Powderkeg for Under a Buck and Zombies Rock the Planet

May 14th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

E-Book links: Amazon iTunes Nook Google Play Kobo

Before I get to blathering, here’s a nice piece of news, particularly for those of who have not yet acquired the definitive edition of Red Sky In Morning, now under my original (and preferred) title, USS Powderkeg.

For 24 hours, on May 17 (this coming Friday), the novel will be available for 99 cents on every e-book platform – Amazon, Apple, Nook, Google Play, and Kobo. This is a Bookpub promotion.

Brash Books has supported me incredibly, bringing both “Patrick Culhane” bylined novels back out under my own name, and publishing all three books in the Road to Perdition prose trilogy, even getting permission to publish the complete version of the first one, previously available only in a short, butchered edition.

Thank you, Lee and Joel!

* * *

The time has come (you might say the time of the season has come) to discuss Zombies, not the Walking Dead variety but the Rocking Live variety.

After four nominations, the British band the Zombies has finally been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Here is the Hall of Fame bio, for those who came in late:

The first wave of the British Invasion carried a startling variety of sounds and styles from old world to new, but not all of the bands presented successfully emerged during that heady halcyon era. The Zombies, with their intricate arrangements and sophisticated atmospherics, stood apart from the raw, blues-drenched disciples of American blues and R&B. Their band’s sound filled space gorgeously and completely with jazz-inflected electric piano and choirboy vocals, endearing themselves overnight to a sea of fans.

The classic lineup of The Zombies fell back to school days at St. Alban’s: Keyboardist and singer Rod Argent met guitarist and vocalist Paul Atkinson and drummer Hugh Grundy as schoolmates. Bassist Chris White and lead singer Colin Blunstone joined shortly after.

Their second and final album Odessey And Oracle has earned its reputation (and its spot inside the Top 100 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time”) alongside such masterworks as the Beatles’ White Album and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Rod Argent’s eponymous band gave majesty and definition to the ’70s, but the Zombies, which he and Colin Blunstone have been helming on records and tours for the past decade, are truly a rock band for all seasons.

At the end of the day, it always comes back home to the triad of career defining hits by the band that beg the question: Where were you the first time you heard “She’s Not There” or “Tell Her No” or “Time Of the Season”? For many, those songs swept away fans, inspiring decades of allegiance or even the impulse to pick up an instrument and play.

HBO is showing a condensed version of the concert. While a good number of the acts I could not have cared less about, it was worth the wait to hear a lovely Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles introduce the Zombies.

“My love affair with the Zombies may have started in the ’60s, but the 60-year-old me loves them even more,” Hoffs said. “I listen to the Zombies every day…I need a dose of their particular sonic alchemy, it never fails to inspire me. It reminds me of what it is to be alive, to be human and the power of music to connect us all.”

Original members Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and Hugh Grundy gave fine acceptance speeches, and were joined by members of their current touring line-up to perform four songs, “Time of the Season,” “This Will Be Our Year” (sadly omitted from the broadcast), “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There.”

I was not surprised that they killed. Barb and I, a few years ago, saw the current band perform at a club in the Chicago area, and both Argent and Blunstone were spellbinding and almost otherworldly in their shared gifts. If I were one tenth the keyboard played that Argent is, I would still be ten times better than I am now. If I sang half as well, and with as much passion and abandon, as Blunstone, I wouldn’t have spent all these years writing mystery novels. Up to you whether that’s a good or bad thing.

I’ve mentioned here that, as a survivor of open heart surgery, I have occasional bouts of weepiness. That was pronounced during the first month or so of my recovery, and very, very occasional since. (This actually has a medical name, but I don’t recall it.) But seeing Argent and Blunstone, older even than I, performing in such an amazing, moving manner did bring me to tears, smiling though I was.

It swept me back to my high school days when playing rock ‘n’ roll in a “pop combo” became just as important to me as writing crime fiction. I didn’t replace the latter with rock – I was already caught up in music, specifically chorus and, earlier, band as well – but made room for it in my enthusiasm.

The British bands were my initial obsession. The Beatles, of course, but also the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Them, and the Zombies. It took me a while to warm to the Rolling Stones, but of course I did, though to this day I prefer Eric Burden to Mick Jagger, and Them to the Stones. I knew Herman’s Hermits was fluff, but it was fun fluff and I was in high school, after all. And Peter Noone did some lovely work – his “Jezebel” is great. “No Milk Today,” too.

But I think I knew the Zombies were special. Their output was fairly small, though, so as some of the American bands began to join the Brits in my personal rock hall of fame, I shifted to American bands, like the Beach Boys (who I’d liked since junior high, after all) and Paul Revere and the Raiders and countless garage bands. I have an inexplicable love for Question Mark and the Mysterians, for example.

