December 7, 2018 Interview – Chris White of The Zombies
Standing the test of time, The Zombies has been one of Rock-n-Roll history’s more easily recognized names. Born out of the 1960s, when a new wave of Rock-n-Roll music was blazing a trail across the Atlantic to America, their sound was inventive and sophisticated, garnering success in 1964 with “She’s Not There,” in 1965 with “Tell Her No,” and in 1968 with “Time of the Season.” Forward thinking and daring, they would write and self-produce their 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle, with little financial backing. Today, regarded by many as one of the greatest Rock-n-Roll albums of all-time, ironically, The Zombies broke up shortly after its release due to lack of interest.
Now, a consistently active touring band for the last twenty years, The Zombies are once again up for nomination into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. A well-deserved honor, for a highly influential band, isn’t it the ‘time of the season’ to finally induct them into the hallowed halls in 2019? Looking back on their compelling story, original Zombies bassist and long-time songwriting partner, Chris White, sat down to talk being a part of the band, the early days of their career, the potential of earning a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music professionally for over 50 years now and immediately became an intricate part of The Zombies upon joining them in the early ’60s. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your musical journey?
Chris White – I played bass because my dad played upright bass in amateur bands and orchestras. I was asked to join The Zombies because their bass player (Paul Arnold) was doing his A Level’s for exams. That is how I started out, as a semi-professional musician.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. As mentioned, you would go on to be a very intricate part of the band and a key songwriter alongside Rod Argent.
Chris White – Yes, Rod is a very good influence and a good musician. If you are writing songs, you couldn’t have a better singer to write songs for like Rod and Colin Blunstone.
Cryptic Rock – You have also worked with Rod outside The Zombies in years past. How would you describe the chemistry you two share as songwriting partners?
Chris White – We are very different. We are all still friends, and being friends for five decades is quite an achievement. Rod challenges me because he is a different writing style from me. He was always inventive. When The Zombies finished, because nobody wanted the album we had just done, which he and I produced, Odessey and Oracle, we wanted to continue. I was at art college and we started to try and be professional musicians and produce other people. Therefore, we convinced Colin after a while, because he had left the business, and we did his first three albums as well. It was good fun working with Rod, he was always challenging, inventive, and it was always very helpful writing with him.
Cryptic Rock – Together, as The Zombies, you are regarded as a highly influential band. The band had success with a bunch of hit singles, and left their mark on Rock-n-Roll. Talking of a lot of hard work, how would you describe the early years of the band?
Chris White – Thoroughly enjoyable. We were quite astounded with the first hit “She’s Not There.” Don’t forget, America was our magic land. In 1964, the first thing we did was go to Murray the K’s to meet all our heroes; working with them on stage was incredible. We had more success in America than at home. I don’t know why, it just worked out that way.
It was wonderful coming to America, it’s the magic land for music, there is no difference in opinion about music. Music is music. As they say, there is only two things with music – good or bad, it doesn’t matter what sort it is. We really enjoyed coming to America, it was really an invigorating process.
Cryptic Rock – The Zombies did have a lot of success in America. Speaking of America, you are up for nomination into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame once again in 2019. This will be the fourth nomination.
Chris White – It’s wonderful. It’s so nice to know that and it would be fantastic if we did get in. It’s just joining that club of good musicians.
Cryptic Rock – There are a lot of great artists in the Rock and Hall of Fame. You are on a short list of those up for nomination including The Cure, and it is certainly long overdue The Zombies get in. There are a lot of really great artists who are deserving of induction. In your mind, who would you like to see put in?
Chris White – In my mind, most of the people who are deserving, are in there. Don’t forget, I’m in my seventies so my heroes are the ones we traveled within America that met – Elvis Presley and Tom Petty. Artists like Elvis were influential on us, as we seemed to be influential on Tom Petty, and other people of that era, because they are slightly younger than us. At the moment, I don’t know who else is deserving and I haven’t really thought about it.
It would be nice if we got in. The band is a touring band. Hugh Grundy and I joined in when we did the the Odessey and Oracle 40th anniversary, and most recently, the 50th anniversary.
Cryptic Rock – That’s right. In 2017, you were a part of the 50th anniversary tour for Odessey and Oracle. Was the tour a lot of fun?
Chris White – Absolutely! It’s funny, when we are touring on the bus, the jokes are still the same from the ’60s, but we keep forgetting the endings at our age. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) It is great to hear you still have a good time together. Let’s look into the future, if The Zombies finally, and rightfully, make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, could you foresee joining up with the band again for a celebration tour perhaps?
Chris White – Yes, maybe. We keep saying we can’t keep touring Odessey in Oracle again and again, but people seem to love it. We enjoy playing it, it’s great fun playing it with great musicians. As I said, people in the band are still friends after all these years, which is a rarity with a ’60s band.
