|Dr. Paul Arnold - Zombies first bass player interviewed|
|Interview with Dr. Paul Arnold - March 21, 2007 - conducted by Rudy Faist
Not all Zombies fans may be familiar with Dr. Paul Arnold. He is discussed in the interviews appearing in the “Zombie Heaven” booklet and such reference books as Claes Johansen’s “The Zombies – Hung Up On a Dream” and Greg Russo’s “Time of the Season: the Zombies Collector’s Guide”. He was their original bass player (before they made any recordings) and is credited with coming up with the group’s name and introducing Colin Blunstone to Rod Argent. He left the Zombies to become a doctor. I had talked with Rod Argent after this year’s performance in Calgary, and he told me that Dr. Arnold lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Since I too live in Edmonton, it seemed to me that this was an opportunity to explore. Fortunately Dr. Arnold agreed to an interview. I found him to be good-humored, modest, friendly and patient. We met and I recorded our discussion. We each reviewed and edited the resulting transcription and hope you enjoy the result. I had requested a photograph that could be shared with fellow fans and the accompanying photograph was provided by Dr. Arnold.
Some of the Dr. Arnold’s recollections differ from those of other Zombies as published in the aforementioned reference material. Such differences should not be taken as reflections of anyone’s sincerity. For the most part, these are recollections of events that happened almost fifty years ago and such discrepancies are to be expected.
RF: How long were you with the Zombies?
PA: A couple of years. Maybe up to 3 because I remember making my electric bass guitar while I was doing some woodwork course in grammar school. So that must have been before I was 16 because then I went into a science course. So it could have been three years.
We started off very slow and we had to use the bus to transport our amplifiers around as the Zombies weren’t big for a long time. But it was good practice for everybody.
RF: Would that have been in 1961/62, that period?
PA: You probably have a better handle on that. I know I qualified (to be a doctor) in 1969 and it was a five year medical course, so that would be about right. I was 18 when I left the group. I think I was 15 when I first started playing in the group with Rod.
RF: How did you first meet the other members?
PA: We got to know each other (Rod and I) when we were 9 or 10, it could have been earlier. We went to the same school in St. Albans. In England they have the 11 plus, which is an exam that was used to differentiate the smart from the dumb. They made mistakes, of course! Rod and I both passed, but we then went to different schools. He went to a private school and I went to a grammar school. When I was eleven, in the grammar school, I sat next to Colin Blunstone because his surname started with a “B” and mine started with an “A”. So that’s how Colin and I met.
RF: So when you were first playing with the Zombies, were you playing an acoustic or electric guitar?
PA: It must have been a hollow acoustic guitar that was made electric, but don’t quote me [looking down at the recording devices on his desk] - but I suppose you are!
RF: Well, we’ll note that we are talking about events that took place a long time ago!
PA: Then I made this electric guitar, with the help of Paul Atkinson, while we were playing in the Zombies.
RF: Did the Zombies include Hugh Grundy at this point?
RF: So at that time you were pretty interested in being a musician?
PA: I was pretty interested in being in a rock group. I don’t think I was a quality musician. I learned my bass runs off records that I played over and over again. Rod was the musician.
RF: What would you say about the other members of the band?
PA: I think Paul Atkinson was into music. Hugh was good on the drums. Colin sang and could play rhythm guitar at that time.
RF: In the Zombie Heaven box set, it was said that you hadn’t played a note before taking up the bass guitar.
PA: I must have played something. Oh yeah, I played violin when I was ten.
RF: What led you to playing the bass?
PA: That was, more or less, the only position that was available. And it was simple enough for me to do, I guess.
RF: So there was no deep-seated passion for the bass?
PA: No, no - that was just what was available.
RF: You are credited with having brought Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent together. Was that because you thought they would complement each other well, or was it just a case of bringing together friends with a mutual interest or what?
PA: From what I remember, it was Rod who wanted to form a group, because [he was inspired by] his cousin Jim Rodford, who was already in a group (the Bluetones). I just mentioned that Colin could sing.
RF: Where did you first hear Colin sing?
PA: When we were on holiday (we were 13 years old), at an Isle of Wight summer school for a couple of weeks. It was by the sea in the south of England. We had to do something on stage - we just horsed around. There was another guy with us, Brian Baldwin, who is now in Australia. We sang something stupid by Pat Boone. But he didn’t go around school singing. He and I were more interested in sports/athletics. He was into rugby and things like that.
RF: That must have made an impression on you, his singing when you were both 13.
RF: You’re credited with coming up with the name “The Zombies”. What lead you to come up with that name?
PA: I remember we were coming away from a practice. We were sitting on the bottom level of a double decker bus (we couldn’t carry the amplifiers and other equipment upstairs). We just got talking and were going to call ourselves “The Sundowners” or something like that. I could be wrong. Someone said that that name was already taken. Then, as a sound thing, I said “How about the Zombies”. It wasn’t that I knew the definition of a zombie, I just liked the sound of the word.
