Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Here's the Pitch...

'Straight shooting' Winnipeg talent buyer is a big player in the casino entertainment world, but he's flying under the radar in his home town

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In a nondescript office tucked behind the bowling alley on Academy Road, Winnipeg talent buyer Howard Pitch is on the phone with wild-man rocker Vince Neil's New York agent.

Pitch is putting the finishing touches on a deal that will see the Motley Crue lead singer do a handful of solo casino gigs in Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Iowa.

Does rock's resident party animal need a pair of hookers to entertain him after the concert? A few lines of cocaine to jolt him awake? A mickey of Jack Daniels to mellow him out?

Sorry to disappoint. This is not Pitch's purview. Even if it were, the founder and president of Howard Pitch Entertainment, one of Winnipeg's best-kept showbiz secrets, is not the kind to traffic in the industry's seedier side.

With a wife at home in Tuxedo and four sons under 14, Pitch wants to build a reputation -- and his client base -- based on ethics, honesty and family values.

"It sounds corny, but I believe in God and doing good in the world," says Pitch, a dapper 48-year-old former accountant who relocated his business here from Nashville in 2002.

"If I do what is right, I know rewards will follow."

Call him the anti-Ari Gold. But unlike the outrageous agency boss in TV's Entourage, or even Winnipeg super agent Gilles Paquin, Pitch does not represent entertainers themselves.

As a talent buyer, he works for the venues. They hire him to get the best deals from the best acts he can locate.

Most of his clients are gambling casinos, the majority of those Native American-run ones in the U.S. Midwest. But he's branching out into Canada and he also does a fair amount of work for corporate events.

Among the hundreds of acts he has booked are Paris Hilton, Bill Cosby, Jeff Foxworthy, Alice Cooper, Julio Iglesias, Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson.

He often engages performers for mini-tours of several casinos, so everyone benefits from economies of scale.

He manages a Las Vegas-based Elvis tribute act and an ersatz Cirque du Soleil acrobatic act called Cirque le Masque. He recently signed a contract to represent the American psychic Sylvia Browne, whose middle-aged female fan base is the prime demographic for casinos.

"I've been flying under the radar here," Pitch says. "I haven't met that many people in the business community."

Pitch has booked a few acts, such as America, Glen Campbell and Kenny G, for the Manitoba Lotteries Commission's Club Regent and McPhillips Station Casino. He has also worked with the MTS Centre on such shows as the Doobie Brothers and the Beach Boys.

"Howard is definitely a legit player and he has a unique business established in Winnipeg," says MTS Centre senior vice-president Kevin Donnelly.

"He always delivers. I like to use the guy who's fighting the fight and trying to stay in business in area code 204."

Patrick Packineau, the chief operating officer of the Four Bears Casino & Lodge in New Town, N.D., calls Pitch "a straight shooter."

"He has an excellent knowledge of the entertainment business," Packineau says. "He knows what our clientele likes."

Though he was born in Winnipeg, Pitch grew up in Beverly Hills, Calif. His father, Earl, an accountant, moved the family there for a business opportunity when Howard, the youngest of three, was six.

"Howard spent his high school years at the real 90210 school," Donnelly says.

"When we attend the same conference in L.A., we go for a jog... and he shows me where he used to play sandlot baseball with Gene Hackman's son and where Cher and Gregg Allman used to live."

Pitch's parents moved back to Winnipeg when Howard was 18. Still too young to stay on his own, he came with them and took a commerce degree at the University of Manitoba.

Soon after he met his wife, the former Nancy Juravsky, a nurse who also has an MBA. He had been employed here as an accountant, when he decided to follow the dream of every good upper-middle-class Jewish son -- to become a rock 'n' roll drummer like his idols Kenny Aronoff and Ringo Starr.

At age 28, he was admitted to the music faculty at Wichita State University in Kansas. There, he began booking and managing a steel-drum band and found he had a better knack for that end of the business.

This led to an opportunity in 1994 for him to go to work for a talent agency in Nashville. Pitch worked there for several years. He eventually hung out his own shingle and was doing just fine.

But by this time he and Nancy had three boys and they missed the security and love of their extended families back home.

"I remember having an epiphany," Pitch says. "I realized that in the global economy, as long as you have an Internet connection, you can work from anywhere."

He has also learned that to be happy and successful, you must enjoy what you do.

"I was a terrible accountant," he says. "I didn't have the passion for it."

In fact, he may be the only Tuxedo father of four boys who dreams of neither a law firm nor a medical clinic.

"I'm already planning the rock band,"

he says, "and which one plays guitar and

which one plays drums."

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2010 D1

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