Cryptic Rock – That is very true. You clearly have a love for music and Rock-n-Roll in particular. A lot of British bands were influenced by American Rock-n-Roll. What artists interested and inspired you coming up?
Chris White – Gene Vincent was one of them, early Elvis Presley as well. Definitely Buddy Holly, he effected a lot of English musicians. It was refreshing and everybody wanted to start a band when they heard American music. I think our national service stopped before American’s did, so we didn’t have to go into the services in the ’60s. Therefore, Americans had to and there was that difference.
We really enjoyed copying American music because it was a language and refreshing. You have to remember in the early ’60s we were still getting over rationing and the war. The ’60s were a magic time with lots of bands going around exchanging ideas. It was just an exciting time.
Cryptic Rock – It produced a lot of wonderful music too. You mention Buddy Holly, he is very influential for many reasons – he wrote his own songs, performed his own songs, and he had this look about him that showed you do not need to look a certain way to be in Rock-n-Roll.
Chris White – Absolutely. There were also people like Little Richie who was totally outrageous and exciting. When we heard them on the radio it was so exciting and it made you want to play music, it was as simple as that.
Cryptic Rock – It was a great time for Rock-n-Roll. To this day you are still active within music. What are you currently working on?
Chris White – The only thing we are working on at the moment is a musical for The Zombies based on the year we wrote Odessey and Oracle. That is what I am working on at the moment. I am also working with lots of younger people writing as well. There are a lot of things going on, but nothing actually being in the charts because it’s a difficult time at the moment. I can’t do anything else to be quite honest. Music is my life. It’s a passion and it’s an exciting thing.
Cryptic Rock – It is wonderful to hear how passionate you are about music. The musical sounds very compelling. Will it be brought to America?
Chris White – It will be in America. It’s set in 1967 when we had no work in England and our manager said we had 10 days in Manila – we thought it was just playing in a hotel to be honest. Rod and I were the only ones who had any money, because we were songwriters. We were getting 18 pounds a night for this ten days, and we found we were playing to 30,000 people a night, it was a total surprise to us.
We found out years later our manager was getting several thousand pounds a night. We came home to England with no manager, no record company, and no money, so Rod and I decided to produce ourselves. That’s when we did Odessey and Oracle. The musical is the story of that.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it will be a tremendous story. Odessey and Oracle just turned 50 years old this past April. The album is highly regarded as a master piece of work by fans, as well as many other musicians. Looking back, what was it like writing and recording it?
Chris White – Great fun. We were the first EMI group to go into Abbey Road Studios. We only had a thousand pounds from CBS to record it. It was the first time Rod and I decided to produce it ourselves. We thought it was the best we could do on a small budget. Then, when it came out, no one wanted it, it didn’t sell or anything, so the band split up. Then, 8 months later, we had a number 1 in America with “Time of the Season.” It’s been quite a journey to be quite honest… 50 years is a long time for a record to get recognition. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – It certainly is. It is amazing how sometimes art does not get the recognition it deserves during the time it is created. In many instances, it takes a long time for it to be appreciated the way it should.
Chris White – Absolutely. Luckily most of us are still alive to enjoy it!
Cryptic Rock – That is a very fortunate thing, you see very often than not artists do not get to see their work appreciated.
Chris White – Yes, and there are too many great artists we have lost in recent years. It’s always sad and upsetting, like Tom Petty. I met Tom Petty when we did the tour in 2017, it was the first and last time I met him. It was very upsetting that he passed. That’s life isn’t it?
Cryptic Rock – Yes, that is why we have to enjoy the time we are given and do the most we can with it.
Chris White – That’s all you can do. Try and spread fun to be honest. I enjoy listening to music, it affected my life when I was younger. To get people to come up and tell us we did the same for them is really wonderful. That’s really what it’s all about – entertaining people.
Cryptic Rock – Beyond entertainment, you can affect someone positively. Music has the power to help people through difficult times or inspire them.
Chris White – Absolutely, the best thing is when people come and say that a song affected or changed their life. That’s a wonderful thing to have happen. When you are writing it, you are doing it for the fun of it, but when people say that to you, it’s quite chilling and exciting.
Cryptic Rock – It has to be very redeeming to hear that from a listener. Last question. Cryptic Rock also covers Sci-Fi and Horror related films. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Chris White – Of course the giant one is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The most recent one I really enjoyed was Arrival (2016), it was fantastic. I like Blade Runner (1982) as well, that is one of my favorite films. I’m a great fan of Science Fiction. I enjoy a lot of other films too. I go to the cinema quite a lot. To be honest, I prefer the cinema to television.