What is the best show you have ever seen? This is the most frequent question people have been asking me since I began doing live music performance coaching. But it is impossible to answer. There are way too many.
However, here’s a look at how I came to do this. It all starts with three concerts, followed by an eclectic journey between music, theatre and communications.
Summer 1978 – A chorus to remember
It is the summer of 1978. A big park in Quebec City. I am 6 years old. Perched on my father’s shoulders, I clap my hands along with everyone around me, singing “L’arbre est dans ses feuilles, marilon, marilé.” Zachary Richard is on stage and hundreds of spectators are singing in unison, trying not to mix up the lyrics. “L’oiseau est dans l’œuf, l’œuf est dans le nid, le nid est dans le trou, le trou est dans le nœud, le nœud est dans la branche, la branche est dans l’arbre…”. More than 40 years have passed since that evening, and I still remember the festive atmosphere of that magical moment.
Zachary Richard was then 27 years old; he was a young singer-songwriter fresh out of Louisiana storming the Quebec music scene. Today, he is a prominent figure of French-language music. I am convinced that his unique way of interacting with audiences using his Russian nesting doll type chorus has contributed significantly to building such an outstanding career.
My older sister, her records, and my first rock concert
It was 1983 and I was in sixth grade, in a Catholic school run by nuns
I was eleven years old and my 17-year-old sister was, to me, an inexhaustible source of pop culture. She had an impressive record collection featuring Queen, Bob Marley, The Police, David Bowie, Peter Tosh, Frank Zappa, the Stones, Marvin Gaye and many others.
She’s the one who passed on to me the love of music. To me, she embodied the word “cool”. For Christmas, she gave me the greatest gift I ever received: a concert ticket. A few weeks after Christmas, on January 12, 1983, she and her boyfriend took me to the Colisée de Quebec to see Kiss live on their “Creatures of the Night” tour. I WENT NUTS!
In 1983, Quebec was not yet as secular as it is today, and some Christian organizations expressed their disagreement with the American “satanic” quartet coming to town. Before the show, Daniel Bouchard, a very pious man who was then a goaltender for the Quebec Nordiques, sneaked into the Coliseum and put six bibles under the stage.
On that evening, as we got to the venue, I felt like I was entering a terrifying yet enticing world. The costumes, the lighting, the scenography, the drums mounted on a tank equipped with a fire-breathing cannon, the loudspeakers exploding… everything was overwhelming. For the first time, I got to experience subversive rock. I walked out of the show with my fist in the air, loudly singing the chorus of Rock & Roll All Night in the cold darkness of January.
The next day on the playground, I strutted my stuff, proud to show off my new rock & roll attitude. I told everyone that I couldn’t hear them because my ears were still ringing from last night’s concert. That morning, I felt like I had gone from being an insecure little boy wearing glasses to a superstar in my elementary school. I defied Catholic authority and dared to commune with Satan’s minions. I was a new man.
That first rock show I saw in January 1983 gave me the self-confidence that I badly needed at 11.
A teenager in search of identity
In the mid-80’s, hard rock bands like Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot reigned supreme in Quebec City. At least, that was my perception at the time. French Quebecois music had lost some of its popularity after the sovereignist party’s defeat in the first referendum. Only a few nostalgic hippies still strum twelve-string guitars on the Plains of Abraham. A few black-clad outcasts bought imported European albums from Vinyle record store on rue Saint-Jean: Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxie & The Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus and Trisomie 21. Those guys were the type that danced face against the wall at the underground bar called L’Ombre Jaune. In those days, it seemed like everyone had an older brother who force-fed them progressive rock: Genesis, Gentle Giants, Jethro Tull and Rush. Cute girls who attended private schools listened to Duran Duran. At the time, I was having a hard time identifying with Quebec City’s omnipresent metal and progressive rock. The somewhat gothic Dark Wave’s sinister vibe seemed depressing to me, and I didn’t wear a poncho either, so I sided with the Duran Duran (and cute girls) group.
It was the summer of 1985, and I was 13 years old. I played tenor sax in my school band for two years and electric bass in my parent’s basement for one month. Every time I told someone that I played the bass, they inevitably asked me if I could play Rush’s YYZ. That was the required piece if you wanted to call yourself a bassist. Maybe that’s why I never liked Rush. In addition to beginning on bass, I was also starting to have a bit of a cultural identity crisis. I was a half-black guy in an almost all-white town where everyone listened to the whitest of music. I didn’t identify with any of the bands listed above. I just listen to them because they surrounded me.
