Agents - the Good, the Bad, The Ugly 

Ok I'm a musician first, but since I am booking shows at Hugh's Room Live, I do get to see things from a different perspective too, and I'm learning a lot about agents and what I like/don't like. Maybe these general thoughts are useful to those of you with agents, or seeking an agent, or maybe if you are an agent. 

Some agents literally write me " JOE SCHMOE(name of artist). Interested?" 

I have to admit, I'm usually not interested if that's all the agent wants to share with me, unless we're talking about an icon ("Stevie Wonder. Interested?" would work). No link to a video or audio or bio? I don't need a long pitch, but how about a complete sentence? 

On the other hand, some agents write me very enthusiastically about how their artist is on tour at a specific time, and they are routing close by, and they mention that they either know the club or have heard about it or they've clearly done their research. That agent is great because not only do they get my attention, I'm now going to take a look at the other acts they book because I think I'll like dealing with that agent. 

Of course, I spend quite a bit of time writing emails to agents myself because I want to book their artists. As far as I'm concerned, those agents should be quite happy to hear from me because ultimately I'm offering to put money in their pocket and fill another date on their artist's calendar. 

The agent I like is the one who emails back, "can I call you?" because that is so RARE, and we'll get it done pretty quickly if we're going to get it done, avoiding an extra ten emails. But I also the like the agent who just asks for the seating numbers and average ticket price, because they're clearly going to do some math and figure out a reasonable offer for the circumstances (or if we are even in the ballpark for their artist depending on who it is). If that agent is fast with email, that will get booked pretty quickly too. 

On the other hand, some agents just email me back asking me to fill out their attached offer sheet. That's it, nothing else in their email, and no indication of enthusiasm. Not even a confirmation of whether the artist is available when I want them. Really? You're not going to tell me basic details like if the date I have in mind works? Not any mention of the group the artist is touring (because many people have different album projects or perform both solo or with a band). How can I blindly fill out a generic offer sheet without being told what I'm buying? If I'm covering expenses, shouldn't I know that it's not a solo act but a 5-piece band (because of course they want hotel rooms)? I can't tell if that's laziness, lack of time, or arrogance, but it inevitably means 4 more emails back and forth, each one only answering one specific question with no anticipation of the next question. And these are pro agents, so surely they know those questions are coming in the next email. What is the upside to this approach? Is it a way of filtering out the gigs they don't want? 

Finally, some agents respond to me enthusiastically but then are either so overworked or disorganized that they forget to follow up, and I end up having to chase them so that they can take the gig I'm offering their artist. Except of course, sometimes I don't followup I just move on to someone else. If I'm that agent's artist, I'm probably not working as much as I could be. 

It's all common sense right? Be enthusiastic, mind the details, and try to be timely because we're all overworked and distracted so it's easy for things to just move on.

Inside My Concert Booking Mind: Feel Free to Propose Shows & Send Suggestions! 

I've been one of the programmers at Hugh's Room Live in Toronto for a few months now, and while we got off to a slightly shaky start because a few of the other new team members decided they couldn't do it afterall, Blair Packham and I, together with manager Mary Stewart, have settled into a great working relationship.  We're constantly trying to improve things and attract new and younger fans as well, which is why we introduced student pricing for certain shows.  The Hugh's Room Live menu has had an overhaul (it's not my department, but I'm sharing the news) and the quality has gone up, and Mary deserves full credit for initiating that.  Some really magical shows have happened, we've had a really pleasant surprise in how incredibly popular Mike Daley's monthly artist talk/shows have been, and Jully Black blew the doors off the place a few weeks back.  The spring/summer is shaping up with some really special things, including a fantastic show on April 30th for International Jazz Day that I'm happy to part of it, supporting the new web radio station  

Tickets for that one, and everything else are at

We'll be announcing most of the summer lineup, including our first ever GUITAR WEEK (July 12-19 with some great names) very shortly.  Hugh's has a legacy of booking great singer-songwriters, great acoustic, folk, and bluegrass, electric and acoustic blues, groups performing music from all over the world (as opposed to always lumping them together as world music), and jazz and r&b and beyond (I'd like to get more chamber music in too).

