Italian rocker Zucchero Fornaciari is stopping in Cranbrook March 25

Perpetual motion rock and roll

Renowned rocker Zucchero making Cranbrook a stop on 2014 North American tour

A musician of serious international renown is touching down in Cranbrook on a highly anticipated tour of North America.

Italian rock guitarist and singer Zucchero (Sugar) Fornaciari is a global superstar. He has sold more than 40 million records, and performed and collaborated with the likes of Elton John, Eric Clapton, Sting and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Zucchero spoke to the Townsman from Toronto, where he arrived last week for some rehearsals before the 40-concert tour opens (today, Thursday, March 13, at Massey Hall in Toronto). He had a message for the people of Cranbrook, in advance of his Tuesday, March 25, date at the Key City Theatre.

“Tell them I’ll be waiting for them at the concert, and it will be a fantastic night to remember.”

Zucchero’s music is rooted in rock, blues and gospel, with a strong pop sensibility. His professional career began in 1970, and began to flourish when he moved to San Francisco in 1984, where he performed and recorded with a backing band that included Randy Jackson (now of American Idol fame). He returned to Europe in the 1990s, and over the next few years became renowned as an endlessly touring performer and one of music’s most sought-after collaborators.

Zucchero is always in motion, in a serious way. While it has been three years since he last toured North America, in 2013 he covered Europe and Australia, and the year before that he did a South American tour and a few spot shows in North America — New York, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and Montreal.

“But this time, is the longest tour I’ve ever done in America — more than 40 shows between Canada and the United States,” he said.

“I love to be on the road,” he continued. “That’s my life. It’s a challenge this time, a big challenge that I want to try. In Europe, we do arenas, stadiums. Here of course, I can’t afford this. And I want to play in beautiful places — (aside) from Madison Square Garden in New York —  a little smaller, in theatres, in House of Blues (Dan Ackroyd’s club in Chicago).

“I want to see the reaction from people, especially in places like Memphis, New Orleans, Nashville, where I’ve never been. And see the reaction of the crowd to my music. This is exciting in a way.”

As an Italian, of course, Zucchero’s lyrics are mostly in Italian — one of the most beautiful languages for music. But he does sing in English from time to time. “I think English is the language of rock and roll, blues, gospel,” he said. “But I’m only going to sing a few songs in English. Singing in Italian is the real thing for me, the real stuff. My opinion is that the music talks. Even if you don’t understand all the lyrics you can catch the feeling in the music.”

After almost a dozen studio albums, and soundtracks, compilations, live albums and  more than sixty singles, his latest release — “La Sesión Cubana” (“The Cuban Session”) has just hit the North American market.

“It’s an album we did in Havana, with Cuban musicians,” Zucchero said. “It’s not typical Cuban music. It’s my music, with Cuban percussionists, basically. I always thought the Cuban percussionists were the best — they have a fantastic sense of rhythm. And I wanted to try this experience, to do my songs, some of my hits with Cuban percussion.

“The album was released last year in Europe, and it was very successful. And then we did a beautiful tour in Europe, with 16 Cuban musicians plus my band. And the record company, Capital Records, has released this album in America. And that’s also why I’m here.”

Some of those Cuban musicians will be joining Zucchero for the North American trek. In fact, it bodes to be a smoking hot band he’s bringing along.

“My band has been with me a long time,” he said. “Polo Jones (bass), a San Francisco guy, used to play with Aretha Franklin, Johnny Lee Hooker and others. Kat Dyson (on guitar and vocals) is from New Power Generation, used to play with Prince.

“I’ve got a couple of Italian guys, on drums and keyboards, who’ve been with me from the beginning.”

Some of that Cuban element will also be showcased. Famed musicians Joachin Hidgalo (percussion) and Elmer Ferrar (guitars) will also be part of the band.

Cranbrook’s 600-seat Key City Theatre will be one of the smaller venues on Zucchero’s itinerary.

“I love to play small places … (being that) close to the crowd,” he said. “I can see their faces. They start out sitting, but then they jump up and start dancing, and it’s a big party by the end. The places might be smaller, but the energy is great.”

The legendary Zucchero plays Cranbrook, as part of his Americana Tour 2014, Tuesday, March 25, at the Key City Theatre. Showtime is at 7:30 p.m.

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