What’s your name? Who’s your daddy?

Most of my savvy readers have heard of the great Al Kooper, and they know he bears no relation to shock rocker Alice Cooper.

Kooper had a hand in many significant musical moments of the ’60s and ’70s.  He co-wrote “This Diamond Ring,” a huge hit for Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1963.  He played the Hammond organ on Bob Dylan’s milestone 1965 anthem, “Like a Rolling Stone.”  He formed Blood, Sweat & Tears and sang and played on their influential 1968 debut LP “Child is Father to the Man.”  He jammed first with blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield and then with the great Stephen Stills, resulting in the landmark 1968 LP “Super Session.”  He discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1972 and produced their first three LPs.  He produced the 1975 debut album by The Tubes.  And on and on.

And in 1968, when Kooper was working as an A&R man with Columbia Records, he persuaded label head Clive Davis to release an album by a group that had already disbanded.  The album was “Odessey & Oracle,” and the group was The Zombies.

In retrospect, it’s clear that Kooper was right to lobby on the group’s behalf.  Although

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The Zombies (from left):  Hugh Grundy, Colin Blunstone, Paul Atkinson, Chris White and Rod Argent

the album has never sold or charted all that well, “Odessey and Oracle” is often mentioned as one of the great overlooked masterpieces of Sixties rock, and it includes the (dare I say it?) timeless classic “Time of the Season.”

And now here we are in 2019, and The Zombies are about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Unlike many of the hundreds of hopeful but lame groups in England and the U.S. who came along in the wake of The Beatles’ dramatic debut of 1963-1964, The Zombies actually brought some talent to the table.

Rod Argent, Chris White and Colin Blunstone were three musically inclined students from St. Albans, a small town 20 miles north of London.  They’d excelled in a boys choir and in music theory, showing promise as both singers and songwriters.  In 1962, they formed a band called The Mustangs, with Blunstone on vocals, Argent on keyboards, White on bass, Paul Atkinson on guitar and Hugh Grundy on drums.  Upon hearing of other groups with the same name, they decided instead to call themselves The Zombies “because we were pretty sure no one else would ever call themselves that,” reflected Argent years later.

Decca Records, who had infamously passed on The Beatles but had already signed The Rolling Stones, decided to give The Zombies a contract as well.  During sessions for the group’s first LP, “Begin Here,” Argent came to producer Ken Jones with the outline of a tune he was working on based on a John Lee Hooker song called “No One Told Me.”  He was encouraged to complete it, using a key favorable to the silky smooth voice of lead singer Blunstone.  The result was “She’s Not There,” an enormous hit that established the band in the UK (#12) and in the U.S. (#2), where it edged out The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and The Stones’ “Time is On My Side” in December 1964.

(“She’s Not There” saw new life in 1977 when Santana covered it on their “Moonflower” album, and it reached #27 and #11 in the U.S. and the U.K.)

The Zombies made only two albums, both of which performed poorly on the charts, but 3008797listening to them now, I find the bulk of their material refreshing and engaging.  And I’m not alone in this assessment.  Here’s what Critic Mark Deming, writing for AllMusic, had to say:  “Given the wealth of fine original tunes that the Zombies released on various non-LP singles and EPs during this period, it’s a shame that so much of their ‘Begin Here’ album was given over to covers.  It’s still a fine album, and certainly better than what most of their peers had to offer in 1965, but what could have been an achievement on a par with The Kinks’ ‘Face to Face’ or even the Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ ended up being something quite good instead of an unqualified triumph.”

Forty and fifty years after its release, The Zombies’ song “The Way I Feel Inside” from “Begin Here” ended up on the soundtrack of director Wes Anderson’s 2004 cult favorite “The Life Aquatic” as well as in the celebrated 2016 animated film “Sing.”  Also worthy of your attention are Argent originals “I Remember When I Loved Her” and “Woman” as well as killer covers of the Gershwin classic “Summertime” and The Miracles’ “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” where Blunstone’s vocals really shine.

