December 8, 1980 – John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940 at Liverpool’s Oxford Hospital. His father Alfred abandoned him and his mother Julia when John was three years old. Shortly thereafter, Julia gave up custody of John to her sister Mimi and her husband George, who then would raise him. As he entered his teens it became clear that John had a higher intellect than others his age. He hated school but was part of the school’s newspaper staff and he would contribute to it with his own illustrated short stories. Those short stories showed off just some of his emerging talent.
He also had a love for music. As a child he had learned how to play the harmonica from his Uncle George. In the early ’50s, the new sound of rock ‘n roll was taking over and he decided he wanted to be a part of it. After talking his Aunt Mimi into buying him a guitar, John taught himself how to play it after applying the banjo chords his mother had previously showed him. His interest in the guitar took over everything else in his life. In 1955, at the age of 15, he formed his own band and called them The Quarryman, named after the school he attended. It was in this band that he would meet Paul McCartney and George Harrison and the Beatles would form from it. Continue reading John Lennon 12/1980
September 25, 1980 – John Henry “Bonzo, The Beast” Bonham was a natural phenomenon on the drums. All the accolades surrounding this man’s drumming point at one thing: He was and probably forever will be the best rock drummer of all time. Hard to accept that Vodka killed him; well 40 shots of the stuff made him vomit and then choke and did not only end his life, but also the best Rock Band that ever existed: Led Zeppelin.
Born in Redditch, UK on May 31, 1948, he started to learn drumming at the age of 5 and in 1964, he joined his first semi-professional band, Terry Webb and the Spiders. He also played in other Birmingham bands, The Nicky James Movement and The Senators, who released a fairly successful single “She’s a Mod,” in 1964. John then took up drumming full-time. Two years later, he joined A Way of Life, before he joined a blues group called Crawling King Snakes, whose lead singer was a young Robert Plant. Continue reading John Bonham 9/1980
August 20, 1980 – Joseph Ira “Joe” Dassin was born on November 5, 1938 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a violinist Beatrice, called Bea, who works with the best classical musicians such as Pablo Casals, and father, Jules Dassin, who after a short stage career, becomes Alfred Hitchcock’s associate director and a film director at last. In 1940 his father, seduced by the seventh art, decides to move to Los Angeles. The mysterious Los Angeles of the MGM studios and the Pacific Coast beaches. In this American city, where East meets West, Joe lives a happy teenager’s life till the day when…the world turns upside down. Along with the end of the World War II and Yalta agreements the world has to put up with the consequences of the “Cold War”.
East and West face each other: the USA against USSR, capitalism against socialism. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin opens and leads his witch-hunt against people suspected of sympathizing with communism. Jules Dassin, who has already won some fame, is also under suspicion. Soon, he is accused of “Moscow-liking”. This means the end of sweet Hollywood life and exile for the Dassin family.By the end of 1949 a transatlantic liner leaves the New York harbor heading for Europe. Joe is watching his native land disappear in the morning mist and the liner’s smoke. From this time on, he won’t call any country home.
Joe discovers the Old Europe at the age of 12. This is 1950 and the old continent is under total re-construction. The Marshall Plan and ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) make front-page stories. While Jules and Bea are settling in Paris, Joe is sent to a boarding school of a famous Col-lege Rosey in Switzerland. The establishment is chic and very expensive. In spite of the exile the money doesn’t seem to be a big problem to the Dassins. There Joe makes acquaintance with Karim Aga Khan and the rich European heirs.
Meanwhile, the educational establishments follow one another. 1951: Joe is in Italy. 1953: he at-tends the International School in Geneva. In 1954 this latter sends him to Grenoble to pass his “baccalaureat” exam and get a bachelor’s degree, for this kind of diploma doesn’t exist in Switzer-land. By this time Joe is 16 and he is a very handsome guy with a winsome look in his eyes. He speaks three languages fluently and gets a good (excellent) mark for his “bac” exam.
