On Stage: Even death won’t keep The Zombies from new tour

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Original members Colin Blunstone (left) and Rod Argent (right) are mourning the passing of long-time bass player Jim Rodford, and have dedicated the current North American tour to him.

Zombies are coming back to the area this weekend. That’s what zombies do. They keep coming back.

But, these Zombies are not creatures from the dead – they are musicians from England.

On March 10, The Zombies, one of the U.K.’s top hitmakers from the original “British Invasion,” will headline a show at the Scottish Rite Auditorium (315 White Horse Pike, Collingswood, New Jersey, scottishriteauditorium.com).

If a half-century has passed since a band’s onstage debut, that band definitely has shown the ability to come back from the dead.

Zombies — undead beings created through the reanimation of human corpses – obviously know how to come back from the dead.

The Zombies played their first show in 1962. Still alive as a band today, the Brit rockers definitely know how to come back from the dead.

The Zombies have been building their fan base for more than 50 years and that fan base continues to grow. One reason that it grows is because the band’s catalog of great songs continues to grow.

The Zombies released their latest album “Still Got That Hunger” in October 2015. The band then went on tour for two months performing its classic “Odessey and Oracle” album for the first time ever in the United States.

The Zombies have come back to tour North America several times since then. One of the tours celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Odessey and Oracle” and the release of a lavish coffee-table book and reissues on CD and vinyl.

The critically-acclaimed “Odessey and Oracle” album produced the group’s biggest hit (“Time of the Season”) and became a musical touchstone for generations to come. The book, which was published by BMG Books and Reel Art Press, includes handwritten lyrics for all the songs on “Odessey and Oracle” along with many of their other popular songs

Lavishly illustrated with rarely seen photos from throughout the band’s career, the volume also includes original artwork. The book’s text includes anecdotes behind the songs and their recording, all from the original members, as well as reflections from Brian Wilson, Nate Ruess, Clive Davis, Carlos Santana, Susanna Hoffs, and many others. The “Foreword” was written by Tom Petty, who passed away a few months ago.

“We recorded the new album early in 2015,” said Colin Blunstone, during a recent phone interview from his home in London, England.

“We did it with producer Chris Potter. He has worked with the Stones, Verve and a lot of other big artists. We decided to do it a slightly different way. We did it similar to the way we did ‘Odessey and Oracle.’

“When the songs were written, we rehearsed them a lot — first acoustically and later with more instruments.

“Then, we went into a studio where we could all record in the same room together. When you record live in the studio, it’s a whole different feeling. It really enhances the performances. Band members play off one another and that’s something you don’t get when you’re layering tracks.

“We used two really nice studios in England — State of the Ark Studio in Richmond and Sugar Factory in Warmsworth. The album actually got into the Billboard Top 100. It was our first time to chart on Billboard in 50 years.”

In the mid-1960s, The Zombies scored a number of hit singles including “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There” and then went four years without a song in the charts. In 1968, The Zombies rose from the dead and had a Top Five hit with “Time of the Season.”

In the early 1970s, the group disbanded and headed off to the rock-and-roll graveyard. Then, The Zombies found new life in the 1990s when Argent and Blunstone reunited for a series of dates in the U.K. They continued to tour and released an album of all-new material called “Breathe Out, Breathe In” (Absolute Records) in 2011.

“With regard to our initial reunion 12 years ago, Rod was doing a charity with his band Argent,” said Blunstone.  “I was in the audience and he called me up to sing a few songs with him. I had some solo dates not long after that so Rod came and played those dates.

“We only expected to play together for those shows. But, it went great so we decided to keep it going. Halfway through the first show, it felt as though we had never stopped playing. In reality, it was a 30-year gap.

“This is a good band. It’s a thrill for me every night to get up and sing in front of a line-up like this. They give it their all every night. And, I’m eternally grateful for the place the Zombies have had in people’s affection.”

The Zombies just received their second nomination for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Along with founding members Blunstone and Argent, the current line-up of The Zombies guitarist Tom Toomey and drummer Steve Rodford. The line-up was radically altered by a tragic event that happened in London a few months ago – the accidental death at age 76 of The Zombies’ long-time bass player Jim Rodford.

