Zappacosta Concert at Simcoe St. Theatre Thursday

This Thursday, Aug. 17th, the Simcoe Street Theatre in Collingwood presents a concert by Alfie Zappacosta, the pop crooner known for his mid-eighties hits, “When I Fall (In Love Again)” and “Nothing Can Stand In Your Way”, distinguished by a big powerful voice and soaring jazz-tinged melodies.  Having won the Juno Award for “Most Promising Male Vocalist” in 1984, Zappacosta signed with the current powerhouse management partnership of Bruce Allen and Lou Blair.  As happens so often when artistry meets business, it wasn’t the best fit.  Bruce Allen, who made his name in the U.S. with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, was driving the careers of Bryan Adams and Loverboy when he signed Zappacosta’s band Surrender, and quickly decided to rename the band after the lead singer.

“I started out in a group called Surrender, we recorded our debut album and at that time we were five guys who were going to take on the world,” Alfie told Music Express in 2013 “But after Bruce Allen decided to manage us, it was pretty evident he was more interested in me. I was the band’s lead singer, I wrote the songs, and it was my publishing so it just evolved that Bruce focused on me.

“Bruce recognized I was a creative songwriter, but as a performer he didn’t know what to do with me. He was used to working with artists like Loverboy and Bryan Adams who he could stick on a tour with ZZ Top. He kept telling me I should be more like Julio Iglesias!”

It was a time when progress in the music business meant finding the right box to fit in. “Back then there was that development and you hope that the people who are developing you have an understanding what you are really all about,” Alfie says, “There were crazy ups and downs.  I had a publishing deal so I had to come up with songs. Radio was tied into touring. The people I was working with were looking for rock and rollers and I kept falling between the cracks a bit.  You go through a lot of craziness to find where your heart feels right.”

At the same time as he was enjoying radio hits, his label and management were struggling with which box to squeeze him into, and everybody had their own interests to protect.

“It’s a different world now,” he says, “I still find myself a little confused about it. Those days are long gone now, but so are all those people with their hands out. These days you have to do everything yourself.  But you start to develop an audience and you can make a living doing it.”

The turning point for Zappacosta came when his song “Overload” was included in the Dirty Dancing movie soundtrack, which went on to become one of the biggest selling soundtracks of all time.

“The Dirty Dancing soundtrack allowed me to stand back, take a bit of time and think about the future.  I kind of got off the bus,” he says.

He had the opportunity to take guitar and vocal lessons, something he felt was worthwhile despite already having made his mark as an outstanding vocalist.

“Back in the day when we had drums, you tend to sing very hard,” he says, “I never thought that I was a big-league singer.  When it looked like I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life, I took some vocal lessons from Dave Dunbar.  He helped me a lot.”  It was more about saving his voice, using the instrument properly. “When you’re out there performing, you’ll start to get a bit harsh by the end of three or four days.  There are still songs that are very taxing.  I have to be very careful of that.”

His guitar playing developed into a classical finger-picking style.  “I have an old guitar, a Chet Atkins model that they just don’t make any more.  The clarity is pretty amazing.  It definitely has its own sound.  Most of the songs I’ve written were on the classical guitar.”

His music has an undeniable jazz tinge to it, and his melodies favour those augmented chords.  It has put him in a special place as a performer and writer, not one that is easily classified.  He found himself drawn to live musical theatre, which, with productions like Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, gave room to express his talents.  But as a songwriter who has never stopped performing, he has amassed a body of work, much of which didn’t get a lot of attention because of the narrow hit-song box he’d been placed in.  Later in his career he has made a point of bringing these songs to audiences.

And that’s part of what he’ll be bringing to the Simcoe Street Theatre alongside his familiar hits.  “I never stopped playing and there are a lot of songs people may not have heard,” he says, “Plus I have all new songs.”

He will be joined by a pair of impressive sidemen, composers in their own right.  Ross Wooldridge, clarinetist and big band swing specialist, joins Alfie on piano and the multi-talented Claudio Vena accompanies him on accordion and viola.  Among his many other accomplishments, Claudio won a Gemini award for Best Original Music Score for a Documentary Program or Series for his work in 24

The relatively intimate setting of the Simcoe Street Theatre is a perfect venue for the type of adult pop that Zappacosta is a master of.

“A small show can be completely rewarding.  You go out in front of a hundred people,  and you connect with them directly.  I find that very fulfilling.”

No doubt the audience will as well.

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