On a rare day off on our recent U.S. tour, both The Zombies and the band supporting us, Et Tu Brucé had the honour of being given a fantastic V.I.P. tour of Cleveland's superb Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.
We have actually visited before – as far as we can recall, though, not for eight years or so – but were absolutely stunned by the way the place has grown in that time, both in a physical sense and also the nature of what it has to offer. In actual fact, we stayed about three hours, and only managed to wander around about a third of it! It's an absolutely fascinating place, and one that now definitely demands to be visited several times – there's just too much to be packed in on one visit.
We started off by being given a kind and warm welcome by Greg Harris, who is, I believe, the head of the whole operation. Then we were shown around the vaults, to get glimpses of some of the stuff not presently available to be shown to the general public. We actually got to see – and handle! – such exhibits as Elvis' gun, Madonna's shoes, and very poignantly, for us, the original guitar used by our original guitarist, Paul Atkinson, now sadly passed away. The lady showing us around at this point was [assistant curator] Meredith Rutledge-Borger. [pictured below (l-r): Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent of the Zombies reminisce about guitarist Paul Atkinson while looking at a guitar that he played in the Museum's vault]
Then we passed through to the general museum, and the guy doing a fascinating and illuminating job of explaining each area, and answering a hundred questions was [curatorial director] Howard Kramer. We were all drawn to slightly different areas of interest – something, I think mainly dependent on our different ages! Jim [Rodford], Colin [Blunstone] and I, for instance, couldn't get enough of the period which was defined by all the earliest stuff, the roots of rock'n'roll: where the music came from, documentation and stories from where early blues, country and gospel influences merged to form the explosive mixture that really seemed to change the world in the Fifties and Sixties. And then through the early Elvis, of course, which had such a huge impact on us, along with the early seminal figures of rock'n'roll like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly, to the equally explosive impact of The Beatles – 1962 in the U.K., a little later in the U.S.
Although we've always loved Aretha [Franklin], Patti LaBelle was responsible for turning us on to her in '64, even before she started her soul period with Atlantic. I loved seeing some documentation, and reading the story of her early days, and her emergence from the church, as daughter of the Rev. Franklin. I spent ages drinking in the mass of material from the early era, and through to the beginning of the Seventies. Seeing some of the early artifacts – Elvis' Cadillac and his jukebox – vividly brought back memories of when Colin and I, 20 years old, and all the rest of the original Zombies wandered through the gates and up the path to Graceland – unchallenged! – in 1965, knocked on the door and asked if Elvis was in! He wasn't, but Elvis' father graciously told us to have a look around. Years later, I found out that the jukebox owned by the man that had changed my whole world in such a seismic way in 1956 had actually held some Zombies records, songs I'd written and we had played and sung!
Of course, the rest of the party were drawn to the eras which hit them with the most impact when they were in their early teens. For Steve [Rodford], our drummer, for instance, that was undoubtedly the time of Zeppelin. I'm not sure what exhibits had the most impact on Et Tu Brucé, but I'm sure the landscape was different again for them. Everybody was kind enough, though to show interest when we stopped in front of The Zombies exhibit, which included my original Pianet, on which "She's Not There" was played and Chris White's original bass guitar (Chris, father of Jamie in Et Tu Brucé!). [pictured above (l-r): Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent of the Zombies, with curatorial director Howard Kramer, tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.]
Before we knew it, three hours had passed, and we felt that was all we could digest in one session. We had hardly scratched the surface of this magnificent six story building, but although the next chapter would have to wait for another day, we had to see the 12-minute film detailing the roots of rock'n'roll that we'd earmarked on the way in, which contained some amazing footage and, as I remember, no less than three early versions of "Mystery Train."
We'd like to say a huge thank you to Meredith, Greg and Howard for giving up their time so willingly. We'll definitely be back!