The challenge for Hugh's Room Live is it is a big space (seating 180 at tables, 220 once the bar stools and standing get factored in), and it is very much a concert venue that happens to serve dinner and drinks (as opposed to a restaurant that decided to have live music).  The crowds come based on who is playing there, so it does not have the same kind of drop in crowd as other venues that are smaller and focus on one genre only.  This means that every time we book a show, we have to consider the potential draw, ticket price, and also what is programmed next to it because if there are only so many jazz or blues or folk fans, it doesn't necessarily make sense to put too many of the same genre's shows back to back.  Sometimes a group is really big in one market, but not yet known in Toronto, and from my end that usually means doing some research on where the are playing, when they were last here, and taking a guess at how they will do.

On June 25th for example, I've booked a great band called Over The Rhine, and if you go to You Tube you'll see they tour all over the United States playing theatres, do all the key radio/tv/internet shows frequented by singer-songwriters, and work with some great names.  But they aren't really known in Toronto from what I can see.  They approached me for a date because they are close by at the Rochester Jazz Festival, and I like the music so I wanted to make it happen.  I've had to negotiate with their agent in a way that comes to terms with the fact that they aren't as well known in Canada (and luckily their agent gets it.  Some are not so cool).  Ideally every negotiation is a win-win for the club and artist, and as a musician myself I recognize the work it takes to tour and the fees that are fair or appropriate.  As a talent buyer, I have to balance my pro-musician brain with not risking to much of HRL's money if it is a slow night.  My programmer head is always balancing the music I want to hear against the financial ramifications of each show.  And ours is a fickle business, where something you didn't commit a lot of money to and don't expect too much from sells out quickly, and another act that sold out the last time (so you commit to a big fee) has a really bad night. By the way, tickets for Over The Rhine are going on sale shortly, and if you want to hear a great singer and some beautiful songwriting, I hope you'll join us June 25th!

I'd love to hear from people about the acts they'd like to see come through Hugh's Room Live, or of course for them to pitch me on their own group (if it's a pitch, please use thanks).  There's a lot of music in the world, so it's good to find out what people are listening to.  I had a student tell me that she goes down to Buffalo to see certain bands because they don't come up to Toronto, and I thought "why isn't that band routing through Toronto?  I should make that happen."  So help me make stuff happen and send me your suggestions anytime!

How YOU can support live music! 

Social Media doesn't have to all be about lousy politicians, sometimes you discover great information and comments.  Such is the case with this great post from singer Willa Mamet on how YOU can support you local musicians and music scene.  It's a great read, but hopefully you make note a few of the suggestion and take action!

I'm Now Booking Shows at Hugh's Room Live in Toronto 

Over the years I've had the chance to serve as Artistic Director for Lakefield Music Camp and the Markham Jazz Festival, and I'm excited to now be part of the Artistic Team booking shows at Hugh's Room Live in Toronto.  It's one of the best clubs around, with a great listening audience and fantastic sound and sight lines.  The booking as always been eclectic, featuring singer-songwriters, blues, world and jazz groups, and large tribute shows that bring together diverse musicians.  I'm happy to be the main jazz/world/chamber/blues crossover booker (meaning that traditional folk and songwriters is primarily the domain of my colleagues Cheryl Praksher and Blaire Packham).  If you're interested in performing, the email for me is


Please get those calendars out and make note of some great shows I'm happy to have booked at Hugh's Room to kick off 2019. If you love Hugh's as a venue, please support it in the best way possible - Come to a show or buy someone else a ticket! 
-David Buchbinder's Odessa Havanna January 16, 
- Eliana Cuevas and Jeremy Ledbetter doing a double bill on January 24, 
-Autorickshaw with Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell, and Ed Hanley's on January 30 
-Richard Underhill and the Shuffle Demons January 31, 
-The Ward Cabaret (doing a club version of the show we did for Luminato last June) on February 5th with Derek Kwan, Laura Campisi, Laurel Tubman, Aviva Chernick and Louis Louis Simão (including me and David Buchbinder), 
-Timothy Booth's Jazz Orchestra Feb 18th, 
-Robi Botos and George Koller and Romani Jazz Feb 25, 
-A double bill with Sundar Viswanathan's Avataar and Larry Graves' Sure Fire Sweat March 14. 
I'm also going to have Mike Daley coming in to do some of his excellent artist profile talks and performances on the last Monday of the month through to the spring. Stay tuned for more!

