On Stage: Colin Blunstone brings his legendary voice to Philly

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By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

Colin Blunstone

If you wanted someone to sing romantic love songs to your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone better than Colin Blunstone.

Blunstone has one of the loveliest and most distinctive voices in popular music. His delivery is powerful and velvety at the same time – and has been for more than 50 years.

In 1961, Blunstone started his singing career as the vocalist for the Zombies – the English Invasion band that produced such classic hits as “Tell Her No,” “She’s Not There,” and “Time of the Season.”

Now, almost six decades later, the Zombies are still putting on great shows – fueled by Rod Argent with his keyboard prowess and Blunstone with his breathy, emotive vocals.

In addition to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Zombies, Blunstone has also built an impressive career as a solo artist.

In recent years, Blunstone, Argent and their bandmates in the Zombies have played several times at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400,www.worldcafelive.com). On February 2, Blunstone will return to headline a solo show at the World Café Live.

Blunstone’s voice was considered one of the main factors in making the Zombies’ single, “She’s Not There” an international hit. Blunstone began his solo career in 1969, releasing three singles under a pseudonym of Neil MacArthur. He emerged as a solo artist under his own name in 1972 with “Say You Don’t Mind,” which peaked at number 15 in the UK chart, and “I Don’t Believe in Miracles,” which hit number 31 in the UK chart.

Since then, he has released 10 studio albums and one live album under his real name. His solo hits include his version of “She’s Not There,” “Say You Don’t Mind,” “I Don’t Believe in Miracles,” “How Could We Dare to Be Wrong,” “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” and “The Tracks of My Tears.” He is also known for his participation on various albums with the Alan Parsons Project.

“This will not be a show of me performing Zombies’ songs,” said Blunstone, during a recent phone interview from his home outside London in Surrey, England. “I’ve got a great band and we’ll be doing my songs. Steve Rodford plays drums and Elliot Mason is on bass. Manolo Polidario is my guitarist and we have a great keyboardist – Pete Billington.

“We love to write, love to record and love to get out on the road. We’re a live band that likes to play all the time.

“In the shows on this tour, I will do ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Time of the Season’ as well as ‘Old and Wise,’ a song I sang with the Alan Parsons Project – but most of the set list comes from my solo career.

“All the songs in my show have been hits somewhere but not necessarily in the U.K. There will be six or seven songs that I’ve written. There will be two from my original band – ‘Just Out of Reach’ and ‘How We were Before’ – and two from this band – ‘Any Other Way’ and ‘Never Get Over You.’

“I’ll be singing a lot of favorites such as ‘Andorra,’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears,’ ‘Say You Don’t Mind,’ ‘I Want Some More,’ ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,’ and ‘I Don’t Believe in Miracles.’”

If you’re familiar with the vocals on “She’s Not There” or “Time of the Season,” you might have doubts that Blunstone’s voice can still do the songs justice after a half-century. Amazingly, his voice is as good – or better – than it was back in the 60s.

“The science of singing intrigues me,” said Blunstone. “Maintaining it takes a little luck and then exercise. I exercise my voice every day. On the road, if I get a cold, I lose the top end of my voice. That apart, I seem to have kept my range. The Zombies’ songs are still in the same key as when we recorded them from 1964 onwards. The main thing before you sing, you take a breath and then try to work your diaphragm.”

Last month, the Zombies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“It’s very exciting,” said Blunstone, who is a longtime fan of London’s world-class Chelsea football squad.

“It was our fourth time to be nominated for the Hall of Fame. I was thrilled the first time we got a nomination. Now, we’re being inducted. We got 330,000 votes and made it to the top seven.”

Video link for Colin Blustone – https://youtu.be/4LhuEdB7QUM.

The show at the World Café Live, which has Clarence Bucaro as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 and $45.

Other upcoming shows at the World Café Live are the Kingston Trio on January 31, Osler Circle presents a benefit for Children’s Hospital: The Fab Four – Together and Apart on February 1, and Thomas Dybdahl and Kenny White on February 6.

