Rod Argent Enjoying Second Coming of The Zombies

Iconic 1960's & 70's Rockers Have Found New Life in 21st Century, Play Charleston Music Hall April 2nd

Jeff Walker,  Entertainment Writer

His name might not be as recognizable as fellow British rockers Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, but keyboardist and vocalist Rod Argent's music resonates with baby boomers just the same. As a founding member of The Zombies before fronting his own band, Argent and his fellow band mates would unleash a half dozen of the most familiar songs in classic rock history. aaaaaaaathezombiesrod

Among his recognizable hits include 'Tell Her No', 'She's Not There', and 'Time of the Season' with the latter two topping the charts in 1964 and 1969 respectively for the Zombies. 

In 1972 Argent's 'Hold Your Head Up' became the defining song off the band's quintessential third album 'All Together Now', reaching #5 on the singles charts, with several music critics agreeing Rod Argent's masterful work on the Hammond B3 created one of the greatest organ solos ever. aaaaaaaathezombiesargent

While his band and solo career had a decent 15 year run, he spent most of the 1980's and 90's applying his skills to other areas in the industry. "I started doing music for television and for movies. In 1977 he did studio work for The Who's eighth album 'Who Are You'.  "I was credited on  three songs on that release, and not on another."

Argent's time was short-lived due to a prior commitment. "After about three weeks I had to leave the recording session to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber on an album he was putting together. It's called 'Variations'". The classical rock fusion album is based on Italian composer Niccolò Paganini's 24th caprice and featured fellow renowned English rock n' roll musicians Gary Moore, Jon Hiseman and Don Airey.

Born in 1945 Argent gained his appreciation for a wide range of music from his parents. "My father was an aeronautical engineer, but he also the leader of two semi-professional dance bands (Les Argent Quartet and Les Argent & his Rhythm Kings)."

He adds, "My mother came from a musical family in a small way. She loved classical musical. She got me involved in the choir." Argent sang at St. Albans Cathedral. "So through both of them I got introduced to artists like Duke Ellington, Bach, and Stravinsky".

About the same time he joined the choir, Argent decided to become a musician. "I was around 8 or 9 years old, but I knew that was going to be my career path." He also knew what instrument he wanted to excel at. "I was always drawn to the organ and the piano." While his parents encouraged him, Argent did it on his own. "I taught myself. I learned the basic way of playing chords and just progressed from there."

Looking back Argent can't recollect ever having a different outlook. He recalls the words of John Lennon. "Music to me is the real world."

It was around age 11 that his musical preferences leaned towards rock n' roll. "My cousin Jim Rodford who was four years older than me would play some records from American artists. He played songs from Bill Haley. I gained appreciation for Haley later on, but initially it didn't resonate with me."

It was the King that tipped the scales for Argent. "100 percent. When my cousin introduced me to 'Hound Dog' by Elvis I was completely blown away. I listened to that song for months. It was just the rawest of rock n' roll. I still had an ear for classical music and cats like Miles Davis, but something about this new music coming out of America was absolutely wonderful."

Argent remembers the first time he saw Elvis. "It was for about 45 seconds. It was a clip on the BBC. I think he might have been playing at the Grand Old Opry. I'm not sure where, but that struck a chord in me."

While the burgeoning new sound was distant it was enlightening to Argent. "The American music scene seemed so far apart from us in Great Britain, like a whole new culture away. Elvis was like the beginning of a revolution in modern music. And then I heard guys like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and it all became real to me. I was especially drawn to rock n' roll piano in the songs, because that was something new."

Argent recalls the first time The Zombies came to America. "It was 1964, and we were doing a Christmas show with Murray the K (famed NYC DJ). 'She's Not There' was number one on the charts. We had to do several shows that day and had to be in the studio at 8am. We saw The Drifters and Patti Labelle & the Blue Belles It was a crazy busy day, but so much fun. Patti and I would go on to be friends." aaaaaaaathezombiesshes1 1

He has fonder memories of doing packaged tours in the mid 1960's such as Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars. "That's what they did back then, put a bunch of artists on the same tour. We went out with groups like the Beach Boys, the Shangri-Las, the Velvelettes (all girl Motown group), Tommy Roe, and other established artists."