On the day of Rodford’s death, Rod Argent posted the following message on The Zombies’ Facebook page — “It is with deep sadness that I learned this morning that my dear cousin and lifelong friend, Jim Rodford, died this morning after a fall on the stairs. More details are not yet known about the exact cause of death.

“Jim was not only a magnificent bass player, but also from the first inextricably bound to the story of The Zombies. An enormous enabler for us. He was actually the first person ever to be asked to join the band, way back in 1961. Because he was in the top St. Albans band of the time (The Bluetones), he turned us down at first, but from day one helped us chart our course.

“He loaned us The Bluestones’ state-of-the-art gear for our very first rehearsal, arranged the rehearsal space, and even showed Hugh (Grundy) the first kick and snare drum pattern our original drummer ever learned. He was responsible for the first song I ever wrote (for The Bluetones – which they recorded); the person who organized most of our early gigs, and the very first person outside the group ever to hear – and pass judgement on – our first record, ‘She’s Not There’ (he loved it).

“Years later, he became founder member, with me, of Argent; and then, for 18 years, throughout a hugely successful American period for them, was bass player for The Kinks.
“Jim, always a hugely sought-after musician, had also had long stints as bass player with both The Mike Cotton Sound and the Lonnie Donegan Band.

When Colin and I put together our second incarnation in late 1999, our first phone call was to Jim. He gave us absolutely unflagging commitment, loyalty and unbelievable energy for eighteen years, and our gratitude is beyond measure.

“To the end, Jim’s life was dedicated to music. He was unfailingly committed to local music — an ever-present member of the local scene in St. Albans, where he had spent his whole life. Often, Colin and I would compare notes a couple of days immediately after a U.S. tour and discuss how long it would take us to recover from an intense, fantastic but exhausting couple of months  only to find out and marvel that Jim had already been out playing with local bands (often, but not always, with “The Rodford Files,” made up of talented family members) or giving charity shows or lectures on the St. Albans music scene.
“His dedication was rewarded with Doctor Of Music, granted to him last year by the University Of Hertfordshire.
“Jim was a wonderful person, loved by everybody. When Colin and I, shocked and hardly able to talk, shared the news this morning, Colin said ‘I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.’

“He will be unbelievably missed. Goodnight and God Bless dear friend.”

In the interview with Blunstone, which took place just a few days after Rodford’s death, The Zombies’ singer said, “It’s difficult to put something like this into words. It was a total shock. I thought we’d go on forever.

“I was talking to him on the phone the last thing on a Friday night. Then, the first thing Saturday morning, his son (Steve Rodford) called to tell me the news.

“Jim was a wonderful person and a great musician. He always had time for everyone. I’m going to really miss him as a person – and as a musician.

“It was such a surprise – and a huge reminder of our mortality. It was also a reminder that we have to keep on while we can. We’ve been so fortunate with our careers.”

About a week after Rodford’s passing, The Zombies’ Facebook page posted the following — “A message from The Zombies’ management: “The Zombies North American tour to go forward in honour of Jim Rodford.”

“On behalf of The Zombies and our extended family, we are grateful for the outpouring of love and support from fans, following the tragic and sudden loss of Jim Rodford.

“Jim can never be replaced. Not only did his bass playing anchor the band for the past 18 years…Jim’s joy and professionalism as a musician has been an inspiration to every member of The Zombies since he helped organize their first rehearsal back in 1961.

“Nevertheless, one of the many principles we learned from Jim is that ‘the show must go on,’ and, in that spirit, we want to assure fans that The Zombies will continue. Preparations are being made for the band to perform their North American tour February 27-March 25, 2018 as scheduled.”

Blunstone said, “As soon as we heard the news, we had to make a decision about whether to continue. We knew Jim’s attitude would have been ‘the show must go on’ so that’s what we decided to do. On this tour, we’ll be playing some songs from our latest album and a lot of older songs.”

The Zombies, who are touring with Danish musician Soren Koch on bass, could fill a 90-minute set with hits from both band incarnations along with popular album tracks from the past. But, Blunstone and Argent have never been content to rest on their laurels.

“The life force of what we do is writing and recording new songs,” said Blunstone. “I don’t think we could go out and just do old songs. Neither Rod nor I would be doing this if we weren’t creating new music. For us, it’s very exciting to be making new songs.