Second City

Even if you’re not familiar with The Second City, you almost definitely are familiar with many of the comedy club’s alumni. The roster of top-flight comedians that came through The Second City includes such luminaries as Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Upper Darby’s Tina Fey.

The Kimmel Center (Broad and Spruce streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org) is hosting one of The Second City’s touring productions this weekend. Now through February 2, the Kimmel is presenting “It’s Not You, It’s Me. – The Second City” in its Perelman Theater.

“We have three different troupes that tour,” said Jo Scott, one of the cast members of “It’s Not You, It’s Me. – The Second City,” during a phone interview Monday morning from her home in Chicago. “This cast has four females, two males and a musical director.

“We’re in the middle of snowstorm here today. We fly out Wednesday morning straight to the theater in Philly to tech and then open that night.

“When we tour stuff, we do some things that are archived material and some originals. The Second City has hundreds of sketches in its archives. Most of the sketches are archived.

“It’s cool to see scenes that our idols did and then add our own touch to the skits. Each tour is one-of-a-kind. The directors pick it what is good for the cast.”

The Second City has been laughing at love and its infinite scroll of side effects for decades. In the world-famous comedy company’s latest laughter-inducing undertaking, “It’s Not You, It’s Me. – The Second City” takes shots at heartbreak, missed connections and the mire of human relationships.

“We just finished our holiday show,” said Scott. “Now, we’ve switched over to relationship themes for February and Valentine’s Day. We’ll do this show for a couple months.”

Scott moved to Chicago to join The Second City.

“After college, my husband and I were in the Peace Corps in Suriname,” said Scott. “Later, we ended up in Washington, D.C. where he worked in public relations. I took an improv class as a side thing and they told my husband and me that we needed to move to Chicago.

“We’re both from Indiana originally – I’m from South Bend and he’s from Indianapolis – so it wasn’t hard to us to move back to the Midwest. I went to Chicago specifically to join The Second City and I’ve been touring with them for a couple years.”

Now, Scott and her castmates are descending on Philly to set the mood for Valentine’s Day.

“It’s an original show,” said Scott. “Each act is 50 minutes with 10-12 scenes that are each three-to-four minutes. Some are sentimental. Some interact with audiences and some are just goofy.

“The Second City is a show you want your friends to see. There is always something for everyone in every show.”

Video link for “It’s Not You, It’s Me. – The Second City” – https://youtu.be/nW4k2O2HDQA.

The shows at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater are scheduled for January 31 and February 1 at 8 p.m. and February 2 at 4 and 8:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $23-$63.

Many of the top songwriters in popular music prefer to write about their own life experiences – at least for a while until they run out of stories.

JP Harris

JP Harris, who will headline a show at Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com) on January 31, is a veteran guitarist and country singer/songwriter with lots of personal stories in his songs.

Harris has a CV that provides him a seemingly endless source of material.

He was born in Montgomery, Alabama. When he was seven, his family moved to Apple Valley, California and later to Las Vegas. When Harris was 14, he left home after finishing eighth grade.

“When I left home, I changed my music tastes,” said Harris, during a recent phone interview from Nashville. “My parents listened to folk – and some country. My grandparents down south were big country music fans. I heard it a lot when I was around them.”

After leaving home, Harris spent time in Oakland. The California punk music scene had a major influence on his music at that point.

Harris then moved around the country and worked a huge variety of jobs – sheep herder, sheet metal scrapper, orchard worker, farm laborer, luthier, heavy equipment operator, logger, and historic restoration carpenter.

From the time he was 16 until his relocation to Nashville, he lived in various remote cabins without electricity or running water for nearly 13 years. He also moved on from punk rock – to country and genuine Americana.

“The older you get, the more mature types of music start resonating with you,” said Harris. “I also had some friends who were into traditional American music. When I left home, I lived in a lot of rural places. I learned building trades and did forest logging.