Argent’s inventive use of a Hohner Pianet for the keyboard parts distinguished The Zombies’ jazz-inflected stylings, especially on their second big hit “Tell Her No,” another Argent original which reached #6 in April 1965 (although it stalled at #42 in England).  Rock historian Maury Dean described “Tell Her No” as “a precursor to jazz fusion for the way the song moves in fits and starts, and for its polyrhythms.”

On the strength of these two big hits, The Zombies made their first visit to the States, and zombiesbriefcsang both songs on the first episode of the new NBC prime-time music show “Hullabaloo” in the fall of 1965, where teenage girls screamed their heads off at Blunstone’s matinee-idol good looks and mesmerizing voice.

Not much happened for the band in 1966, but in the summer of 1967 they entered EMI’s Abbey Road studios to record the dozen tracks that would comprise “Odessey and Oracle.”  The Zombies were fortunate to use not only the same space The Beatles had used for their milestone “Sgt. Pepper” tracks but also the participation of their engineer, Geoff Emerick, and even John Lennon’s Mellotron, the then-revolutionary, electro-mechanical tape replay keyboard heard on “Strawberry Fields Forever” and other monumental recordings of the time.

Sadly, the band was no longer getting any live gigs, which brought about tensions within the lineup, and the disconsolate group chose to disband at year’s end, even before their final work saw the light of day.

An interesting side note:  An early Zombies song called simply “I Love You,” which went R-1973068-1255988049-1.jpegunnoticed upon release, was re-recorded in 1968 by a San Jose-based group called People!, and their version sold a million copies, climbing the U.S. charts to #14 and reaching #1 in Canada and four other countries.

The Zombies, at this point, were a non-entity, but there was still this diamond-in-the-rough album sitting on the shelves.  “Odessey and Oracle” (the word “odyssey” was misspelled by cover design artist Terry Quirk, a mistake the band later claimed was intentional) was finally released in England in April 1968 to little fanfare.  But Al Kooper heard it, and led the charge for its U.S. release a few months later.  While it managed only #95 on the album charts here, it included “Time of the Season,” a prime example of a ‘sleeper hit’ that flopped upon release but gathered steam, and found itself a million-selling #3 hit in the U.S. nine months later.

(How sturdy a song is “Time of the Season”?  We need look no further than its inclusion on Dave Matthews Band’s 1997 “Live at Red Rocks” album, where it received a resounding ovation.)

Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” published in 2003, ranks “Odessy and Oracle” as #100 on that list, and I wholeheartedly concur with this kind of praise.  I thezombiesodesseyorastrongly urge you to check out the wealth of stone great tunes here, including  “The Butcher’s Tale,” “A Rose for Emily,” “This Will Be Our Year,” “Card of Cell 44,” “Beechwood Park” and “Hung Up on a Dream.”

Jeff Gold, author of the 2012 book “101 Essential Rock Records:  The Golden Age of Vinyl from The Beatles to The Sex Pistols,” positively gushed about the album.  “Few albums conceived in the heat of the post-“Sgt. Pepper” passion hold up as well as ‘Odessy and Oracle,’ which balances demanding artistic aspiration with typically tasteful, understated arrangements and performances.  In terms of delivering a consistent, seamlessly textured slate of first-rate pop songs, it rightly deserves comparisons to the universally praised Beach Boys LP ‘Pet Sounds.’  Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and their compatriots were never anything less than one of rock’s most tuneful aggregations.  Hugely influential to this day, The Zombies can point with pride to a crowning achievement that New Musical Express labeled ‘British psychedelia with a kaleidoscopic vision that rivals even The Beatles.'”

The legacy of The Zombies lived on into the next decade.  By 1970, Argent and White had big_rod-argentjoined forces with guitarist Russ Ballard and future Kinks members Jim Rodford (bass) and Bob Henrit (drums) to form the band Argent.  They churned out a half-dozen albums of commendable rock music and garnered some attention, first when Three Dog Night made a hit out of their Ballard-penned song “Liar” in 1970.  Most notable, of course, was their 1972 LP “All Together Now,” highlighted by the organ-dominated “Hold Your Head Up,” a #5 monster hit that summer.  Keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman has called Argent’s instrumental work on this track “the greatest organ solo ever.”  Cover versions of this classic rock standard abound, including those by Steppenwolf, Marc Tanner Band, Uriah Heep and Phish.

