point. Then he would try and make a very simple harmony for Chris White, who had to play the bass at the same time. And then Rod would fill in all of those holes, which often meant that Rod had the most extraordinary harmony line to sing.
“It was very rare that one took the high harmony, one took the melody and one took the low harmony. We didn’t do it like that. I don’t think anybody else would ever do harmonies like that. It just suited us.”
— As told to Chris M. Junior
The Zombies at SXSW 2013 (schedule subject to change):
* 12:30 p.m. March 15: Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone interview with host Bob Boilen of NPR Music — Room 16AB, Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St.
* 11:30 p.m. March 16: Brazos Hall, 204 E. Fourth St. (official SXSW showcase)
Photo of Colin Blunstone by Chris M. Junior