The True Story Of The Fake Zombies

In the 1960s, record companies and concert producers scrambled to keep up with the demand for live music. If a loose collection of studio musicians recorded a song that became a hit, they’d slap together a touring group with the same band name, like Steam or The Archies. But a fake road band could even take on the identity of a real band -without their knowledge. Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, Paul Atkinson, and Hugh Grundy had a rock band in Britain called The Zombies. They had a few hits in the mid-60s, and in 1967 recorded the album Odessey and Oracle. By the time the album was released in 1968, the Zombies were on to other projects. Argent formed the group Argent, and Colin Blunstone started working on a solo career.

The Zombies quietly disbanded when Odessey and Oracle failed to make the charts. Nobody even saw fit to correct the unintentionally misspelled “Odessey” on the record’s cover, viewed in hindsight as typical psychedelic-era wordplay. Almost two years after their breakup, after little fanfare and two failed singles, the band’s U.S. label, Date Records, decided to release the track “Time of the Season” as a last-ditch effort; the song went to No. 3 on the Billboard chart and the Zombies were suddenly in demand.

The Zombies, unaware of their stateside success — this was possible in 1969 — had already moved on to new musical projects or day jobs. This vacuum meant anyone could tour the United States pretending to be the Zombies, even a four-piece blues band from Dallas. As the Beatles and Stones went from garage and blues rock beginnings to more adventurous music, the Zombies took their early, more raucous hits (“She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No”) and refined them. But replicating a refined sound was hardly the priority.

There were in fact two different bands touring the United States in 1969 calling themselves the Zombies. Both impostor groups were managed by the same company, Delta Promotions, the owners of which insisted they’d legally acquired the songs of the Zombies and other bands. It was an operation that would be impossible to attempt today, perpetrated in an era when fans didn’t have unlimited access to artists’ whereabouts, or, in some cases, even know what they looked like.

The Texas version of the Zombies was made up of musicians Mark Ramsey, Seab Meador, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard. You might recognize the last two names. Buzzfeed tells the story off how the fake Zombies were sent to tour the country replicating the British bands’ songs without a keyboard to capitalize on the groups’ radio hits in 1969 and ’70.  

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