“I think Rod is currently writing some new tunes. He plays them at sound check and we can hear them develop. I hope we’ll be recording a new album later this year. I’m also recording another solo album this year.”

Video link for the Zombies – https://youtu.be/Xjf8F3v18DY.

The show at Scottish Rite Auditorium, which has Don DiLegio as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $59.50, $49.50 and $39.50.

Constantine Maroulis

When Constantine Maroulis headlines a show on March 10 at the Rrazz Room (6426 Lower York Road, New Hope, www.therrazzroom.com), he will have an audience featuring fans who have been drawn to him from different directions.

Maroulis is a Greek-American actor and rock singer from Wyckoff, New Jersey — a scrappy kid from Brooklyn with a big voice, deep pride for his Greek heritage, and a love for the theater and rock music. He first came to prominence as the underdog on “American Idol.”

He was the sixth-place finalist on the fourth season of the reality television series “American Idol.” Maroulis received a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his role in “Rock of Ages.” He also starred in the title role in “Jekyll and Hyde” on Broadway and received a Drama League Award Nomination for a Distinguished Performance Award.

When he was younger, Maroulis sang in high school garage bands and later received a B.F.A. in Music Theater from Boston Conservatory.

A few years before appearing on “American Idol,” Maroulis competed on the dating show “Elimidate,” was an extra in NBC’s “Law and Order: SVU”  and performed as a voice-over artist on the Kids WB series “Astro Boy.”

He appeared in a number of off-Broadway roles from the Conservatory and toured in the Broadway international touring company of “Rent” performing the lead role of Roger Davis.

“The ‘American Idol’ thing came along at the right time,” said Maroulis, during a recent phone interview from his home in Bergen County, New Jersey. “I had been on tour with ‘Rent’ and they didn’t renew my contract.”

In 2004, an old friend convinced him to try out for “American Idol.”

“At the time, I didn’t know much about ‘American Idol’ except for the title,” said Maroulis. “It had only been on for three seasons and there wasn’t the whole social media thing back then. Everybody needs an opportunity and that’s what it was for me. It definitely changed my life.”

Another life-changing event happened much earlier in his life.

Maroulis’ story took an important turn at a very young age when his family moved from Brooklyn to Wyckoff. The city’s manicured lifestyle was culture shock to Maroulis who preferred the more diverse and earthy environs of Brooklyn. He took solace in close family ties, and his family’s eclectic music soundtrack which included goth, classic rock, jazz, Spanish hymns, Greek music, pop, and show tunes. His life would get another jolt when he witnessed his brother’s performance in a high school production of “West Side Story.”

According to Maroulis, “I remember seeing the scene where he got stabbed in a rumble and came back to life in a dream sequence. That changed me forever.

“Then, there was ‘American Idol.’ Basically, my life changed the moment I stepped on the property.  I had cameras in my face all time. It was the right time and I was ready to play.”

Constantine Maroulis became a household name through his memorable run as a finalist on the fourth season of “American Idol.” His charisma, rock-and-roll edge, and powerful vocals impressed the judges – and 30 million viewers watching the show at home.  His triumphant performances on the show included some of the program’s most electrifying moments – especially his rendition of Queen’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The next big change in his life’s trajectory came on Broadway.

A show called “Rock of Ages” with an unknown cast and unknown creatives came knocking. It had a great program of classic songs and Maroulis got on board. The show enjoyed a very successful run as one of the highest-grossing Broadway shows of all time. It also brought awards and critical acclaim for Maroulis including a TONY-Award nomination. And, it established him as a top-flight performer.

Recently, Maroulis starred as Sergio in the world premiere musical production of “The Most Beautiful Room in New York.” He is also developing several creative projects in TV and film, including Tony-Nominated work as a producer of Broadway’s revival of Deaf West’s “Spring Awakening.” He also has been releasing the singles, including “All About You,” “Here I Come” and “She’s Just Rock N Roll” from his upcoming album slated for an early 2018 release.

“Thankfully, I’ve been busy enough doing acting,” said Maroulis. “I just put out three new songs recently and they’ve been doing really well. ‘All About You’ has been getting airplay on Sirius XM. I put out singles to stay in people’s minds.