“Also, I always wanted to relate to older folks. I was raised by a real southern family. We were taught manners. Country music is that middle ground. It aligned with my lifestyle.”

Harris released his debut album “I’ll Keep Calling” in 2011 and followed with “Home Is Where the Hurt Is” in 2014 and “Sometime Dogs Bark at Nothing” last year. His love affair with the guitar goes back a long time before he started making albums.

“My mama got me an acoustic guitar for Christmas when I was 12,” said Harris, who also has spent a lot of time hopping freight trains across America. “I took a few lessons from an old blues dude and learned power chords. I traded my skateboard for an electric guitar and worked on learning power chords. Then, some older kids started teaching me real chords. And, I realized playing music was a way to make friends.

“I lived a simple lifestyle. I had gotten into traditional Appalachian music. I was completely into acoustic music. I was against even an electric pickup on a guitar. I went to a lot of fiddlers’ conventions. I realized I wanted to have a different environment – to be in bars where people were laughing and dancing.

“I wrote the first couple songs and started a band for fun. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere. Then, I realized I liked drums and pedal steel – then amps – then Stratocasters. I went back to ‘Square One’ and reverse-engineered into what I do now.

“I have a unique approach to traditional country music. I go back to the music of George Jones and Hank Williams – Jimmie Rodgers and Doc Watson.”

Harris’ influences shine brightly on “Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing.”

According to Harris, “I feel like I was trying to make this record for two or three years before we actually got around to making it. I had written at least half of the songs a couple years before we got close to a plan of how to make it. I really wanted to wait for the right situation to come up before I made this album.

“A lot of things changed in my life between when I made my previous album and when we decided to go into the studio last year to make this one. I felt like I had a very different approach to life and music in general. It was really important to wait for the right situation to coalesce before I dove into making something new.”

Now, Harris is touring in support of his new album – a tour that brings him to Philadelphia.

“I’ve played shows in places around Philadelphia, but this will be my first real show in Philly,” said Harris. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Video link for JP Harris – https://youtu.be/HoJ-PQL6NLA.

The show at Kung Fu Necktie, which also features Baby’s First Rodeo, The Cheddar Boys and The Flat Wheels, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $9.

Other upcoming shows at Kung Fu Necktie are Green Jelly on February 1, The Fleshtones on February 2, Walking the Cadaver on February 3, Bay Faction on February 5 and Good Clean Fun on February 6.

Cory Wong

It’s too early to tell if it will be really cold, bitterly cold or painfully cold when Cory Wong hits Philly on February 1 for a show at The Foundry at The Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com).

But, there are two weather-related things for sure.

It might be brutally cold outside the Fillmore, but things will heat up quickly when Wong and his band start rocking out onstage at The Foundry. And, the temperatures might be frigid in Philly, but they will pale in comparison to those his wife and kids are experiencing in his hometown – Minneapolis.

“They cancelled classes all week at my kids’ school in Minnesota,” said Wong, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from a tour stop in Burlington, Vermont. “With the wind chill, it’s 46 degrees below zero back there right now.”

Best known for his thrifty guitarwork in the midwestern funk ensemble Vulfpeck, Wong released his sophomore solo record, “The Optimist,” last fall with a corresponding seven-inch single release in collaboration with smooth jazz legend Dave Koz.

“This is my first big go at putting out a record,” said Wong. “It sold out every copy presale before it came out. I ended up shipping them all out from my house. I decided to do a second pressing and only sell it at my live shows.

“After this tour, they’ll be all gone, and I’ll do another pressing. Things are going great. The album keeps selling out and almost every show on the tour is sold out.”

“The Optimist,” which came out on August 17, was recorded in just six days last year.

“My recording process was rapid-fire with huge spurts in a short time,” said Wong. “I gave myself six days to put together the songs for the album. We had three different sessions – six songs at each session with different musicians. One session was done in Nashville with members of Ben Rector’s band.

