At first, Colin Blunstone just wanted to play the guitar. The young burgeoning British-born musician just liked the instrument. He kept it by his side ever since he got his first one around 12 years old. Blunstone, who would later front the rock band, The Zombies, whose hit, “Time of the Season,” is probably being used in a new movie or commercial right this moment, was born into a musical home. He had five brothers who were multi-instrumentalists and a sister who sang and played guitar. Blunstone listened to Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and loved rock ‘n’ roll.
Today, the vocalist is experiencing his own recognition. The Zombies have a big tour and new album set. Blunstone himself is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his debut solo record, One Year, and the discovery of a lost album, That Same Year, which is set to drop on vinyl on Friday (December 10).
“To me, it’s a fascinating story,” Blunstone tells American Songwriter. “[The Zombies’ bassist] Chris White’s sons were going through his old tapes. They’re cataloging his vast array of songs he’s written. And they found three reel-to-reel tapes of demos I’d done.”
Blunstone was rather shocked to hear the songs now some five decades removed from their composition and recording. The 14 unearthed tracks were written and laid to tape around the same time as his debut solo release (One Year) in 1971. But, Blunstone says, if it wasn’t his voice singing them, he wouldn’t have remembered or known that he’d ever written some. That’s how far removed he feels, in some ways. In another way, it’s a joy for the artist to recall these tunes.
“If someone else was singing them,” he says, “I may not have recognized them.”
The tunes showcase a vulnerable artist. Mostly they display Blunstone’s smokey, smooth, somber, and sexy voice, with his guitar. Three of the songs on That Same Year appeared on One Year and a fourth song appeared on Blunstone’s second solo album, Ennismore.
“I did feel a bit exposed,” he says. “But so far people have been very enthusiastic about hearing these tracks. So, I’m thrilled.”
As a young person, Blunstone enjoyed music often just for the sake of it. He got his guitar around 1958 and enjoyed strumming it. Even when he got in with the folks who’d form The Zombies around 1961, there was no master plan, he says. At first, it was just rehearse. Then when the group won a major local rock competition, the members decided to play around locally more seriously. Then they got a record contract and make an album, which they did in 1964. Then that record took off after it came out in 1965. All of a sudden he was a professional musician.
“I didn’t dare to dream that there would be a place for me as a professional musician,” Blunstone says. “But it just happened.”
One of the reasons it happened was because of Blunstone’s voice. That combined with the band’s songwriting, they were a hit globally—though not so much in their home country, oddly. In America, though, songs like “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season” dominated the airwaves. But Blunstone almost never became the band’s frontman. He just wanted to play guitar. In the end, he made a deal with The Zombies’ co-founder, Rod Argent: if Blunstone sang, Argent would play keyboards. They agreed and so did much of the world.
“Rod,” Blunstone says, “heard me and said, ‘You know, if you be the lead singer, I’ll play keyboards in the band. I was keen for him to play keyboards. He was a sensational keyboard player. That’s essentially how it came about—sort of by chance, really.”
Blunstone is a polite, kind-hearted person with a gentle speaking voice. In this way, it’s no surprise he was never the cutthroat planner and business person some in the industry are. His energy also portends happy discoveries, in the Bob Ross sense of the word. Today, Blunstone’s remarkable voice is aided by a vocal coach who has taught him how to strengthen and prolong what he does best. But sometimes being excellent at one thing doesn’t always entail success. After The Zombies disbanded in 1968, Blunstone was left wondering what the future would hold. He didn’t have songwriting credits for their songs, so he had to find work.
He took a day job and, on a lark, recorded a version of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” under a nom-de-plume. That track was a Top-30 hit in the United Kingdom. All of a sudden, without planning it, he was back in the biz. He recorded a solo album under his own name and was off and running. Today, the 76-year-old Blunstone is in the center of a lot of music. He’s headed to Los Angeles on January 22 to play One Year in its entirety live for the first time. Then he goes on four different tours with The Zombies. And the band is set to drop a new album in 2022. For someone with no master plan, it’s all worked out pretty well.
“I love the initial spark of a song,” Blunstone says, “when you suddenly realize—where did it come from? Nobody knows. It’s a very exciting process writing a song, which can lead you into the studio. Then the third part of the process, you have the privilege of going out and playing that song to an audience. For me, that’s the wonder of music.”
Photo courtesy Yep Roc Music Group.