“I’m just focused on songwriting and I’m pleased with it. I’ve had some great collaborations and have about 20 songs in the bank. I still have to work hard at making good records. It’s an expensive thing — especially without a label partner. It’s still a dream of mine to have a radio hit.

“In my live show, I like to do intimate storytelling. And, I do songs from ‘Rock of Ages,’ ‘West Side Story,’ and ‘American Idol.’ I’m going to go with songs that made me what I am today – a Greek boy, blue-collar rocker.”

Video link for Constantine Maroulis — https://youtu.be/l7Da6MjM_Mk.

The show at the Rrazz Room will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $37.50.

Marie Miller

Marie Miller, who will be opening for Five for Fighting on March 10 at The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) and on March 11 at the Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com), is a singer-songwriter from Nashville.

When thinking about Miller, forget any pre-conceived notions you might have when considering a sensitive singer-songwriter from Music City – images of a solo artist making music on a guitar with songs about love and heartbreak…songs that were inspired by country and/or folk artists.

Miller, who has been composing songs for more than half of her 28 years, draws from influences rarely found in today’s crop of singer-songwriters.

Obviously, just about every songwriter has similarities to all the others — and so does Miller. When Miller writes a song, she does what all gifted writers do — she looks at her life and into her heart to make sure what she creates comes from real emotion and experience.

Miller also does something none of peers do.

She searches through classic literature and draws influences from great writers such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Homer. There, she finds parallels for what she wants to say, channels that inspiration into her lyrics and comes up with something unique — music that is both immediate and timeless.

Miller is currently touring in support of her recent album “Letterbox,” which was released last year on Curb Records.

“I had been building up songs for a while,” said Miller, during a phone interview Friday afternoon as she drove through West Virginia on her way to a show in Pittsburgh.

“My previous record was ‘You’re Not Alone,’ which came out in 2014. Some of the songs on ‘Letterbox’ were written before that record came out. So, I’ve been building up these songs for more than five years. I write on keyboards and guitar. It’s easier to write melancholy or sad songs on piano.

“When I’m writing. I generally have an idea or the song title first and everything goes from there. For example, with the song ‘Glitter Gold,’ I knew what I wanted to write about before I even started.

“I like to tap into literature. Books become like friends. I get inspired by stories written by great authors. Then, I bring it back to my life and what is going on with me. It’s pretty easy. I have a good imagination. And, I can identify with tragic heroines.

“Some of my favorite authors are Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. The author I’d like most to meet other than those two is C.S. Lewis. Some of my favorite books are ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Wuthering Heights,’ and ‘The Great Gatsby.’

“When I’m travelling on the road – like I am now in my car on the way to Pennsylvania – I’m listening to books. Right now, I’m listening to Graham Greene (an English novelist from the early 20th century).”

Miller’s musical influences are not as eclectic.

“I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music,” said Miller, who is from Front Royal, Virginia and now lives in Nashville.

“I like New Grass – artists like Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss. I also listened to bands like the Eagles – and Stevie Wonder. I’ve always loved his voice.”

Miller grew up with music all around her.

“We had a big family and my father wanted to start a family band,” said Miller. “I started piano lessons when I was seven and then picked up mandolin and guitar when I was 12 or 13.”

Around age 12, Miller began singing with her family and later with her sister as a duo, appearing at churches, festivals, community picnics and, every Saturday, on the porch of the winery her father and a partner had opened in rural Virginia, across the road from the Miller family home. She also began writing songs at that age.

After a stint in Nashville when she was 16 and 17, Miller returned to Virginia. She took time off from music, went to college for a while, but kept practicing and writing. With a new confidence, she eventually went back to Nashville.

“My new album was recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles,” said Miller. “The tracks I did in L.A. were produced by Eric Rosse, who has worked with one of my favorites, Sara Bareilles. The tracks that were done in Nashville were produced by Chad Copelin. I also recorded my first album in Nashville and that one was on Curb Records too.”

Video link for Marie Miller – https://youtu.be/oojVqv-EqCU.

The show at the Grand on May 10 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $33 and $38. The show at the Colonial Theatre will start at 8 p.m. Tickets prices range from $29.50-$42.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Grand are Jeff Boyer’s Bubble Trouble on March 11 and My Father’s Dragon on March 14.

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