In 1955, Joe’s parents get divorced. The film-maker continues his career with a new companion, the Greek actress Melina Mercouri, while the violinist prefers, from this time on, to keep in the back-ground. Joe takes the failure of his parents’ family life close to heart and decides to return to his hearth and home of America. So, he comes back to the USA where, at that time, the standards of the university education were second to none. As Joe gets enrolled in the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Elvis Presley starts his crusade for Rock’n’Roll. Joe doesn’t seem to be really im-pressed by this musical style. Being an earnest and diligent student, Dassin Jr. is far from black shirts, people indulging in pointless rebellion and the American Graffiti “live”. At first he tries to study medical science but experimenting with animals and dissection is more than he can endure, so Joe focuses on Anthropology and Russian language studies. Very concerned to speak fluently many languages, Dassin lives with his two French-speaking buddies, a French, Alain Guiraud and a Swiss, soon-to-be dean of one of the faculties of Geneva University. Quite often Alain and Joe make some changes in their usual time-table… Armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar, while America gets “electrified”, having neither leather jackets nor pomaded haircuts a la mode, the two friends sing in duet, standing on the double ladder so that the audience can see them better. Their repertoire includes neither Elvis Presley nor Eddie Cochran but Brassens. In the atmosphere of gen-eral affectation the French-singing duet assure their Folk “a la francaise” some kind of a promotion and is the first ever to export the poetry of Brassens to the American campuses. These recitals bring them some bottom dollars but it has more of a money spinning side-line than a regular job and Joe has to work. No problem. In an America of “affluent society” of J.K.Galbraith all young Americans make different “student jobs”. During six years of studies Joe takes turns working as a sociologist, a delivery man, a truck driver… Meanwhile, our A student finds some spare time to write a story – “Wade In Water” – which received the second national award. A painful omen: he is declared unfit for military service because of cardiac problems.
While Joe is studying hard at the University, his father gains authority throughout the world and becomes the Great Jules Dassin. In 1958, he asks Joe to record some themes for his next movie – “La Loi” (The Law) starring Gina Lollobrigida and featuring a marvelous tarantella. Dassin Jr. re-leases an EP at Versailles label in 1959. Then, in 1960, comes “Never On Sunday” (Jamais le di-manche) with its astonishing sound track and, especially, the song “Les Enfants du Piree” (The Children Of Piree) performed by Melina Mercouri. Joe graduates from the University and gets Doc-tor’s degree in Anthropology while the 60s take full speed. The Rock’n’Roll has already conquered America and is on the way to charming the Old Europe.
Diploma in the pocket, Joe has to decide his own future. And this is not an easy thing to do for a man who is an artist like his parents but not a daydreamer. Somehow he guesses that his future is on the other side of the Atlantic, in the good old Europe of his adolescent years. $300 in the pocket, Joe boards a ship which takes him to Italy. He travels first class: in the hold of a cargo. It is 1962 and Joe is 24. As he still does not feel like finding himself a regular job, his father hires him as an asso-ciate director of “Topkapi”, Jules’ second great movie. The world media are delighted to show the father and his son on the same set, and unveil Joe’s unshaven oriental face. Easy come easy go, and Joe spends his fee on a little Triumph. Just after that he starts to perform at the Radio Luxembourg and becomes a journalist for Playboy, while the French ye-ye is in its prime.
December 13, 1963 radically changes Joe’s private life. At one of the many parties organized by Eddy Barclay he meets a girl. The pretext of this “party” is the French release of Stanley Cramer’s movie “This Crazy, Crazy, Crazy World”. Surrounded by the imposing architectural beauty of the Pavillon d’Armenonville, Joe is equally impressed by girl’s charm and personality. Her name is Maryse. None of them suspects their ten-years long romance that will follow. A few days after the Pavillon party, Joe invites Maryse Massiera for a week-end to Moulin de Poincy, some 40 km from Paris. His aim is clear – to seduce her by all possible means. In the intimacy of the room with burn-ing fireplace he sings her “Freight Train”, accompanying himself on a guitar. He knows very well that the combination of his vocal cords and those of his guitar is irresistible. His devilishly tender plan works out perfectly and she falls into his arms… After this week-end out of time, the two lov-ers live up in the clouds till the end of the year.