Meanwhile, Blunstone embarked on a solo career that, while pretty much nonexistent to Pinkpop-Colin-Blunstone.Netherlands-1974American audiences, saw modest success in the British market, where six LPs made the charts in the Seventies.  Blunstone’s warmly powerful voice drew the attention of the visionary producer/musician Alan Parsons, who invited Blunstone to participate on several tracks for The Alan Parsons Project, such as “The Eagle Will Rise Again” and “Dancing on a High Wire.”  One of those — “Old and Wise” from the million-selling “Eye in the Sky” album — reached #22 in the U.S in 1982.

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was created, and the more famous British Invasion bands were being inducted in the late ’80s and early ’90s, The Zombies seemed destined for the “Whatever became of…” dustbin.  Then in the late ’90s, various re-releases and anthologies began appearing, most notably the 120-track “Zombie Heaven” in 1997.  This new attention prompted Argent and Blunstone to reunite a few times in the early 2000s for the occasional one-off concert in England, which set the stage for an American tour the next year and, eventually, several new studio LPs (“Breathe Out, Breathe In” in 2011 and “Still Got That Hunger” in 2015).  You can tell from checking out the tracks I’ve selected on the attached Spotify playlist that they are a far cry from the filler so often associated with bands who regroup well past their prime.

10025785-largeAs “Odessey and Oracle” started being mentioned in the same breath with other classic Sixties LPs, Argent and Blunstone have amped up their presence with more appearances and concert CDs and DVDs, culminating in this year’s 50th Anniversary of “Odessey and Oracle”‘s release and, at last, their induction into the Rock Hall.

Truth be told, although I was as much a fan of The Zombies’ big hits as the next guy, I was puzzled enough by their nomination and selection to spend a little time researching their catalog on Spotify to see if they were truly worthy of the designation.  What a delight to find so many worthwhile old tracks featuring Argent’s and White’s fine songs and Blunstone’s ringing vocals.  A copy of “Odessey and Oracle” is now in my permanent collection, and I am reminding the greater public, through this blog and elsewhere, that The Zombies are well worth our time and effort.

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Oh can’t you see, love is the drug for me

It’s amazing how much we are influenced for the rest of our lives by the things we were exposed to at an early age.

For 10-year-old Bryan Ferry, a product of the remote towns of 1950s northeast England, he found himself irresistibly drawn to American music, particularly the improvisational style-blogs-the-gq-eye-Bryan-Ferryjazz sax of Charlie Parker, vocal acts like The Inkspots, crooners like Nat King Cole, and the songs of Cole Porter as interpreted by the voice of Billie Holiday.

As a paperboy delivering newspapers and weekly music magazines, he read about some of the new musical genres coming from the U.S.  “I was fortunate that there was a music store in Newcastle where you could go into a booth and listen to all kinds of stuff,” Ferry recalled.  “I lived in there.”

He enjoyed early rockers like Little Richard and Fats Domino, “but when I heard Charlie Parker for the first time, this was something I really loved, and nobody else who I knew knew anything about him.  It’s good to have your private obsessions.”

So, when Ferry first moved to London in 1968 and entertained the idea of forming a rock band, these were the musicians and genres that had inspired him, along with the vibrant American R&B sounds of Motown and the Stax/Volt artists.

The other young British musicians who came to join forces with Ferry brought their own spheres of influence:  Guitarist Phil Manzanera had South American roots and Latin heroes; saxophone/oboe master Andy Mackay was trained on traditional classical music; and the enigmatic Brian Eno was immersed in ambient music and soundscapes that emerged from manipulating the new VCS3 synthesizer.

These were strange bedfellows, but the resulting mix was Roxy Music, a band of pioneers that itself proved hugely influential among the coming New Wave artists who roxy_3dominated the charts in England and America in the late 1970s, 1980s and beyond.