Flying with Guitars 

As I look forward to touring in Europe with Elizabeth Shepherd later this month, I also have to plan for a few discount airlines where I'm doubtful of geting my guitar on board in its gig bag the way I do in Canada with Air Canada (I hear lots of complaints about Air Canada, but they have my loyalty over Westjet here simply because their website says that guitars in soft cases are allowed as long as they fit in the overhead, and since then I've had no issues other than once or twice having to direct the staff to their own website. WestJet on the other hand made me gate check it, actually coming and taking it out of the overhead above my seat where it was happily surrounded by purses and backpacks because it was a full flight and someone boarding later than me's suitcase couldn't get on the plane. Hmmm, suitcase vs guitar....). For the record, I've yet to fly a plane, even the tiny one I took to Nashville, where I couldn't fit my guitar in the overhead (another reason I'm a solid body guitar guy).

Last year I bought a new Godin guitar for the express purpose of unscrewing its neck (inspired by my friend Marc van Vugt). Grant at the Twelfth Fret in Toronto shaved the inside of the very snug neck joint just to make it a little easier to take out, but basically I put a capo on at the 2nd fret (so that I don't have to change the strings), unscrewed the neck (buying a very small screwdriver that is allowed in carry on luggage), wrapped it to the body with bubble wrap, and stuffed it in a small backpack surrounded by sweaters. It worked out very well, as security didn't seem to mind (without the strings maybe the neck would be seen as a weapon on its own, but since it was all wrapped together and attached by strings it didn't raise any issues) and it was great to walk on like anybody else. The guitar always played great, but it did mean putting it delicately under a seat instead of the overhead as there's little protection. Indeed, I did get a few minor dings in the neck over the course of a few flights so I'm re-examining the backpack and looking for some other light material to put around the neck. But the trade off of course is having to assemble the guitar and hoping the action and intonation are the same. I also have to sacrifice some packing space to bring a thin gig bag along and I don't get to play the Ernie Ball Reflex that I normally use, unless I decide to take its neck off.

Learning solos 

I attended the jazz workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 1991, and the amazing saxophonist Bunky Green was one of the faculty that year.  Bunky suggested that we take a song or an album that we liked, and learn every solo on it (he wanted us to go so far as to know what the drummer was doing on his cymbals).  I took his advice when I was traveling around Europe and working on a cruise ship, only bringing a couple of cassettes (Walkman days!) with me so that I would have to get really familiar with the albums I chose.  I didn't quite transcribe or learn to play every solo, but I think I could sing every solo.   I've certainly transcribed quite a few solos over the years, and am glad to see some of them on the list of essential solos JazzTimes just put out at

If memory serves, the handful of cassettes I listened to over and over included these albums:

Hank Mobley:  Soul Station

Lester Young w. Oscar Peterson:  The President Plays

Dave Holland:  Extensions

Kenny Wheeler:  Music for Large and Small Ensembles

Miles Davis: Live at the Blackhawk

Billie Holiday: The Silver Collection (which featured selections from the last small group recordings she did with Ben Webster, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Barney Kessel.

Concert December 9th! 

The VOCA Chorus of Toronto invited me to perform with them and to do an arrangement.  Really happy with the way my arrangement of Bruce Cockburn's "Waiting For a Miracle" is sounding, hope you'll come here its debut and me alongside a wonderful choir under the direction of Jenny Crober.   Here's the link for tickets:

Tickets now available!

April 8-10 - The Songs of Bruce Cockburn w. Elizabeth Shepherd 

I'm really looking forward to doing 3 shows with Elizabeth Shepherd, revisiting some of my Creation Dream: Songs of Bruce Cockburn repertoire (but different, and with vocals). We'll be joined by my big bro Roberto Occhipinti and Davide Direnzo. April 8th at the Jazz Room in Waterloo, April 9th at The Rex Jazz Bar in Toronto, and April 10th we'll do a Jazz FM Live to Air in a very special show with Bernie Finkelsteinjoining us to share stories of the birth of Canada's music industry and his decades managing Bruce Cockburn. Here's a little video of Elizabeth and I at soundcheck in Hamilton back in February:

Lots of Fun With Guitar Effects! 

Tonight I had a lot of fun at Long & McQuade Markham demonstrating the sounds I use and my approach to guitar effects to a really nice group full of thoughtful questions.