“Another session was done in Minneapolis with musicians who have played with Prince. I grew up in Minneapolis, so I’ve always been influenced by the Prince camp. All my mentors were Prince players or alumni. The third session was done with my live band in Minneapolis – the band that’s out with me now.

“I’m touring with a seven-piece band – guitar, bass, keyboards, drums – and a three-piece horn section – sax, trombone and trumpet. Also, Emily Browning, who is the opening act, sings with me in my set.”

Wong’s interest in music dates back to when he was still in grade school.

“My dad was a big music head – everything from Hendrix to Miles – from Zep to Keith Jarrett,” said Wong. “That influenced me when I was young. And then, when I was in sixth grade, I discovered punk rock.

“Now, when I perform live, it’s an eclectic mix. I’m playing stuff from my new record, songs from my previous records and I’m testing new material. I’m morphing the set as the tour goes on.”

Video link for Cory Wong – https://youtu.be/_MbMMGMMpA0.

The show at The Foundry, which has Emily Browning as the opener, will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at The Foundry are Daley & JMSN on January 31, Cautious Clay on February 2 and El Ten Eleven on February 6.

It’s going to be extremely cold when Cory Wong visits Philly for a show on February 1 at The Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150,www.thefillmorephilly.com).

If you attempted to collect every record on which members of The Hit Men played, you would have to spend a lot of money. And, you’d need the space to house hundreds of albums.

The Hit Men

When the Hit Men perform onstage, they present a show that is a journey through the history of rock and roll — an authentic journey. On February 2, area fans can embark on that journey when The Hit Men visit the area for a concert at Montgomery County Community College (340 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell, 215-641-6518, https://www.mc3.edu/events).

Since coming together in November 2010, The Hit Men have established a legacy of number one hits come to life like no other group. The Hit Men are extraordinary players and singers as well as world-class entertainers — but, most importantly, they were there when these songs were recorded, and they have the backstage, insider stories to prove it.

Keyboardist and group founder Lee Shapiro, lead guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Ryan, bassist/vocalist Jeff Ganz, vocalist Russ Velazquez and drummer Steve Murphy deliver sizzling shows that combine live music, eye-popping videos and reminiscences born from their witnessing and making musical history as it happened.

“The Hit Men are the real guys you saw on stage,” said Shapiro, during a phone interview Monday morning from his home in Bergen County, New Jersey.

The capsule biographies of the five veteran players offer a glimpse at how meshed in the fabric of American rock these musicians are.

Shapiro is a music producer, arranger, and musician who has been involved in the New York music scene for over three decades. After Frankie Valli’s road manager saw him perform at a club in New Jersey, Lee became one of Frankie Valli’s celebrated Four Seasons as both an arranger and a keyboardist.

He toured the world with the band, performing classic hits and acting as the musical director and arranger on others including “Oh, What A Night” and “Who Loves You.” These experiences gave Lee the vehicle to meet and collaborate with a wide variety of stars including touring with Tommy James as one of the Shondells, co-producing the score to “Copacabana the Musical” with Barry Manilow, and collaborating with true music icons such as Bob Gaudio, Charlie Calello, Jimmy and Jerry Vivino, Paul Schaffer, and Will Lee.

Ryan started his musical career in the mid-sixties as lead guitarist, vocalist and co-songwriter with The Critters, who had three top hits — “Younger Girl,” “Mr. Dieingly Sad” and “Don’t Let The Rain Fall Down on Me” (which he composes).

When the Critters split up in 1969, Ryan continued his career as lead guitarist, backup vocalist, often arranger, and occasional co-writer with Carly Simon. He has played on many of Simon’s hits and has performed with her in two HBO specials — “Live from Martha’s Vineyard” and “My Romance.”

Ryan has recorded albums with many other artists including Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, John Entwhistle, Jim Webb, Elton John and Kiki Dee. He also has scored more than 40 films for theater and TV.