In the mid-‘70s, when some collections of Zombies material reached both vinyl and audio cassette, my love for their work expanded. I would now rate them number two, after the Beatles.

I got into playing rock ‘n’ roll – garage band rock – fairly late. The Beatles came along in ‘64, and a ton of garage bands turned up around then in small towns like my Muscatine, Iowa. My local heroes were the XL’s and the Rogues, but I was impressed by the Roustabouts and Coachmen as well. Really envied and wanted to be one of them. In the mid-sixties, we counted thirty-some combos in the Muscatine area…all vying for those sock hops and house parties and homecoming dances and prom gigs. My first band, in 1966, which lasted maybe three months, was the Barons – the spelling should have been Barrens, frankly.

My initial thought was to be a bass player. I’d had a few guitar lessons and it looked easier than having to play chords on a six-string. My uncle, Mahlon Collins, was a district sales manager for Chicago Musical Instruments. He had been a legendary high school band director in Iowa, just as my father (the real Max Collins) was a legendary high school chorus director. Both left their beloved professions, after ten years or so, to get better paying jobs.

Mahlon – a slender, handsome guy in glasses who I am pleased to say people used to say I resembled – was smart and tough and knew his shit. He would stay with us when he was calling on clients in our part of the world, and when I told him I was putting a rock band together, he asked me what instrument I was going to play. Whatever it was, he would get it for me at cost.

“Bass,” I said, and told him why.

I recall, for some reason, that we were sitting on the couch in our little family room, waiting for my mother to serve up supper. He looked at me with shrewd eyes. You see, Mahlon was a kind of a know-it-all, but you didn’t mind, because…well, because he knew it all.

“Didn’t you have piano lessons?” he asked me.

“A couple of years,” I said. “I never hated anything more.”

My father directed a male chorus, the Elks Chanters, who won national championships, and he’d insisted that I take my lessons from the chorus’s accompanist, an old gal named Stella Miser. Her name was right out of Dickens and so was she.

“But you did take piano,” Mahlon insisted.

“Yeah. That’s true. I was terrible, and never practiced, but I did take lessons.”

He got conspiratorial. “These combo organs are the latest thing. I can fix you up with a Farfisa.”

“But I hated piano.”

“Still, you did have lessons. You would be starting pretty much from scratch, with the bass. I can get you a bass, if you want. A nice one. But these combo organs? They’re the big thing.”

Thus did I become a keyboard player. And my band played its first gig two weeks from the day my Farfisa arrived. I went through several Farfisas – the double keyboard version was used on “Psychedelic Siren” – though I preferred Vox and, for the latter half of the existence of my band the Daybreakers, I played a Vox Continental. Double keyboard. Reverse keys – the white notes black, the black notes white. Beyond cool. Alan Price played one in the Animals. (Paul Revere used Farfisa.)

So, 53 years after my uncle talked me into buying a combo organ at cost, I am watching Rod Argent play the most fantastic, beautiful leads on his Hammond portable, and I am brought to tears. That, and Colin Blunstone reaching those high notes on the chorus of “Time of the Season,” full voice, not falsetto.

And right now my second band (the Barons don’t count – only the Daybreakers and Crusin’) is rehearsing for a season of around eight gigs this summer, and the intention of recording an album. We have been working on originals, which is of course an insane thing for an oldies band to do. The last thing an oldies audience wants is original material.

But I feel like we’ve earned the right. We’re in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, too, after all. Twice. Okay, the Iowa one, but it counts.

To me it does.

* * *

This article at World Geekly News considers Road to Perdition the best comic book adaptation ever.

M.A.C.

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4 Responses to “Powderkeg for Under a Buck and Zombies Rock the Planet”

  1. Sean Kelly says:

    I always thought Time of the Season, Tell Her No and She’s Not There would make great horror story titles.

    As to oldies bands playing originals, Rick Nelson’s greatest song had something to say about that. Keep on doing what you want to do.

  2. Buddy says:

    The Zombies were one of the best and had awesome vocals and a killer drummer! Always loved our meager effort playing Time of the Season! Great read for the memories of the band, your parents, and my brief encounter with your uncle! Write on! Some of the best memories of my life!

  3. Glen Davis says:

    I don’t see what’s so inexplicable about loving Question Mark and the Mysterians.

  4. The “Buddy” who commented above is Buddy Busch, the Daybreakers drummer and one of the best I ever performed with — check out “”Psychedelic Siren” sports his fine work. One of my oldest, dearest friends. Thanks for checking in, Bud! I recall we never were comfortable with playing “Time of the Season” out, but we worked hard on it in rehearsal. Crusin’ has played a respectable “She’s Not There” in recent years.

    As for ? and the Mysterians: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oNvc3K8Xrk

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