I gave them some info in a handout.  Here it is:

From the time I started playing the guitar at age 13, I was intrigued with the sounds that guitarists like Jimi Hendrix,  Jeff Beck, Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, Prince, Bill Frisell, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Edge, and John Scofield (among many, many others) created, and I started using guitar pedals as soon as I could afford them, although I was lucky to have older brothers who leant me theirs.  I’ve owned a lot of different pedals over the years, but at a certain point I realized that all of my guitar heroes generally sound like themselves even if they plug straight into an amp, and that’s what I aspire to.  Such a realization means that ultimately we can only chase so many pedals, it’s better to put your effort into your hands first, and if something is working for you and allowing you to express yourself, there’s no rush to move on to the latest and greatest effects.  And if you tour, you quickly run up against airline baggage allowances, how much weight you personally want to lug around besides your guitar, and what you find reliable in different situtations.  Personally, I’m mainly using effects in three ways:  

1. in the service of the foundation of a song (e.g. a wah wah pedal for the basic pattern to a funk song or an overdrive pedal for a rock rhythm guitar part).  Check out my group The Triodes Chunked 

2. to create some kind of soundscape or texture behind something else (e.g. a singer or instrumental solo)  

3. to be expressive or create variety in my soloing (i.e. becoming the singer in that moment). 

Michael Occhipinti & Shine On:  The Unvierse of John Lennon or my album Muorica have a lot of the last two. 

I’ve done musical theatre and played in bands where each song had to have the same presets every single show, but generally I’ve built my career and approach to effects around avoiding that approach.  I love improvising with effects, so even in a situation where a singer expects me to create atmosphere behind them, I try to be creative and not just duplicate what I do on that song every time.  In my solos, I love to surprise the band (and myself in a sense) by soloing with a sound completely different than the night before.  I’ll still basically go back to the same arsenal of sounds that I think allow me to be expressive, but put them in new places or use them in slightly different ways.  It keeps the music fresh, but it also tends to keep my improvising fresh.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that imposing a condition or limitation (e.g. solo with a particular sound) stimulates creativity. 

Some things I think everyone should hear if they are curious about guitar sounds: 

Backwards Guitar:  The Beatles:  I’m Only Sleeping.  John Lennon loved it when the Beatles stumbled across the sound of recording tape played backwards.  For this song George Harrison worked out a solo over the song played backwards so that when it was flipped around, the song wouldbe normal but the guitar would be backwards.  Jimi Hendrix also did a lot of backwards guitar soloing in the studio.  Guitarist Bill Frisell made great use of his Electro Harmonix delay that could record and play a lick backwards, and his recordings made me want a backwards delay too. I regularly have a backwards delay quietly in the backround when I’m soloing for some ambiece that is less specific than a normal repeating delay. 

Wah Wah:  Eric Clapton (White Room) and Jimi Hendrix (Voodoo Child) were the first people I heard use a wah wah, but my favourite use of it is in funk and r&b.  The classic examples are the theme from Shaft, played by Charles “Skip” Pitts on the recording by Isaac Hayes.  Wah Wah Watson on Papa Was a Rolling Stone, as well as Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” (and a hundred other hits). 

I found a nice little video on the Wah Wah here: 

Fuzz:  I don’t fuzz as much as overdruve, but Gibson’s Maestro (originally marted to let you sound like a horn or cello) changed everything with Keith Richards’ part on Satisfaction.  I have an old Vox Tonebender but it’s a bit unruly so I have to pick my moments (as did the Beatles, Jeff Beck, and Brian May).  I think my favourite fuzz is generally the Fuzz Face found in the Jimi Hendrix catalogue,   There’s a nice 4 minute documentary here 

Overdrive:  The first overdrive pedal I had was the Boss one, but I got rid of it when I bought an Ibanex tubescreamer.  I have no idea why I got rid of it (since they are considered by many the gold standard of overdrive units) but I’ve subsequently used a variety including the Sparkle Drive that I used for while until I switched to the TC Electronics MOJO that I use now.  It has my initials in it, and rhymes with my old big band NOJO - and it sounds good too.  Every guitarist I know uses overdrive, but probably the ones that got my attention because of their overdrive tones are Stevie Ray Vaughan (he used the Ibanez tube screamer) and Jeff Beck (he’s used a Klon Centaur for a while.  They are collector’s items, but there are lots of imitations out there). 

Delay:  No discussion of delay should happen without acknowledging the inventive genius of Les Paul.  Check out his 1951 recording How High The Moon to here his tape echo (where the record and playback heads are used to create a delay)and lots of other tape echo/delay history here: (trivia note:  Bing Crosby gave Les Paul a tape machine brought back from Germany after World War 2 and funded the creation of the Ampex company). 