From January 6, 1964, feeling determined the young couple starts to make plans. By the end of the month the idea of engagement, or even wedding, is in the air. Joe and Maryse settle in Saint-Cloud, at Bea’s place. The solution is temporary but the two lovers don’t put such difficult questions. Joe writes stories for the magazines and this let him get by for a moment. And even invite Maryse for a few days of skiing to Zermatt, Switzerland, in February. On their coming back, the couple becomes aware of reality and has to solve the apartment question. They accumulate their money and spend the spring of 1964 looking for a new lodging. Like all Americans, Joe is fond of St.Germain-des-Pres. He chooses Boulevard Raspail. The house is situated in front of the American center but a lit-tle three-room is far from Joe’s dreams… Whatever, this is his first apartment shared with a beloved woman. Inspired by his new role of a “family man”, Joe spends half a summer repairing their love nest. Determined to become a real head of family, he redoubles his efforts. In order to get some more money, he dubs American movies and writes articles for Playboy and The New Yorker. He even plays a part in Trefle Rouge (The Hop-clover) and Lady L. Between the two movies Joe gets a job of a stage manager for Clive Donner in What’s New Pussycat? His guitar is still his passion, his evening pleasure. Maryse shares with him these precious moments of musical emotion. Apparently, Joe is not going to bring his hobby into profit but nobody suspects what the future keeps in store…
Maryse has a friend, her former classmate, Catherine Regnier. While in boarding school, the two girls always shared their joys and sorrows. In this same 1964 a US record company which has recently established its subsidiary in France engaged Catherine as a secretary. Its rather shabby-looking office is situated on 42, rue Paradis, in the Xth district. The Columbia Broadcasting System more known as CBS distributes the discs of such American artists as Barbara Streisand. Catherine often speaks about songs and records, and Maryse has an idea. Joe’s 26th birthday is on November 5 and she is going to offer him a disc. As a gift. With the help from Catherine, who knows a man charged with transferring the sound from magnetic tape on vynil surface, Maryse intends to release a one-copy “supple”, so that she can easily listen to the voice of her beloved man singing “Freight Train”…
They make an appointment with the CBS staff. One October day, the precious magnetic tape in her hand, Maryse penetrates into the CBS office, which is nothing but an old apartment on the last – fourth – floor of a house with leaking roof. One of the brightest ever careers of French showbiz is decided in a room where every little rain makes appear a whole army of basins. Maryse meets Cath-erine, who promises to record the disc by the beginning of November. As soon as Maryse leaves, the little staff of CBS France, more used to listen to the American products than to young French-speaking singers, grabs the tape from the shelf in order to have a little fun in the end of a boring working day. But soon the fun gives place to deep reflection. The singer’s voice is deep and pleas-ant, and his phenomenal sense of rhythm is evident. Will it sell? And what if CBS France will es-tablish its own record catalog instead of trying to sell the American stars? The gift record is made and Catherine is charged with persuading Joe to meet the CBS France team. As it has to be a (good) surprise for him, Joe still knows nothing about it. But this birthday “surprise” sets him in a bad hu-mor. Especially when he finds out that the tape fell into hands of a record company which would truly like to meet him for some business reasons. Needless to say that Catherine’s proposition to see the CBS staff about his possible career of a singer is firmly refused. Joe will never become a singer. But it has to be something more than that to discourage Catherine who believes in Joe’s talent. She repeats her assault five times, ten times and… finally manages to convince him. Not too much, in-deed, just a little record, kind of a trial balloon… Two months of a siege gain the upper hand over the young rebel and a few days before Christmas the fortress surrenders. Joe puts his John Hancock on what is the very first contract with a French singer in the long history of the CBS record com-pany.
On December 26 , Joe is in the CBS recording studio. Oswald d’Andrea conducts the orchestra. They record four tunes for a glossy jacketed EP. There are inevitable adaptations and two originals written by Jean-Michel Rivat and Frank Thomas. The two young talented songwriters side Joe in the beginning of his legendary career. But, to tell the truth, the EP is a slapdash piece of work and Joe has difficulty believing in his “lucky star”.
