To the populace of the Greater Toronto Area, Alfie Zappacosta will always be known as that guy who sang the Pizza Nova commercial.
Yes he has enjoyed great success, recording first with his debut band Surrender, then as a successful solo artist, winning Most Promising Male Vocalist and Best Album Juno Awards in 1988 before advancing to establish a viable career on stage (starring in Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar), on television (in a special episode of Walt Disney’s Danger Bay) and on the big screen in the 1995 movie Halo. Add to this his song contribution (`Overload’) to the mega-selling “Dirty Dancing” movie soundtrack and you can conclude the Italian native has enjoyed a productive career.
A resident of Edmonton for the past 25 years, Zappacosta, will be making an infrequent visit to Toronto, Thursday August 15th to appear at Hugh’s Room where he will be performing songs from his recent “ Live from Blue Frog Studios” release.
“Oh that Pizza Nova commercial,” groaned Zappacosta when confronted with his infamous legacy. “I sure didn’t get rich on the royalties. Syd Kessler sold off the jingle and it kept getting repeated. They even tried a second commercial `That’s Amore” but that didn’t do so well. Still they finally paid me what they owed me so I came out of it okay.”
It would be a fair assertion to say Zappacosta’s career has endured its share of ups and down. He sees the success of Michael Buble today and knows that had times been different, he would have received the same accolades as Buble.
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“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,” reflected Zappacosta. “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.”
Under Allen’s direction, Zappacosta’s self-titled solo album (1984) produced two huge hit singles; `We Should Be Lovers’ and `Passion’ which were recognized with the reception of two Juno Awards. “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!
Handed off to co-manager Lou Blair, Zappacosta released a second album A-Z in 1986, which featured two more hits `Nothing Can Stand In Your Way’ and `When I Fall In Love Again’. Yet this wasn’t enough to impress EMI Records, who dropped him from their roster. Yet, ironically, this snub came just as Zappacosta was starring in the role of Che Guevera in a Halifax Nova Scotia production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita at the city’s Neptune Theatre.
“I was upset that EMI dropped me but I realized I had other career options,” shrugged Zappacosta. “So next thing I know I’m tackling songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber”
Ironically, EMI’s rejection came as Zappacosta was learning that one of his compositions; `Overload’ was being included in the Dirty Dancing movie soundtrack, which sold a couple of million copies. Buoyed by this success, Alfie expanded on his song writing skills, penning one song `That’s Where The Money Goes’ for Loverboy’s “Wildside” record.
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Zappacosta also continued to develop his acting aspirations, appearing in the touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar (launching in Halifax in 2001) as well as being featured in a special 1986 `rock star’ episode of Walt Disney’s Danger Bay TV series as well as copping a starring role in the 1995 movie “Halo” “I challenged myself to be more than just a performer and I enjoyed the challenge of expanding my comfort zone.”
Zappacosta continued to record albums, eventually moving to Edmonton with his two children after losing his wife. Zappacosta also battled his own health problems as he was stricken with diabetes and heart problems which resulted in him being fitted with a pacemaker. “We’re all supposed to be indestructible but I’m about to hit 60 so at some point reality hits.”
Even so, Zappacosta has never taken an extended break from recording, knocking off five albums in the past six years, including a CD and DVD “Live from Blue Frog Studios”release, a rework of past hits recorded live at White Rock B.C’s Blue Frog Studios. “It gave me a chance to perform some of my old stuff, update the arrangements and add tracks from some of my more recent recordings.”
Zappacosta, like everyone else, is aware the recording landscape has changed drastically with ITunes, YouTube and other social media options being the way to break a new record. “It’s okay for all these young people but for us old farts, tackling this new medium can be a real challenge. I mean you have people connecting via Skype to write songs”.
Yet Zappacosta is aware of an existing nostalgia movement in classic pop/rock which continues to shed interest in his catalogue. “It’s a challenge going out there and touring; now it’s small venues and even some private houses (although there is talk of him appearing at some major jazz festivals in New Zealand). But I am proud of my past achievements and it is great when people acknowledge my songs”.