It was during a 1965 tour stop in northern Florida where a young Tom Petty enjoyed his first concert. "Tom was 14 at the time. He related that story to us much later. He said we stood out among all the groups that day. He invited us to LA. We would go on to be lifelong friends, and be on his radio show. It hit us hard when he passed away."

After making his own mark on the music world in the 1960's and 70's Argent was happy to work behind the scenes writing and recording for others. Although he and his bandmates from the Zombies and Argent would occasionally perform together it wasn't until the early 2000's that the Zombies would take it up again on a more serious note.

"We had done some reunion gigs and benefit concerts, but it wasn't until Colin Blunstone (original vocals & guitarist) came to me and said let's do this on a more regular basis. I absolutely had had a ball during recent shows, so I was all for it."

Argent goes on to say. "For me it wasn't about the money. I was doing well, mainly because I was a songwriter and making money that way. Honestly, besides the fact that I was having so much fun, it was also due to the fact that The Zombies were enjoying a renaissance. Of course our diehard fans loved having us back out there, but with the festivals we were performing at, our music was being introduced to younger audiences that really appreciated what we had to offer."

Argent's revival included a stint in Ringo Starr's All-Star Band lineup in 2006. "Just incredible to share the stage with a Beatle."

21st century incarnations of The Zombies included Argent's cousin Jim Rodford who passed away in 2018. Original member Paul Atkinson left us in 2004, with additional founding drummer Hugh Grundy touring occasionally with Argent and Blunstone from 2008-19. Although not part of the current lineup as well, bassist Chris White performed with the band until 2019.

Four of the surviving members were on hand when The Zombies were inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. Eligible since 1990, with the band's resurgence in the 21st century they've been on several yearly lists, with old and new fans finally getting them across the finish line in 2019. While veteran pop and rock artist have mixed opinions on a HOF inclusion, Argent embraces the nod.

"It's fantastic. We don't take the Hall of Fame induction lightly. I realize some artists play it down but we welcomed the invitation." Argent senses how it all unfolded. "Things got so good for us. We were in demand, building a strong following, and playing to larger audiences." He adds, "All those combinations and hopefully our body of work made the difference."

Talk about coincidence. The Zombies were inducted into the hall on March 29, 2019, exactly 50 years from the day 'Time of the Season' topped the Cash Box Charts. The progressive pop rock psychedelic song has been recorded by several artists, including America, The Guess Who, Dave Matthews Band, and Tommy Shaw (Styx) & Jack Blades (Night Ranger). Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots recorded a version for the song to be included on the 1999 'Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me' soundtrack.

Not content to live on their former laurels, The Zombies released 'Still Got That Hunger' in 2015 and 'Different Game' just last year. The titles alone reflect that Argent and The Zombies have evolved and still have a fervor for new music. aaaaaaaaThe Zombies Different Game

While both received favorable reviews, the latter denotes how the industry has changed over six decades. "Everything is different. A lot of music is so manufactured today. It comes with drum loops and auto-tune."

'Different Game' was designed to sound like a live performance, meant to capture a magical, fleeting quality of energy and immediacy of performance. Critics rave about its blend of pop and progressive rock. "Technology is great but a lot of music sounds so robotic. That's not who we are. We want our new music to be relevant but have that classic Zombies sound."

He and Blunstone still tour as The Zombies. 60 years down the road and 78 years young, Argent never tires of playing the songs that brought him notoriety. "The fans obviously expect them, but for me it never gets old. I thoroughly enjoy playing our two biggest hits, 'She's Not There' and 'Time of the Season'."

Argent admits he and Blunstone mix it up so it doesn't become stale on the road. "Of course we play all the hits, but we can improvise. We add 'Hold Your Head Up' in during our shows, and I like to do a long organ solo, so we can take the song in a different direction."

Argent remembers playing Charleston over the years but can't recall the most recent show. "It's been quite a few years." He adds the band was more well received in different markets in their heyday. "During our first incarnation, the south wasn't particularly our base. We seemed to have a bigger following up north and on the west coast." aaaaaaaathezombiesopen

But with that fan base now living all over the country, The Zombies attract crowds wherever they perform. He does recollect what most do when they visit the Holy City, "I do remember walking down the streets in Charleston. I love the history and the charm of the city." Rod Argent and The Zombies make a tour stop at the historic Charleston Music Hall on Tuesday April 2nd.

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