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The Monarchs bring 50 years of rockin' to the Heartland Music Festival

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By Robert Villanueva

Since releasing their first recording, “Over the Mountain” in 1962, Louisville rock group The Monarchs has seen a lot of sock hops and teen dances.

On Saturday night they will perform the brand of rock ‘n’ roll that has been their mainstay for the past 50 years when they appear in concert at Freeman Lake Park as part of the Heartland Music Festival.

“The group started out as a five-piece combo called ‘The Blue Angels,’” Leon Middleton, sax player and band manager, said.

When it became a trend to have four singers, the band shuffled roles and their drummer became a singer. Then they added three more singers.

Eventually, the nine-member group became The Monarchs, and the band has seen a few changes in their lineup.

Today eight men make up the band.

In addition to Middleton, the band members are co-founder Louis "Dusty" Miller, David Owen, Paul Turner, Jeff McAllister, Craig Zirnheld, John Zehnder and Middleton’s son, Greg.

The band weathered a period beginning about 1967 during which it lost members and did not perform together.

It was after a reunion in 1972 that The Monarchs again began performing. With his son in the band and occasional appearances by his grandson, Middleton said another generation of the band seems to have begun.

His own stint with the band began in 1962, shortly after the band formed about 1961.

“There’s really been hills and valleys,” Middleton said.

Back when they made records that landed on local and national music charts and travelled on tour, the group was not aware of the significance, he said.

Their songs “This Old Heart,” “Till I Hear It From You,” and “Look Homeward Angel” found success, particularly the latter which hit No. 47 on the Billboard chart and stayed on the chart for 13 weeks.

“Back then ... you really don’t know you’re part of that,” Middleton said. “We were thinking locally, not globally.”

Over the years The Monarchs have performed on the same stage with The Beach Boys, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and B. J. Thomas, among others.

The audience at the Heartland Music Festival can expect to hear “vintage rock ‘n’ roll” and classic music from the late ‘50s and the ‘60s, Middleton said.

“Occasionally we’ll touch the ‘70s,” he said.

Middleton gives the audience credit for the band’s inspiration.

“We don’t play to entertain ourselves; some bands do,” he said. “We’re playing for the entertainment of our audience.”

Like the show the band does for Derby Dinner Playhouse titled “A Tribute to Rock, Rhythm and Do-Wop,” a live performance contains the same title elements, Middleton said.

In 2009, the band released “The Monarchs Appearing Here Tonight,” a compilation of “classic cuts” with additional original songs.

Though he’s not sure about a future CD, Middleton said the band has considered doing a holiday CD at some point.

For now, he said, he’s “very, very proud of the product they have.”

“We’re having fun watching people have fun with us,” Middleton said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.

IF YOU GO

The Monarchs will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday as part of the Heartland Music Festival. The concert is free with paid admission to the festival. For more information about the Heartland Music Festival call (270) 765-4334. To find out more about The Monarchs visit www.themonarchs.com.