The Zombies: A Real Song and a Fake Band

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New Episode! In Spring of 1969, the song “Time of the Season” was being heard everywhere in the U.S. It nearly topped the Billboard Charts and had teenagers begging for a U.S. tour from The Zombies, the British band who recorded the song. The only problem was that the band had already broken up. So in 1969, a disingenuous promoter put together several FAKE versions of The Zombies and toured the U.S. with it. And you won’t believe who some of those fake band members went on to become! In this week’s episode, we tell the story of Rock n Roll Hall of Fame band, The Zombies, and then chat with Comedy Writer Jimmy Mak!

stealing someones thunder

In 2003, I performed a magic show at a Chili Cook Off up near Cleveland. And my job was opening for The Drifters – the band that sang “Under the Boardwalk, Only You, and a dozen other recognizable DooWop hits from the 50s. Except it wasn’t the Drifters. It was one Drifter and a bunch of musicians he hired to fill in for the others. And there were at least 3 other Drifters splinter groups doing the same thing: touring the country playing these old songs after the original band broke up. 

There’s a similar story about the Animals – the band that made famous The House of the Rising Sun and See See Rider and Don’t Bring Me Down. They achieved their fame after the band broke up, so the lead singer, Eric Burden, put together a new band, called them The Animals and toured. 

So it was sort of fake band, but sort of not. There are a whole host of fake bands that have achieved fame. One of the most famous was The Monkees, who started out as a fake band to go along with a comedy television show, but then actually became a real band. The Monkees were all real musicians when they were cast for the show. They weren’t all great musicians, but they could at least sing, which is all they did for their first few hits. Over time, they eventually started writing and recording their own songs themselves. 

Then there’s the only fake band to reach number one on the billboard chart: The Archies. When this cartoon band with Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica hit number one with “Sugar, Sugar,” they were billed as “The Archies,” not the original musicians’ names, which were Ron Dante, Toni Wine and a whole host of studio musicians. Ron Dante did tour as Ron Dante and the Archies, however. 

Today’s story starts with a very real band: The Zombies. 

The Zombies were originally called The Mustangs, but the members, Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson, Hugh Grundy, Colin Blunstone and Paul Arnold, realized that several other popular bands were going by that name so Arnold came up with the name Zombies because at the time, zombies weren’t everywhere in pop culture and it was an obscure name that no one else would have. Arnold left the band right after that, but his mark on the band stayed. They were the Zombies and they broke out in the mid 60s with a few huge hits like “Tell her No,” and “She’s Not There.” 

“She’s not There” sold a million copies and made them a hit in the UK. They actually landed their first contract with it after winning £250 in a local contest. They were signed to Decca Records and the song made it to number 12 on the UK charts and when it made it overseas, it climbed to number 2 in the U.S. 

Their fame allowed them to travel to the U.S. and tour with their new hit songs in 1965. They toured throughout the states and even had a run in Brooklyn performing as part of Murray the K’s Christmas Shows at the Fox Theatre, where they performed 7 shows a day.  They returned to the UK and continued writing and recording songs. But despite their success with those first few singles, nothing they were writing was gaining any traction. It was a huge low for the band, who had just recently been in the United States living the dream performing for full audiences full of screaming teenagers. 

In 1967, they were signed by CBS Records and recorded their next LP at Abbey Road studios. And yes – it was that Abbey Road Studios. In fact, the mellotron used on this new album was the one left there by John Lennon after it was used on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. This new album was named “Oddesey and Oracle” with the word Oddesey famously misspelled by mistake. The album had a couple great tracks on it. One of them was called “Care of Cell 44,” this strange upbeat song about waiting for a lover to be released from jail. It never charted, but the members have said they always thought it should have. The other hit song from the album is one you’ve likely heard. 

Time of the Season was a unique song – hardly any chorus other than one line repeated 3 times through the song. But the opening groove and bass line is infectious. Despite the song being a sort of ear worm, it still didn’t blow up the radios in the UK. The song never charted in their home country. It was re-released as a single in 1968 and it wasn’t until the following year in 1969 that the song absolutely blew up in the U.S., rising all the way to number 3 on the hot 100. This was finally the sophomore success the band had been hoping for. There was only one problem. The band had broken up 2 years earlier, just after recording Oddesey and Oracle.”

“Time of the Season” was a huge hit in the U.S. in 1969 and young Americans were begging to see their new favorite band in person. But the band had broken up back in 1967. The lack of success following their first album had caused tension in the band and they were seeing a lack of demand for performance dates. The first 3 singles from Oddesey and Oracle album had flopped. The lead singer, Colin Blunstone, got a job working in an insurance office. Rod Argent formed a new band with Chris White. The Zombies were no more. 