From its strangely thrilling 1972 debut album to its sophisticated swan song “Avalon” in 1982, Roxy Music continually broke new ground, erasing boundaries between edgy and pop, bringing experimental and traditional influences into the same room.

And now, this March, Roxy Music will at last be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Their belated inclusion puts an official stamp on a worthy legacy that has been too often overlooked and underappreciated.  For crying out loud, the band has been eligible for induction since 1997, and yet this was the first year they were even nominated!

Let’s put aside the puzzling criteria and biases that the Hall of Fame nominating and selection committees evidently bring to their mission.  Instead, let’s just look at the remarkable body of original work that Roxy Music laid down on its eight studio albums, and their altogether unique amalgam of fashion, style and presentation.

As the fledgling group assembled to make their eponymous debut (“Roxy Music”) in early 1972, the music scene in Britain was keen on experimentation.  Says Ferry, “We were very inexperienced, but so full of enthusiasm and ideas, and exploring different musical styles.  That first album turned out to be very different from any of the others we did. 220px-Roxy_Music-Roxy_MusicWe were still dabbling in the various possibilities, and considering the futures we could have as a band.  It’s interesting how it ended up being a very influential record for a lot of different bands who picked up on a lot of different aspects of the sound.”

“A lot of the first album is first or second take,” Ferry remembers. “Some of them, like ‘Bob (The Medley)’ or ‘Sea Breezes,’ are collage-like, with different sounds and moods within them – they’ll change abruptly into something else.  For instance, ‘Sea Breezes’ is a slow song, and suddenly moves into this angular, quite opposite mood.  I found that interesting, and this band was perfect for that; they were game for anything.  We were constantly fiddling around, changing things, and I was still trying to find my voice.”

s-l300-4From my own point of view, I have to say it was Ferry’s weirdly affected voice that initially turned me off from Roxy Music.  The fluttering, often atonal vocals were an acquired taste, to say the least, and I simply couldn’t get past them to discover the fascinating sounds coming from Mackay, Eno and Manzanera.

But Kid Leo, the visionary DJ on Cleveland’s WMMS, was a big devotee, and I generally 220px-Roxy_Music-Strandedtrusted his taste in music.  Throughout the mid-1970s, he would air liberal helpings of great songs from Roxy’s first several albums — tracks like “Street Life,” “Editions of You,” “Out of the Blue,” “Both Ends Burning.”  Slowly, by osmosis, I absorbed the creepy beauty and exhilarating energy that Roxy Music had to offer.

As it turned out, Eno was more of a sonic engineer than a musician, and he and the band parted ways after the second LP (1973’s “For Your Pleasure”).  Ferry recalls that Eno would sometimes be working the soundboard from the audience at Roxy concerts rather than join the band on stage. “That’s where he felt most comfortable, I think,” said Ferry, “and as everyone knows, he went on to become one of the most respected record producers of our time.”  Artists like David Bowie, Devo, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, U2 and even Paul Simon have allowed Eno to put his mark on their recordings over the years since.

cover_152181432017_rHis replacement, if you can call it that, was Eddie Jobson, who did exemplary work on “Stranded,” “Country Life” and “Siren,” all solid LPs in the Roxy tradition.  His warm, textural synthesizer and violin passages recalled the sounds Eno had come up with while moving the band forward into a more accessible, listenable oeuvre.

Another important facet of Roxy Music was their look.  Just as Bowie and others were pioneering the glam-rock movement with the Ziggy Stardust-type attire, the members of Roxy also pushed the envelope with spacey, other-worldly clothes and makeup.  Ferry, on the other hand, was partial to sartorial splendor, wearing white dinner jackets and adopting an ultra-cool persona.  “It was very much an art-school crowd who were coming to our early shows,” recalls Ferry, “and some of those wildly talented art students and fashion students helped us sort of put together the first few Roxy-Music-Band-Shot-Featured-Image-web-optimised-1000album covers, and the stage look of the band in general.”

