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Jon Butcher

Singer-Songwriter Q&A

How old were you when you started playing guitar?

I started at 6 years old.

What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?

My first guitar was a Mickey Mouse toy guitar. My first real guitar was the infamous Silvertone 1457, the guitar+amp+guitar case combination sold by Sears & Roebuck. I wish I still had it, but I do have a picture of me with it!

Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?

My Father was a piano player in bands in his youth but had given it up by the time I came around.

Jon with his dad.

What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?

Though I have and have had dozens of guitars in my life my fav electric guitars are Fender, specifically the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster. As for acoustic guitars I’m pretty much a Martin guy though again, I do own others. The ‘why’ is a little ambiguous but completely on point--they fit me the best.

What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?

I change my electric guitar strings (.009-.042) before every performance. Acoustic guitars don’t get their strings (bronze medium) changed with the same frequency. I’ve been using D’Addario acoustic and electric strings exclusively for about the last 10 yrs.

Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?

I use medium gauge picks, any brand will do.

Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?

This topic is itself grist for an entirely separate conversation! I have dozens of guitar effects pedals at my studio, from wahs to delay to reverb to fuzz to tremolo and beyond. I choose them depending on the situation at hand--live, studio etc. The thing is all have their place, their own particular signature which make them useful for one piece of music or another. I don’t have ‘favorites’ in the same way a canvas artist may not have favorite colors. All of them have their application depending on the situation.

Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?

While I do minor adjustments and tweaking myself I would strongly recommend Gabe Viani at Independent Luthiery Salem, MA for any serious luthiery. I’ve been taking my guitars to Gabe for decades.

Gabriel Viani, Independent Luthiery.

Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?

I used to have many favorite guitar shops around the country but many of them have shut down over the years. For acoustic guitars in the Boston area it would be tough to beat The Music Emporium for their wide selection. I’d also recommend Mr. Music in Allston, MA for an all around music stop.

At what age did you start writing songs?

Probably in junior high school, around the time I began noticing girls while they weren’t noticing me.

What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?

If I’m writing lyrics there’s no better place than behind the wheel my car. I use a small handheld recording device to capture ideas I don’t want to lose. There’s something about motion that spikes creativity. In terms of which comes first, lyrics or music, I’d say it’s happened in both directions more often than not.

The Walkman Pro that Jon used to write Wishes.

Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?

That’s both easy and way hard as I’ve picked up things from so many musicians who came before me that I couldn’t narrow down to three--Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, Richie Havens, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley, Ry Cooder. But when I think of just guitar players there are three who come to mind--Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, BB King.

If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

Jeff Beck. There are few others whose clarity and creative dimension on the instrument is as easily trackable in their career as Beck. For me personally it would be hard to choose between Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck for a jam. With either I come out of the jam having learned from masters.

Jon with Jeff Beck, mid-1980's.

What are your top three “desert island” albums?

Blow By Blow by Jeff Beck, Electric Ladyland by Hendrix, Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles.

What was the first concert you attended?

The Jimi Hendrix Experience at The Spectrum in Philadelphia.

What was the last concert you attended?

That wasn’t my own? Tedeschi Trucks Band.

The Beatles or the Stones?

Argh, arghhh! I have to choose?? Beatles. Their song catalog cannot be matched.

Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?

The YMCA in Berwyn, PA. I was in high school and I made abut $75. I couldn’t believe my luck.

What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

Impossible to say, I’m still running (lol)! Up there though are a few which stand out--performing the National Anthem on guitar for 42,000 people at Fenway Park in Boston was certainly one. Opening up for the legendary J. Geils Band at the Boston Garden was another.

Jon with The J. Geils Band in 1982.

What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?

The Majestic Theater in Dallas, TX. The legendary Antone's in Austin, TX is certainly one, due mostly to its rich history and gravitas. The Cabot Theater in Beverly, MA and the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA are my local favs. The Cabot is run by folks who know and love what they do, and it’s reflected in every part of the venue and acts they bring in. Great sound, a great experience for the audience. And how you’re treated while you’re there. These are the qualities all touring musicians appreciate.

How do you work out your setlist?

I almost always meticulously work out a song order, and almost always disregard it once the show starts!

Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?

No not really. I was about to say I wish someone had told me how hard the music business would be sometimes. But the truth is that struggle is reflected in your music, your catalogue of experiences. I don’t believe you write great songs purely out of your imagination. I believe you pay for them from your experiences. There’s a trackable relationship between hard times and great songs.

Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?

Yes! Stop playing in your box! As guitar players we tend to construct our ‘boxes’, ie., phrases, practice methods, riffs that are comfortable and familiar to us. The best medicine for rut-ism is to get out of your box. Stop practicing in the ways you often do. Quit playing those riffs and begin trying music styles you’re not especially good at--jazz if you’re a rocker, blues if you’re a classical guitarist and so on. We all get stuck in our boxes from time to time, break out!

If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?

Hmm, I honestly can’t say. Though I certainly have other interests--film, astronomy, film music, American history, I don’t have any other driving passions, any other irresistible compulsions. I don’t do music, I am music. I feel it as the fabric which makes up the ‘me’, the who I am as a human being walking the Earth. It’s hard for me to imagine another version of myself. I’m convinced I was a musician from the day I was born, but it took the first six years to get a guitar in my hands (lol)!

Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.

Jon's website:

Photo credit: Laurinda Butcher

Jon and I at The District Center for the Arts - March 17, 2023


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