And he is quite right. The 1000 copies of the disc are barely selling. Radio stations which played a crucial role in disc promotions at that time, showed very little enthusiasm, and it in no way encouraged the CBS to action. Monique Le Marcis from the Radio Luxembourg and Lucien Leibovitz from the Europe Un are the only DJs to include Joe’s songs to their play lists. Almost at once they felt this great potential that Joe seemed to have. The spirits are especially low in March and April. But Joe who was reluctant to start career of a singer some months ago, now little by little gets sucked into the game. He refuses to accept the flop and seeks recognition as a performer. So, he decides to get everything started over again with the CBS. From May 7 till 14, Joe returns to the recording studio with the same Oswald d’Andrea. Three recording sessions bring four songs – all cover versions – for the second EP (Extended Play). Having been published in June, the disc is released in 2000 copies. These latter are launched to the market as the promo record is sent to the radio stations in July. But nothing happens, the summer hit belongs to the others. Two successive failures push Joe to fully concentrate on his future career. He runs from publisher to publisher looking for cover versions for his third try which has to be good. By the end of the summer he gets “his” hit, “Shame And Scandal In The Family”, an all-American success, the French version of which he proposes to create. The CBS director has his doubts… Too late! Sacha Distel who has just signed a contract with Pathe-Marconi is in need of musical material and records the song. The Surfs, who are also looking for the second blow with the Festival Recording Company, do the same… As a result, both are a huge success and Joe, enraged, threatens to change the recording company. Joe’s results are poor, but the CBS France does not achieve what was expected from it by the CBS-USA, either. So, the New York direction decides to appoint a new chief of the French subsidiary. Jacques Souplet, chosen to fill the vacancy, used to work for Barclay. His first decision spells death to the existence of the office on rue Paradis. The organisation, which will later on become one of the biggest French recording labels, settles in a mansion in district XVI, 3, rue Freycinet. Joe decides to watch how this new team that promised him to take care of his career is getting on. The new recording session is scheduled for October 21 and 22. Joe knows that it will be either sink or swim. Either the disc is a success or a failure – in any case something has to be done. On his third EP Joe rounded up the best cover versions he had ever expected to get. At those times the publishers kept their best tunes for the stars such as Johnny and Cloclo. Joe and other newcomers had to be contented with what was left. Rivat writes French lyrics for two Cuban songs popular in English-speaking countries at that time. Soon after the recording sessions, from November 5 till 9, they release 4000 copies of the EP followed, by 1300 promos on November 19. And, thank God, the radio stations give it a warm welcome. About 25000 copies are sold. Even if Nana Mouskouri and Les Compagnons de la Chanson who also work under the CBS trademark have better sales figures with their versions of “Guantanamera”, the success of the other tune – “Bip-Bip” – belongs solely to Joe. It doesn’t even matter that Joe is more often heard on the radio than in the music stores. So, a gigantic step has just been made: Joe’s name has become known. Jacques Souplet fills out the CBS stable, signs new contracts and doesn’t have any spare time to take care of Dassin. But he realizes that this latter needs a good producer, someone who could “manage” him, give him advice. And Jacques seems to have an idea… There is a genius of a producer who has recently freed himself from a contract. Even more, it looks as if he were Joe’s kindred spirit. Like Joe, he is fond of jazz, he studied law and he knows America and the Americans quite well. As for his professional skills, he had released the first French discs of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, he had worked for Pathe with Aznavour and had launched in France the Capitol trademark before he became the artistic director of Hallyday and Gainsbourg at Philips. After all, he was the first ever independent producer at Philips and “made” Sheila with Claude Carrere. From September 13 his contract with the latter expired and he is free. It would be a shame to waste such a chance. Souplet knows that Jacques Plait is a man of situation. The only thing left is to persuade him to take charge of the process. Two Jacques meet and agree on a possibility of an independent production at CBS for Plait. Everything is all right but one thing… Plait has to find common ground with Dassin. A “business lunch” is fixed for the end of the year. Being a professional Plait is really worried to meet one more “father’s son”. Dassin fears the worst and cannot imagine being managed by anyone. On December 31, during the historical lunch with cheese and coffee the decision is made. Not without some natural rebuking movements from each contracting party. Anyway, Plait explains, Dassin listens, Souplet freely enjoys the process. The common ground is found. And the history is being made. After lunch, Jacques Plait, coming back to Sceaux, drops Joe at his place on Boulevard Raspail.
They seal the contract with a handshake and a smile. And there will be no other.