RF: Did everyone agree with the name right away?
PA: No, I think it was felt to be interesting. But it wasn’t a case where we all suddenly saw the light, or anything like that.
RF: Did you write songs while you were with the band?
RF: At that point, were the Zombies focussing on just doing covers, or were the Zombies also performing any original material?
PA: No, we were just doing other peoples’ work.
RF: What were some of the songs the Zombies were performing at that time?
PA: Stones, Buddy Holly, Beatles. Some things that allowed Colin to sing like “Summertime” - that was a favorite.
RF: Do you remember any specific songs. I think I read that you covered Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”, for example.
PA: Yes, another one was “Well All Right”. We used to do 12 bar stuff too.
RF: How long was a typical show that you did?
PA: I have no idea. It varied.
RF: What kind of venues did you play?
PA: It used to be church halls, community bars and schools.
RF: How big was your audience at that time?
PA: I think 50 to 200 people, nothing big.
RF: How would you characterize the other members - what were they like?
PA: I think Paul was the quiet one. And he was the electrician of the group.
RF: So he used to fix things?
PA: Yes. Hugh was just very nice, very friendly. Colin and Rod were into the serious stuff.
RF: They were more ambitious?
PA: Yes, I think so. Paul obviously had a say too.
RF: What was the group dynamic? Was it fairly democratic or was Rod a strong leader?
PA: Rod was the leader for sure.
RF: Who were your inspirations, for you personally?
PA: I don’t think I was that musical. I was just caught in the time, liking the Beatles. I didn’t like Elvis Presley. I also liked the Stones. Rod and I saw the Stones in London in a basement somewhere before they were big. I remember they were playing in a room without a stage and their drummer dropped a stick and he said “fuck!” and we thought that was great. They weren’t really rebels, but they were the biggest rebels that we could look to.
RF: I guess in the context of the times, that would be a surprising thing to hear from someone on stage. Not something a professional would do.
PA: That’s right! I used to go up to London, occasionally, with Rod to see modern jazz. We even went to a few classical things at the BBC dressed in the obligatory leather jackets (no studs) at the time.
RF: Did you hang out with Rod more than with the other members?
PA: Yes. We used to go to traditional jazz. At the time it was quite big, so we used to go to clubs and watch that. It was easier for us to meet girls with the jazz set than with the mods set. We weren’t the type to wear the mod suits and hair styles.
RF: When it comes to your leaving the Zombies, according to interviews printed up in the “Zombie Heaven” box set, it is said that you had wanted to be a doctor and so were finding it difficult to pursue your studies and find the time to play in a group. But it is also said that they felt that you weren’t giving your all - they mention that the Zombies were playing “Peggy Sue” and you had one hand in your pocket because it was so cold.
PA: That’s bullshit. That’s nonsense. We played in some bad places and once the lights went off while we were in the middle of playing “Nivram” by the Shadows. That had a bass solo in it, which was quite tricky, for me anyway. I managed to do that without any lights, just by feel. So I wasn’t really a one handed guitar player, you know. I could do a little. But you know we all got pissed off with how we were playing in the early days and equipment not working, the usual stuff. I might have had one hand in a pocket during a rehearsal, but I didn’t do that onstage. Even in a cold venue, the stage lights would keep one fairly warm.
RF: So there was no suggestion that you should leave, that was totally your own decision?
PA: No, there was no suggestion at all. I took my A levels. I passed them, but the grades were not very good, so I decided to repeat my A levels. At that time, we were getting more popular and the group had ambitions of doing bigger things. So it was a combination of them getting more serious and me thinking that that was not my future. Rod and Paul Atkinson had applied and got positions at university but made a decision not to go.
RF: It sounds like you were all at a crossroads where as young men you have to decide on what you ultimately want to do - whether to focus on music or pursue another career, and you saw yourself as a doctor, not a musician.
PA: That’s right. That was one of their plusses for the Zombies at the time. They were the group that had the brains. It paid off. They were even quoted as to how many O levels there were in the group. I (sorry guys) had the most O levels, I had 10, though they were all just passes. It showed that they weren’t the usual rock group. At that time, rock groups weren’t that school-orientated.
RF: I think I’ve read that at the time they weren’t pleased with the emphasis on their educational achievements - they felt it might have come across as bragging. But you felt that it helped them look different?
PA: I think that they chose an image. This is just hindsight, really. But I think that when they first appeared on stage at the competition that turned it all around for them - when they won the provincial competition for rock groups, they dressed up with these dark brown vests over white shirts. That was the smart look. That was their image.
RF: I guess what you’re saying is that they stood out from many groups at the time.
