Special to the Recorder
When Rod Argent got the news that The Zombies had been selected for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the founding band member’s mind went back to the day in 1956 in St. Albans, England, when his cousin first played him “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley.
“I was 11 years old and my life changed in three minutes,” Argent said in an interview with The Ponte Vedra Recorder. “It spun my world around.”
Argent’s cousin, Jim Rodford, was 15 at the time, and already playing in the local band The Bluetones.
“I thought I just had to get in a band, but at the time all my musical idols — Ray Charles, Elvis, Miles Davis — were in America and it just seemed like such an enormous goal,” Argent said. “To think that all these years later, The Zombies will be on the same roster (in the hall of fame) as those artists, it just feels fantastic. We are absolutely thrilled.”
Best known for their 1960s hits “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season,” The Zombies had been eligible for hall of fame induction since 1989. Yet it was only in the past five years that the band had been nominated and received serious consideration — a fact Argent said is due in no small part to The Zombies’ loyal — and growing — fan base.
Over the course of the fan voting period, Zombies fans submitted more than 320,000 votes for their favorite band — surpassing the vote totals received by artists such as Janet Jackson, Devo, Radiohead and numerous other artists. And while the top five bands in the fan vote each only received a single extra vote on the induction ballot, Argent believes the strong fan showing bolstered The Zombies’ chances.
“Our fans were absolutely relentless in their voting — in fact, while other bands’ voting fell off as the voting went on, ours actually went up,” Argent observed. “I do think the (hall of fame) voting members look at the fan vote and it made a difference.”
An influential band
The Zombies first performed in Northeast Florida on July 24, 1965, when they appeared at the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum on a bill that featured The Beach Boys, The Shangri-Las, The Searchers and Lesley Gore. Sitting in the audience that day, attending his very first rock and roll concert, was a 14-year-old boy named Tom Petty.
“Tom told us about attending that concert,” Argent said of the 2002 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “He remembered us performing ‘Summertime’ and that to his mind, we stood up above all the other acts. He was a big supporter of ours.”
Petty — who covered The Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again” — wasn’t alone in his admiration for the band. Other acts that have credited The Zombies as a major influence include such diverse artists as Paul Weller, Susanna Hoffs, Zooey Deschanel and Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Eminem famously sampled “Time of the Season” on his “Rhyme or Reason,” and today, Zombies tunes regularly show up in movies, commercials and TV series.
To what does Argent attribute the timeless quality that gives The Zombies’ songs such staying power?
“I’ve gone through my life loving all strands of music,” said Argent, listing Bach and Stravinsky alongside Elvis, Miles Davis and Little Richard as early musical influences. “The Zombies never consciously copied anybody, but I suppose those influences all found their way indirectly through the filter. And as a result, The Zombies didn’t sound like anybody.”
Argent also credits the influence of Zombies lead vocalist Colin Blunstone, with whom he founded the band as teenagers in 1961.
“Colin and I have often said that he grew up learning to sing by singing my songs, and I grew up learning to write by writing for his voice,” Argent told The Recorder. “That connection has certainly affected my writing — I imagine his voice in the back of my mind.”
Another major influence who will be on Argent’s mind at the hall of fame induction ceremony: Jim Rodford, the cousin who introduced him to rock and roll back in 1956. Rodford later joined the most recent incarnation of The Zombies after playing with his cousin in the 1970s post-Zombies band, Argent, and for 18 years with The Kinks. He was with The Zombies a year ago when the band concluded their tour at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall; he died a week later as a result of a fall at his home in England.
“Jim was a mentor to me,” said Argent, noting that Rodford provided the musical equipment for The Zombies’ first rehearsal in 1961. “He was a huge presence, a huge energy, a huge inspiration.”
After the hall of fame induction on March 29 — 50 years to the day that “Time of the Season” topped the U.S. charts — The Zombies will head back into the studio to write and record a new album. In fact, fans attending the band’s Feb. 20 Ponte Vedra Concert Hall performance may receive a sneak preview of one of the new songs if it’s ready in time, Argent said.
“I love the idea of playing things live — that’s what excites us,” he said. “There’s nothing as exciting as getting involved in something creative. We just have a genuine enthusiasm for what we do.”