So when “Time of the Season,” the 4th single to be released from the album made it big in the U.S., there was no band left to tour with it. It was released in the U.S. with the help of a man named Al Kooper. Kooper is a music legend. He’s played on hundreds of records, including The Rolling Stones, BB King, The Who, Alice Cooper and Jimi Hendrix. He’s literally the guy that named the band Blood, Sweat and Tears. If you’ve ever heard Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone,” that’s Kooper playing the organ. He’s literally the guy that produced the song “Freebird.”  He was on vacation in England on vacation and had bought the Oddesey and Oracle album and absolutely loved it. He was working in A&R for Columbia Records and convinced Clive Davis to release the album in America. Clive Davis had already heard the album and passed on it, but Kooper told him “you’ll be making a dreadful mistake” by not picking it up. So he was right. Columbia released it, and didn’t promote it at all. The song was so unique and captured the sound of the country in 1969, that radio DJs fell in love with it. In fact, the members of the Zombies were completely unaware of the success of the song as it was happening. 

There was an obvious demand in the U.S. for a Zombies tour, but no band to do it, so in comes a company called Delta Promotions. Delta Promotions decided to cash in on the hit song’s success by actually putting together two different bands to act as the Zombies. In 1969, this type of thing could happen because of the time it took information to travel in a world before the internet. A band in Texas was put together with a young musician, 18 year old Mark Ramsey, a guitarist Seab Meador from a band called “The Gentlemen,” a drummer named Frank Beard and a bassist named Dusty Hill. And if those last two names sound familiar, yes – they Frank Beard and Dusty Hill would later go on to International Fame as 2 of the 3 members of ZZ Top. But their first experience playing together was playing these Zombies songs and passing themselves off as the Zombies. 

It was of course incredibly unethical, but the members were told the whole thing was legal and that Delta Promotions had acquired the rights to the songs. It’s pretty clear that that’s not true, but again – in the 60s, this type of thing was easier to get away with. Other musicians that were involved claim they were told that the Zombies never existed – the whole thing was just a project released by studio musicians. A promo photo for the band shows them in cowboy hats – something that the real Zombies would never be caught wearing. And at the bottom you see the name “The Original ‘The Zombies’” with the band name “The Zombies” in quotes. Delta referred to them as “The Texas Zombies” because they had another fake Zombies band from Michigan. That band was a 5 piece band from Marquette in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They had come together as a Beach Boys inspired band, but for the Zombies promo photos, put on paisley looking psychedelic clothing that matched the sound of the Zombies. This band was actually really talented, while the Texas Zombies didn’t have as much success. 

So there’s a story that one night while the northern Zombies were playing the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles and some friends of actual Zombies member Paul Atkinson were there. They got the act on tape. And – this part is crazy. Delta Promotions knew the band didn’t sound the same as the album. And the way they excused it was they would tell the audience that some of the band members had changed, but they claimed the band had one original member. So on this recording that was secretly recorded, they’ve got one of the members of this band from Michigan speaking into the microphone between songs with a bad fake British accent and calling himself Hugh Grundy – actually stealing the name of one of the real Zombies members. 

They continued touring, but the evidence of the bands being fake kept growing and actually gained some press – most notably in Rolling Stone magazine. Then came the next problem for Delta Promotions. They were touring a fake band calling themselves the Animals. Earlier in this story, I told you how Eric Burden from the Animals had toured a band of all new musicians. Well this wasn’t that. This was a band made up of no one from the Animals, not even Burden. And the story goes that Eric Burden got together a biker gang and went after the fake Animals band. 

Between the fake Animals incident and the fake Zombies, Delta Promotions was on the ropes but the lawsuit that ended up bringing them down was from another group I mentioned earlier in this podcast. The Archies. Delta Promotions was the group responsible for putting instruments in peoples’ hands and having them tour as The Archies – a band that was made up of studio musicians. All of this came out in yet another Rolling Stone article and that was pretty much the end of Delta Promotions. 

It was later in 1969, the same year that the fake Zombies from Texas were touring around this huge hit song, that they met up with a man named Billy Gibbons and formed ZZ Top. 

And as for the real Zombies? Grundy, Blunstone and White reunited in 1989 without Rod Argent and released “Return of the Zombies.” A decade later, Argent joined back up and started playing together again. He had seen success on his own playing with Ringo Starr and releasing his own music, such as the hit song “Hold Your Head Up.” These days the original members of the Zombies still get together to perform occasionally and were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. 

So next time you hear “Time of the Season,” put yourself in the shoes of a teenager watching the band live somewhere in the U.S., not knowing they were really watching the beginning of ZZ Top. The Internet Says it’s True.

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.


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