Paul Atkinson, original guitarist for British Invasion act the Zombies who became a prominent record industry exec, died Thursday at the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center after a long battle with liver and kidney disease. He was 58.
Atkinson underwent two liver transplants and was awaiting another. He was recently diagnosed with biliary cancer.
With nearly four decades in the record business, Atkinson headed A&R departments at CBS, RCA and MCA, signing artists such as Abba, Bruce Hornsby, Mr. Mister and Michael Penn. Most recently he was consultant to Warner Strategic Marketing and the estate of Frank Sinatra and producer of a Nat King Cole boxed set for Capitol Records.
He was feted with the Recording Academy’s President’s Merit Award in January at a concert that featured his old band, Bruce Hornsby, Brian Wilson and Mickey Thomas.
Born in Cuffley, England, he performed in the Zombies with Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy and Chris White, an act that had no professional aspirations until they won a London band contest in January 1964. The prize was a chance to record a demonstration tape for Decca Records. Decca signed them immediately after hearing original material from Argent and White along with their version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.”
Three months after signing in June, their song “She’s Not There” hit No. 12 on the U.K. charts and reached No. 2 in the U.S. in November. Band would chart in the top 10 with “Tell Her No” before breaking up in December 1967.
The Zombie’s final album, “Odessey & Oracle,” was issued in the U.K. just prior to their break-up and only after cajoling from musician Al Kooper was it ever released in the U.S. It is now regarded as one of the best pop albums of its era.
Album contained “Time of the Season,” which became a No. 3 hit in 1969. No amount of persuading, however, could get the act back together. (Argent and Grundy had already begun work as Argent and Blunstone had a solo deal).
After the Zombies’ breakup, he launched Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International label (O’Jays, Three Degrees, Billy Paul) in the U.K., supervised the early U.K. campaigns for Bruce Springsteen and many other U.S. artists, supervised international marketing plans for the Clash and all CBS U.K. artists and co-founded the first nationally distributed Internet-based enhanced CD record label and production studio.
Atkinson is survived by his wife Helen, their two children and a son by a previous marriage.
There are no plans for services at this time.