I was really intrigued with tape echo machines when I saw Jimmy Page use one in the movie The Song Remains The Same, but it was hearing Andy Summers use his Echoplex on “Walking On The Moon” that really made me want to get my first delay pedal (my brother Peter leant me his Boss Analog Delay until I bought my first Boss digital delay.  I never did own a tape echo, but the Line 6 Green box did a nice imitation). When I heard the early U2 records, I REALLY started to use a lot of delay (for the record, The Edge used a Electro Harmonix Memory Man Deluxe on the early U2 records).  Other delay users I was influenced by include David Gilmour, Charlie Burchill (Simple Minds), David Torn, and Radiohead. 


Chorus:  I don’t really use a lot chorus, mostly because I used one starting in the 80s and to me it just triggers too many 80s cliches!  But it’s been a big part of some great songs (Andy Summers remains my favourite user of the chorus pedal).  And I’ve used more extreme chorus sounds to sound a little whacky now and then, as John Scofield sometimes does.  Here’s a top ten list: 


Other Pedals.  One of the first pedals I had alongside overdrive was an MXR phaser.  It’s not a sound I really use anymore, as is the case with Flangers, but I do love a couple of other pedals/sounds I love and use a lot: 

Reverb:  Probably the most important sounds I use right now are in the Eventide Space Reverb, which is a great sounding pedal.  I use it almost continuously with an expression pedal, bringing in longer reverb or reverb volume as part of my playing.   And along with delay, reverb is how I create the mysterious atmospherics behind singers or soloists where the audience doesn’t exactly know what the sound is until they realize there’s only a guitarist on stage and no synths. 

Ring Modulator.  I didn’t think it was a pedal I’d use much until I heard Jeff Beck kick it in just for brief moments in a solo in a really intriguing way.  I will do some of that too, stating a phrase and then repeating it with ring mod, but I also have used it more and more to imitate a talking drum.  I love playing the drums (I’m not great, but I love it) and I love the idea of soloing like a drummer, so I more often use the ring modulator that way. 

Leslie Rotary Speaker:  A lot of people come up and ask me about my organ sound sometimes.  That’s the Leslie effect, and the Beatles were the first to use it for something other than organ (specifically John Lennon’s voice on Tomorrow Never Knows), and I loved hearing it on later George Harrison guitar parts or on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Cold Shot. 

Pitch Shifter/Octaver:  Jimi Hendrix was the first person I heard use the octaver pedal (the Octavio which Jim Dunlop made a copy pedal of), and Jimi Page used the MXR Blue Fuzz/Octave on “Fool In The Rain” 

but became intrigued with more sophisticated digital harmonizers in the 90s.  Tom Morello really made the Whammy Pedal popular, and I will use a pitch shifter for octaves or to sweep like the whammy pedal does. 

Tremolo Pedal:  I had an old Fender Deluxe where the tremolo (or vibrato) was taken out, so I had to use a pedal.  But I love the sound of tremolo and people like Bruce Cockburn or Marc Ribot use it in a way that I love. 

MY GEAR:  I tend to be pretty faithful to one or two guitars at a time, and these days they are both Ernie Ball Music Man guitars, and funnily enough both are discontinued!  I spend most of my time playing the Reflex model (it has evolved into the Game Changer with an entirely different pickup structure), but I also frequently use an Albert Lee model with 3 MM90 (P90 style) pickups (the guitar is now only made with either Strat style single coil pickups or two humbuckers).  Both of them are set up with Ernie Ball strings (11’s or the purple set).   My main acoustic guitar is a wonderful Taylor 422 steel string. 

My amp is made in Toronto by my friend Peter Medvick's Funk Farm.  All of his amps are one of a kind in some way, tailored to the musicians who request them (which is why mine is called the MO Twin 25).  Mine is an all-tube stereo head with 2 25-watt channels, and I run it with two 12" cabinets that Peter built. 

Prior to that, and on the road, I request two matching Fender tube amps (typically Vintage style Deluxes). 

For effects I'm most reliant on my Eventide Space reverb, TC Electronics MOJO overdrive, and Line 6's HD 500 (which I bought to replace the green, blue, and purple Line 6 boxes I used to lug around (I also got rid of my Evantide Delay as I didn’t find it “live” friendly, though the sounds are great), along with a few other pedals).  I don't really like the Line 6 distortions or reverbs, and I don't use the amp modelling part of the unit at all.  I sometimes use a volume pedal, but generally I find I'm more expressive using the volume knob on the guitar (thanks to Jeff Beck). 

I've shared some excerpts from different albums that are examples of different sounds I use on the gear page