Ganz has toured and recorded with such legends as Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan, John Lee Hooker, Gerry Mulligan, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Tito Puente, Chuck Berry, Joe Morello, Melvin Van Peebles, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Dr. John, Larry Coryell, Eddie Money, Jim Dawson, Christine Lavin, Marilyn Michaels, Cheap Trick, Vanilla Fudge, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

He also has played bass in concert and on recordings for such artists as Rita Moreno, Howard Levy, Melanie, Al Cohn, Johnnie Johnson, The Village People, Billie Joe Royal, Marvin Hamlisch, Cleo Laine, Liza Minnelli, Clint Holmes, Andy Williams, Kenwood Dennard, and Ben Vereen.

Velazquez is a singer, composer, arranger, and producer — an in-demand studio musician who has performed on thousands of studio sessions covering an extraordinary range of genres and styles. He has worked with Sting, Carol King, the Ramones, LL Cool J, Luther Vandross, Korn, and Paula Abdul.

He is a four-time Emmy-nominated composer and arranger for his work on the children’s television show “Sesame Street,” and had a Number One record on the children’s charts and Radio Disney for his song “2BA Master,”, the “Pokemon” CD title song. Additionally, the veteran player has composed, arranged, produced and performed several popular TV themes and shows.

Steve Murphy is a drummer/singer/producer/engineer who has been involved in the New York music scene since the late 1980s. His first big break came in 1998 when he was asked to work as a vocalist in the studio with legendary producer Phil Ramone on a project for Elton John. His voice was featured on dozens of national commercials including The US Army’s “Be All You Can Be” campaign. He was a member of The Alan Parsons Live Project and has also toured with Jack Bruce, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Chuck Negron, Felix Cavaliere, Dave Mason, Todd Rundgren, Christopher Cross, Mark Farner, The Turtles, Mickey Dolenz, Gary Puckett, and Mitch Ryder.

“This is our ninth year and we have three of the five original members,” said Shapiro. “Our bass player Larry Gates passed away recently from bone and blood cancer. He was 63 and we had been friends since were eight years old. When he knew he was passing and had to leave the band, he recommended Jeff Ganz.

“Our old drummer Gerry Polci left the band two years ago. He got married and retired from his job and didn’t have the time to keep going with The Hitmen. They were both great players, but their replacements are also great players.”

The Hit Men’s second album, “Don’t Stop,” is filled with classic hits such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” and The Four Seasons’ “Who Loves You” and “Dec ’63 Oh What A Night.”

“‘Don’t Stop’ is our newest album,” said Shapiro. “It’s got a lot of great songs including hits by Journey and Foreigner. It was made with the new members. The album is representative of our current show.”

Video link for The Hit Men — https://youtu.be/6RAKv2Mwpg4.

The show at Montgomery County Community College on February 2 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will have Raymond the Amish Comic and Downingtown’s Steph Termini on February 1 and “Rust – A Tribute to Neil Young” on February 2.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host the Whiskeyhickon Boys on February 1.

The Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com) hosts Loudon Wainwright III / Susan Werner on February 2.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host The Odyssey, Semblance and Liz Greene on

February 1 and Obscure Identity, Static Drift and The Crucidicks on February 2.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present West Philadelphia Orchestra and Johnny Showcase on January 31, Junior Marvin (of the Wailers) on February 1, and TAUK on February 2.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present the John Byrne Band on February 2.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents The Midtown Men on January 31 and Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle on February 1.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) presents The Mighty Manatees And Mike Guldin & Rollin’ & Tumblin’ on January 31, KICK (The INXS Experience) on February 1, The Weight Band with Kerri Powers on February 2, International Guitar Night on February 5 and Eric Gales with Matthew Curry on February 6.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) hosts “Classic Albums Live – Led Zeppelin 1” on February 1 and Freedom Bound on February 5.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) hosts Amy Helm with special guest Zach Djanikian on February 1 and Meadow Mountain with special guest River Bones Band on February 6.

Rrazz Room (6426 Lower York Road, New Hope, 888-596-1027, www.TheRrazzRoom.com) will present “Cracked Up Comedy Hosted by Dwayne Dunlevy” on February 2.

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