David Letterman Rescues Zombies

David Letterman | Warner Music | Lauren Bacall

David Letterman Rescues Zombies

The above headline is true. Last night, David Letterman rescued The Zombies. They are, of course, the phenomenal '60s group who had hits like "Time of the Season" and "She's Not There."

The Zombies were stranded in Canada yesterday after their plane from Winnipeg to New York was grounded, thanks first to bad weather and then what could have been a terrible Air France crash in Toronto.

The Zombies — principally Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone — were headed to New York to do two shows at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in honor of Mike Smith, lead singer of The Dave Clark Five. Smith was in a brutal car accident two years ago from which he is still recovering.

The Zombies were due to be on a bill with other hip '60s acts like Peter & Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and Denny Laine, as well as Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux.

Luckily the B.B. King show was being produced and emceed by Paul Shaffer, who happens to be friends with Letterman. When The Zombies called in to say what had happened, Shaffer snapped into action. He immediately called Letterman, who dispatched his private plane to Hamilton, Ontario, to pick up The Zombies and whisk them to New York.

But there's whisk and there's whisk. Two shows were scheduled for the night, with the second one slated for 11 p.m. It came off, but at 1 a.m., leaving a lot of devoted fans waiting in the 100 percent humidity on 42nd St.

If the second show was anything like the first, though, it was worth the wait. Among the notables who turned up: director Barry Levinson and wife Diane; actor Bob Balaban and wife Lynne Grossman; socialite Ann Dexter-Jones; Max Weinberg of The E Street Band and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien"; and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen.

The shows also attracted former John Lennon love May Pang, famed Beatles publicist Pete Bennett and Beatles promoter Sid Bernstein.

I've been to a lot of shows at B.B. King and I've never seen it so packed. There were plenty of musicians hidden in the audience, too, like Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las and Eddie Brigati of The Rascals.

Tickets to the shows were turned into donations to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, I am told. The tax-free money will then be sent directly to Mike White in the U.K.

Ironically, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Foundation still has not sent White money from its own $10 million war chest. And, of course, The Dave Clark Five is still not in the Hall of Fame, despite hits like "Bits and Pieces," "Catch Me If You Can" and "Anyway You Want It." But I digress.

The highlight of the night was the reunion of Peter & Gordon after 37 years. Peter Asher is better known now as the manager and producer of Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and a major player in the record business. But back in the '60s, he was the brother of Jane Asher, Paul McCartney's girlfriend. He and Gordon Waller were the U.K. equivalent of The Everly Brothers.

Their hits included two songs written by McCartney but not recorded by The Beatles: "A World Without Love" and "Woman." Their short, spectacular career also included "Lady Godiva," "I Go to Pieces" and Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways."

On stage at B.B. King, the pair showed they hadn't lost a step despite their age. Asher wore his Buddy Holly-type black glasses — the same pair he wore in 1966. Together the duo made beautiful harmonies and was urged on by the Levinsons, the Balabans, Fagen and Asher's wife Wendy.

Peter & Gordon excelled on their own hits and even threw in "Because," a Dave Clark Five hit on which Shaffer supplied a lovely piano break.

My favorite moment of the night came not from the music, however, but from Fagen, who was spending a rare night out on his own. We talked about his new album, due in January, which will be the third in a trio that began with "The Nightfly" and "Kamikiriad."

First a woman approached him, leaned over me and spoke to him very quietly and knowledgeably. "What did she want?" I asked when she left.

"She was saying I looked good considering what I'd been through," he replied with a laugh. "For some reason, a lot of people think I was in rehab or had some kind of drug addiction."

Just to be clear: That is not true (although Steely Dan's songs might make you think so). Fagen is just a genius and a jazz snob who loves pop music. He even played keyboards on the big closer of the night, "Bits and Pieces."

But Fagen does have his odd guilty pleasures. When Asher came off the stage, a nice-looking blonde in her mid-50s came over to say hello.

"I don't know if you remember me," she said, "but I'm Mary Weiss, lead singer of the Shangri-Las. We opened for you once."

Asher was happy to see her, but not nearly has much as Fagen.

"I had a terrible crush on you," he told Weiss, who said she was shaking as she met him.

Steely Dan has roots in the Shangri-Las. Go figure.

There were other reunions last night, like Pete Bennett seeing Asher for the first time in years. Asher also came over to pay homage to Bernstein.

"I broke the first Peter & Gordon single," Bennett said,

Laine, who got a standing ovation for singing the first Moody Blues hit "Go Now," took a lot of ribbing for being in Paul McCartney and Wings for so long. And The Zombies made a splash after arriving at last.

As for that second show, it may be going on now as you read this.

Warner's Saved by Comedy

Warner Music Group is hit-deprived and everyone knows it. Except for Green Day, the label is suffering.

Not anymore. This week, Warner's is saved by a comedian. I'm not joking. Comedy Central's Dane Cook sold about 95,000 copies of his album "Retaliation" and wound up at No. 4 on the charts.

This is the first new act Warner's has broken in some time. Lucky for them, the Comedy Central label is under their umbrella. The chart entry may not actually say Warner Music Group — it reads "Comedy Central Records" — but it's better than nothing.

Warner also has a hit, not as big but getting there, in Jason Mraz's new album on Elektra/Atlantic. "Mr. A-Z" is the clever title of a CD that sold 66,000 copies. Not a lot, but beggars can't be choosers.

The One and Only Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall is getting a lot of ink this week. She told Time magazine what she thought of Tom Cruise.

"His whole behavior is so shocking. It's inappropriate and vulgar and absolutely unacceptable to use your private life to sell anything commercially," she said. "But I think it's kind of a sickness."

Right on. Bacall, an actual legend, is celebrated this month on Turner Classic Movies as part of a Humphrey Bogart festival airing Aug. 31.