Throughout the band’s 10-year run, British music fans were far more receptive to Roxy Music than their Yankee counterparts, perhaps because they were just a little too extreme for mainstream American tastes.  Every Roxy LP reached Top Ten on the UK album charts, including three #1 postings, and the band scored more than a dozen high-charting singles as well.  In the US, the best they could manage was a #23 ranking for the 1979 album “Manifesto,” and only one Top 40 single, 1975’s “Love is the Drug” (#30).

Retrospectively, it’s interesting to note how the band’s sound evolved as Ferry matured and encouraged a less dissident, more cosmopolitan and melodic sense to their music. Roxy-Music-Manifesto---Seale-522483Roxy had taken a brief sabbatical in 1977 while Ferry continued a concurrent solo recording career.  When they resumed working together, beginning with the “Manifesto” LP and its two excellent singles, “Angel Eyes” and “Dance Away,” Roxy Music were making tracks that folks in the dance clubs found more engaging.  As Rolling Stone put it, “It seems as if the rest did the regrouped Roxy a world of good:  deftly blending fresh rhythms into its signature sound, shortening the musical passages and concentrating more on song craft.”

When they released the equally radio-friendly “Flesh + Blood” the following year, Roxy 5180e83b3e9942f7c20c325f77717f7awas faced with reviews like this one by the respected David Hepworth:  “Original followers will likely find this album low on character and surprise, while those who love the mighty ‘Over You’ single will no doubt be suckers for the album’s mature, silky charms.”  To which Ferry replied, “Older fans want us to stay stuck in time, but that’s not reasonable.”

Due mostly to Ferry’s influence, the band began including spirited covers of great oldies like The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour.”  That trend reached its commercial zenith when they covered John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” on a single released in the wake of Lennon’s 1980 death.

Ferry had shown a fondness for interpreting older material as far back as his 1973 solo debut, attempting chestnuts like “It’s My Party” and “Baby I Don’t Care.”  In 1978, his “The Bride Stripped Bare” LP includes covers of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” and “Hold On I’m Comin’.”

“Avalon,” which turned out to be Roxy Music’s final LP, is also their most reachable, as 220px-Avalon_album_coverFerry’s voice, songs and keyboard playing adopt a softer, dreamier approach.  Critic Kurt Loder raved about it:  “The album takes a long time to kick in, but when it finally does, it shows a band at its peak.  Ferry’s familiar vocal mannerisms are subsumed in a rich, benevolent self-assurance, and reed man Andy Mackay shines in a series of impressive solos.  Roxy Music may be less dramatic now, but the songs have seldom seemed stronger.”

Ferry has continued to write and record plenty of amazing music in the 30-plus years since the band’s dissolving.  His 1985 LP “Boys and Girls,” which features virtuosos like David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler and Nile Rodgers, ranks right up there with “Avalon,” in my opinion.  Tracks like “Slave to Love” and “Don’t Stop the Dance” are positively hypnotic.  So, too, is his riveting version of “I Put a Spell on You,” which appears on his 1993 collection “Taxi.”

Roxy Music Perform in LondonThe band attempted a reunion in 2007 when Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera and even Eno reassembled in the studio to cut a few tracks, but they ultimately didn’t feel it was up to standards and shelved it.  Some of that material was reworked and rearranged for Ferry’s 2010 “Olympia” LP.

Roxy (without Eno) has made a few concert appearances in less traveled cities of Europe in the past decade, but there has never been any talk of US shows.  We may see the core members on stage together at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in New York next month…but will they perform?  “Doubtful,” says Mackay, “but you never know.”

Ferry continues to woo American audiences with his solo band, and I’m personally looking forward to seeing him at the Hollywood Bowl in August.

ac9152-20141110-bryan-ferryWhen asked to discuss his long-ago days with Roxy Music, he sighs and reflects matter-of-factly, “I really love what I do, and I’ve been fortunate.  The only part I don’t like is all this overanalyzing.  Art and music are here to be enjoyed and absorbed.  I’m not sure they need to be talked about so much.  I do sometimes envy the people who never have to describe what they’re doing.”

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I hope you enjoy the Spotify playlist below of my essential Roxy Music tracks, which also includes a few of Ferry’s best solo moments.