Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Did Zombies play in the U. P.?

British rock band The Zombies had a handful
of hit singles in the United States in the 1960s.


A store patron once told me he saw famed British band the Zombies play in the Upper Peninsula in 1969 or 1970.

I doubted the story since I had never heard about such a high-profile appearance, although I didn't say so at the time.

Famous for "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No," the Zombies also recorded an album titled "Odessey & Oracle," now highly acclaimed despite the spelling mistake.

The group comprised Colin Blunstone (lead vocals), Rod Argent (keyboards), Paul Atkinson (guitar), Chris White (bass) and Hugh Grundy (drums).

The LP and new single "Time of the Season" were released in the band's home country in April, 1968 to a lackluster reception.

Bringing the album home from Britain, musician and A&R man Al Kooper, formerly of Blood, Sweat & Tears, convinced CBS Records to release the discs in the United States on its Date subsidiary label.

Kooper wrote liner notes for "Odessey & Oracle," concluding the Zombies "are very much alive."

Date Records produced a 45 second radio spot urging listeners to get a copy of the "Time of the Season" as a "handy single" or on the "economy album with 11 other tracks."

Whether or not the promotion helped, "Time of the Season" become a smash hit in the spring of 1969. Written by Argent and sung by Blunstone, the song had been recorded back in August, 1967.

The new hit was certainly good news for the Zombies, except they had announced their break-up a year earlier on March 30, 1968.

Although they certainly could have filled concert halls, original band members decided not to regroup for a tour. Argent turned down an offer of 20,000 British pounds to reform the Zombies for one show.

To fill the demand from fans wishing to see the group perform their new hit in a concert setting, imposters took the Zombies name.

Pete Frame offered details in the liner notes to a 1974 Zombies reissue album. "At least a couple bogus Zombies suddenly sprang up from nowhere to cash in. One of these, working out of a mid-western agency in the States, was going out for something like $7,000 a night."

A packet of forty-year-old promotional photographs I obtained in 2010 seemed to provide some evidence to this nefarious situation.

Distributed by Bay City, Mich. booking agency Delta Promotions, the black and white photos were used to publicize artists on their roster.

Two of the images are identified as "The Zombies." Beneath the pictures is printed the address to their National Fan Club, actually a post office box in Lewiston, a tiny northern lower Michigan community of less than 1,000 persons.

One glossy studio shot shows three of the members sitting and two others standing behind them. Another 8 x 10 depicts the five standing outside with a tree as a backdrop.

Although they're dressed like rock stars, the quintet is NOT the real Zombies.

Zombies fan Mark Fisher recalls seeing this fake group perform at the Aerodrome nightclub in Schenectady, N. Y. on Dec. 13, 1969. Established by Jack Rubin in 1967, the Aerodrome featured such name acts as Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and Three Dog Night.

Fisher saved a photo of the group published in a Troy, N. Y. newspaper, which also confirmed the date of the show. The cutline said "The Zombies" were "accredited with 'She's Not There,' 'Tell Her No' and 'Time of the Season.'"

The band did play all Zombies songs, Fisher remembered. He met them after the show, believing they were the British group with three hit singles. They even gave him their autographs as John (vocals), Terry (guitar), Howie (organ), Eddie (bass) and Gary (drums).

At a Zombies website, Fisher, who later learned the group was bogus, called the show a "rip-off."

Band members told Fisher they could be contacted by mail in care of Bill Eberline of Sudbury, Mass. Earlier in his career, Eberline was a disc jockey in Cass City, Mich. where he entertained at record dances held for area teenagers. Local newspaperman Dave Kraft complimented Eberline's skill in the Cass City Chronicle in 1964.

(By 1966, Eberline had emceed a package tour of the Upper Peninsula which included the nationally-known Buckinghams, all-girl group the Luv'd Ones, Marquette's Excels and Iron Mountain's Ravelles.)

With "Time of the Season" one of the the year's biggest hits, other venues were scammed.

On a web posting, a fan identified as Steve K. said he saw a fake Zombies at a little club in Hastings, Mich. in 1969. He said the group had bad English accents and failed to bring along a keyboard player, despite the fact the instrument is crucial to the Zombies' sound.

Actually, Delta Promotions had some experience booking "faux" groups.

They also promoted The "Archies," animated characters who gave life to mega-hit "Sugar, Sugar" on a Saturday morning cartoon program. Delta's Archies had no connection to the studio musicians who recorded songs for the Archies TV show and records.

Bay City based music historian Gary Johnson has researched Delta Promotions.

Owned by Bill Kehoe and James Altherton, Delta Promotions was in business from 1965 to 1970, according to Johnson.

Founder of the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends website, Johnson says he was told by a member of the Dick Rabbit band that Delta Promotions asked them to "go out" as the Flying Burrito Brothers, but they declined. The Dick Rabbit group, which recorded a number of 45s, moved to Bay City from western Michigan in the late 1960s and signed with Delta, Johnson said.

Delta Promotions also booked Question Mark & the Mysterians, the Saginaw band responsible for the 1966 chart topper "96 Tears."

According to writer Kris Englehardt, it was during a Mysterians' rehearsal at the Delta Promotions office, that Mark Farner and Don Brewer met bassist Mel Schacher. The trio would form Grand Funk Railroad.

Johnson told me he's heard a rumor that Dusty Hill of ZZ Top fame was in Michigan in the late 1960s and was briefly in the Zombies group at Delta Promotions. Hill, now wearing the trademark ZZ Top beard, doesn't look like any of the young men shown in the promotional photos, but who knows?

With photo confirmation, it's certain that Delta Promotions' fake version of "The Zombies" played the Schenectady date, it seems likely they would also drive the 96 miles from Bay City to Hastings and perhaps travel a little further for a gig in the Upper Peninsula.

No, the real Zombies didn't play in the U. P. in 1969 or 1970, but evidence points to impostors who did.

1 comment:

steve k. said...

I've been reading your wonderful blog for a while now, checking in from time to time, and was surprised to see a comment I made on the internet a few years back referred to in this post. I did, indeed, witness the fake Zombies at 'The Cobra' in Hastings Michigan. All the Michigan biggies of the time played there (Frost, Seger, MC5, Alice Cooper etc.); evidently the Zombies had more of a Michigan connection than i knew at the time. Their British accents were beyond laughable and can you imagine the Zombies of all bands without keyboards? Someone in the crowd hollered out "where's the organ player?" The singer replied 'he's been boosted in Texas and is still there'. Blimey.
Anyway, thanks for documenting all this cool stuff.
Steve K.