PA: That’s right. I hope what I have been saying doesn’t irritate anybody. I remember once Rod saying that he was the captain of our soccer team at school when we were 10 years old. So I produced a picture of me holding the ball in the middle because I was the captain! So maybe some of my recollections can be annoying, I don’t know.
RF: It’s only natural that with the passage of time, different people will remember things differently. I understand it was your older brother Terry who suggested Chris White replace you in the band? Did you have input on that?
PA: When I decided to leave the group, I looked around for a compatible replacement. I decided on Chris White. I went around to pubs and different places and Chris White played in a band with his double bass - big thing. Chris White was in the same year, same school as my brother. I asked my brother to ask Chris White if he was interested. I remember later, Chris White was playing in the Zombies and I was just watching them - he said to me “Didn’t you once play in the Zombies” and he was dead serious. So his memory can be quite selective, I think! [we broke into laughter at this!] I’d like to go on record as saying that I taught him most of the bass lines that he learned for the Zombies! I left when he was available to join. When he joined, I played a few numbers that he didn’t know and the next week he played them all.
RF: How would you characterize Chris White?
PA: I would think that he definitely got along with Rod on the writing side and he brought his own friends in. One of them, Terry Quirk designed one of their covers (“Odessey and Oracle”).
RF: How would you characterize him on a personal level?
PA: I really get hazy here because I was working my ass off on studying first year medicine and I used to go back during break times and meet up with them. And on weekends, occasionally go on the road with them up in England and watch them play.
RF: How did you end up in Canada and Edmonton?
PA: After I qualified as a doctor in St. Andrews, Scotland, I decided I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. The first step to achieve that goal is to pass an exam which is all academic. So most doctors find that difficult to do when they’re still working in a hospital. Most doctors just get a job in a university and help teach anatomy to students along with the full profs. By doing that, they learn anatomy to a greater detail and they have an opportunity to get into the books for the other subjects of the exam which include biochemistry and physiology. A lot of doctors used to fail. They might re-sit and eventually pass and then all they have to do is 2 more years in a hospital and take part two of the exam which qualifies them as surgeons. I applied to universities in Utrecht (Holland), Saskatoon (in Saskatchewan) and Edmonton (Alberta). I didn’t speak the language in Holland and I thought that in Saskatoon or Edmonton there was snow, so I would be less inclined to go out and more inclined to study in these places. I looked up the temperatures. The average for Edmonton was minus 3 degrees. I thought that was minus three degrees centigrade and that wasn’t too bad. When I got here, I found out it was minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit! So I really was able to study. I went back to Edinburgh to take the exam and passed it. It would be natural to go back to England, but I was offered a job as an assistant professor of anatomy and a research position at the University of Alberta. So I thought I’d do some orthopedic research and then go back to England, but the longer you stay in a place, you put down roots.
RF: When was this?
PA: About 1971.
RF: When you were studying medicine and first heard songs like “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” on the radio, did you have any regrets about leaving the Zombies?
PA: No, actually I was very pleased for them. They had their sports cars; I was very pleased for them. We were still friends. I didn’t really think that I belonged there anyway - I didn’t regret not being a musician.
RF: I guess you just thought of yourself as a doctor, not as a musician.
RF: Do you still play any instrument?
RF: Do you still have the bass that you and Paul Atkinson built?
PA: I sold that for ten pounds. I got 5 pounds one week and five pounds a month later. That was a transaction that took place outside the post office in St. Albans.
RF: It sounds like you mainly keep in touch with Rod and Colin.
PA: I mainly keep in touch with Rod. I’ve seen Colin a couple of times. I go over to England every year. I’ve got a house there and Rod lives just a little ways from there.
RF: Are there any surviving recordings or photographs of the Zombies when you were with the band?
PA: Oh no, I don’t think they ever took any pictures.
RF: Are there any other memories/anecdotes or comments you’d like to share with Zombie fans?
PA: Sometimes when I used to go watch them, I used to stand at the back of the hall or wherever they were playing. They didn’t rely on me at all, but occasionally they would ask “Is the guitar too high?” or “Is the microphone too high?” and I was standing in the middle of the back of the
floor and some girl comes up to me and says “Your hair is on fire”. I’ve got brown hair and I thought she was just being funny. But she said “No really, your hair is on fire!” Someone had flicked a cigarette butt and it landed on my head!
RF: Are you proud of your association with them?
PA: I’m proud of them, not me. If I had made a few recordings with them, I’d be more proud, but I never was with them when they got that serious.
RF: But do you think that Colin would have linked up with them if it hadn’t been for you?
PA: No, I don’t think so. I think that when we first started up, there was no way anybody thought we’d go professional. It was just something to enjoy. And earn some pocket money, eventually.
Thanks to Moez Virji, Rose Branch-Allen, Victor Graves and Jim Howell. Special thanks to Rod Argent and Dr. Paul Arnold.
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