Then one day, I heard The Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting’s first solo album. He had just left The Police and formed a killer band with seasoned African American jazz musicians Omar Hakim (drums), Kenny Kirkland (piano), Branford Marsalis (sax) and backup singers Dollette McDonald and Janice Pendarvis. Covering the low-end was the man who became my idol, the answer to all those who used to bust my balls with Geddy Lee: the great bassist Darryl Jones.
Bring On The Night, a live recording and documentary about the Dream of the Blue Turtles tour. I’ve listened to this album thousands of times. The opening track, Bring On The Night/When The World Is Running Down You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around, is to this day, for me, an example of perfect musical arrangements for the stage. 11 minutes 41 seconds of pure pleasure.
On February 10, 1988, I was at the Colisée de Québec, on second row on the floor. The show began as Sting took the stage with his band to bring us his extraordinary blend of sounds delivered by world-class players. Rock, reggae, blues, jazz, pop… this music was tailor-made for me. Finally, I recognized myself in what reached my eyes and ears. In the years that followed, I immersed myself in jazz music to better understand the magic of that night.
Montréal, music, theatre,
television and other winding detours...
In 1991, I left Quebec City and moved to Montreal to enroll in the Film Studies program at Concordia University. I had played in one or two garage bands in Quebec City, but I began my journey as a musician in Montreal. I lived downtown, not far from the Latin Quarter and spent my evenings in bars where all of Quebec’s bluesmen performed.
In 1992, I joined local groups and together, we made our debut on stage in front of a faithful audience of friends who were forced to come and listen to us.
In 1995, I moved from Montreal to Sainte-Thérèse, where I enrolled in the Theatre program at Collège Lionel-Groulx. As an actor with limited talent, I spent only one year there, but I learned many things about the art of being on stage.
By the late ’90s, one thing leading to another, I joined several bands in Montreal and dabbled in many music styles: disco, blues, rock, latin, klezmer, gypsy, jazz, country... I shared the stage with many artists (some good, some not so good) and I learned a lot from them.
In 2000, I got a phone call to replace Jean Leloup’s bassist at short notice for three concerts. Three memorable days where I was able to closely observe a genuine master at work.
In 2002, a new chapter in my professional life opened up when I was asked to host a series of TV shows about travel. For over ten years, I spent my time between my music and my television careers, working for Canal Évasion, Télé-Québec and TV5. These experiences taught me a lot about communication and screen presence.
From 2006 to 2012, I tried my luck as a singer-songwriter and did surprisingly well, considering I was not the best composer or songwriter, and definitely not the best vocalist. I managed to do well by preparing my shows meticulously. From interventions to arrangements and transitions, everything was thought out to ensure that the audience was entertained. In 2007, I won the prize for best singer-songwriter at the Festival de la Chanson de St-Ambroise in Saguenay.
I was later invited to take part in the Sily d’Or, and got a gig at Montreal’s Festival Nuits d’Afrique in the summer of 2009, where I was able to share my own brand of eclectic music on a large outdoor stage at Parc Émilie-Gamelin.
That same year, I had the honour of accompanying Ginette Reno on her Quebec tour. She is by far the most impressive artist I have had the pleasure of playing with.
In 2012, after over a hundred shows, I quit pushing my career as a singer-songwriter.
From 2010 to 2014, I worked at Patro Vys, a small independent venue in Montreal. There, I was able to see the best (and the worst) of Montreal’s indie bands. I saw a local scene full of gifted artists whose performances often did not match their talent. This is where the idea of dedicating myself to coaching musicians was born.
From 2018 to 2021, I worked as a booking agent at Zinc Productions. It allowed me to better understand the needs of event and festival promoters as I attended professional music conferences (RIDEAU, ROSEQ, Phoque OFF, Pop Montreal, Canadian Music Week). I understood how important it was for artists to be well prepared in order to stand out in this very competitive market.
I had been thinking for a long time about the idea of doing stage coaching. I took the time to study various methods and discovered the secrets to create memorable shows. I reviewed all the approaches I had learned as a bassist, actor and TV host. I don’t claim I know all the tricks of the trade, but I’ve certainly spent more time thinking about them than most people.
In 2018, I took the plunge and started coaching bands. The results were immediate, and many of them have been calling on me regularly to get an honest outside look and practical advice to deliver better shows. In short, I pimp shows.
When I look back and think about Zachary Richard, Kiss and Sting, about my sister’s record collection, the jobs I’ve had and the artists I’ve played with, I am thankful for having had all these experiences. Today, I am pleased to pass this knowledge onto others.