Joe seems to get himself into another fix – Maryse drags him into marriage. The ceremony is scheduled for January 18 and will take place in the courthouse of the XIV district. But even if Joe accepts to set it up, he does not wish to see any friends or relatives at his wedding. The collapse of his parents’ marriage is still fresh in his mind. The passage to the courthouse is barred even for Catherine Regnier. Grumpy and touchy this same morning, on his way to the courthouse Joe runs into his friend and “parolier” (lyrics writer) Jean-Michel Rivat. This latter asks his pal where he is going. When Joe announces the news, Rivat cannot believe his ears and decides to join him. In the most intimate of atmospheres Joe says good-bye to his bachelor’s life. Then follows the wedding party in a Russian restaurant where Joe ends dead drunk under the table. Joe Dassin is married. Soon Jacques Plait shows up. Now it is necessary to select good songs, to write cover versions, to find the musicians and a studio… For the time of the studios integrated in the record companies and the musicians-employees is over. Joe starts to work with the man whom he soon baptizes Jacquot. The following process means a lot of work and very little sleep. After some weeks of searching the tandem is positively seduced by four Anglo-Saxon tunes one of which – “You Were On My Mind” – is American. The cover versions are made by Rivat who writes French lyrics for “Comme la lune”, as well as by the best French paroliers. One of them – Andre Salvet – adapts “The Cheater” which becomes, on Joe’s request, “Le tricheur”. But great music and good lyrics are not enough, Jacques Plait knows that nothing should be let slide. Claude Francois and Richard Anthony work in London, so Joe Dassin also must go to London for recording sessions, says Jacques to himself not really believing in this audacious thought. To tell the truth, Joe hasn’t shown his potential yet. Plait contacts Souplet who gives a go to the idea. Undoubtedly, the CBS protege enjoys his company’s confidence…
But the problems are far from being over. Jacques Plait has to find an orchestra conductor acting simultaneously as an arranger. Plait is offered three names and three telephone numbers. He makes calls – the first man is absent, the second one answers – it is Johnny Arthey – and the third one will never know what opportunity he missed. One cold winter day of 1966 Joe and Jacques take plane to London and call on Arthey who works for Feldman Music publishing company, 64, Dean Street in Soho. Very fast Jacques and Joe realize that they have to deal with a typical English eccentric. They present him the tunes to be rearranged. Dealing done, Arthey grasps what sound they want for the disc. And from now on he becomes the first and the only Joe’s studio arranger. For good. This gray day in the beginning of March Joe is feverish. In the Lansdowne Recording Studio in London Arthey’s musicians do the record in the key appropriate to his low baritone. Some days later in Paris Joe records vocal parties in an ancient disused movie theater – the Davout Studio – one of the first French independent studios. These March days “You Were On My Mind” becomes “Ca m’avance a quoi?”, the headliner of the fourth disc. Souplet acts promptly and releases the disc in April. The vinyl is released as EP and as a 45 single. During the same 1966 Joe starts to work for Radio Luxembourg performing the “Western Story” series. By the way the trio Rivat-Plait-Dassin enjoys cutting capers. They invent a certain Edouard who sings “Les hallucinations” teasing especially Antoine with his “Elucubrations”. Edouard, with his questionable “a la protest song” appearance is the same old chap Rivat disguised in a longhaired wig and Bible-prophet beard. The star takes the abuse into the court, wins and the EP has to be withdrawn. The second Edouard’s single goes into sales, then the third one, but the biggest ever hoax of French show business is quickly forgotten. On the other hand, this summer turns out to be successful for Joe. “Ca m’avance a quoi?” goes well on the radio and by September there are talks about the first album. Meanwhile, the market is awaiting a new disc. This time it will be a single with two songs, the kind that is used for jukeboxes. A great novelty for the French music market, indeed. From the very beginning of the vinyl disc business in France the recording companies released only the four-songs EPs as it was more profitable. Feeling the weakness of the market Souplet decides to launch a “commercialized” single like in English-speaking countries. First of all he wraps the disc in a cardboard full-color jacket. This will become the beginning of the Gemini series. Joe Dassin was one of the very first CBS’ French-singing performers who had tested this know-how. And it worked out. Three years later the rest of the recording companies followed the CBS example. On October 12 and 20, Joe records two songs in Davout – the second version of “Guantanamera” and a traditional American tune “Katy Cruel”. This single has to let Joe’s team work till the Christmas holidays when the album release is planned. But all of a sudden the French musicians go on strike. Plait decides to take refuge in a British studio. All for nothing, the perfidious Albion has already given up to the strike movement. There is only one solution left – to do the record in New York. Jacquot doesn’t dare to believe what Joe merely dreams about. But Souplet gives it a green light and on October 27, a plane takes off from Orly to New York. Two men (and their wives, Maryse and Colette) armed with a huge arsenal of songs are on board. The recording sessions take place in the studio on 30th Street with Stanley Tonkel as a sound director. Seven tunes are recorded on October 31 and November 3 and 4. After the sessions Joe takes an opportunity to show “his” country to his friends: Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, Broadway… and the most impressive of all monuments – the CBS Building on 52nd Street. They come back late – Joe and Maryse to Bea’s place, Jacques and Colette to Waldorf Astoria. But the small team has yet another important task – take pictures of “Joe in New York” for the album jacket and especially for the media who will certainly enjoy the image of a handsome American in Paris who records his songs in his home town. Don Hunstein takes dozens of imprints. One of them – the one where Joe is leaning on somebody’s Harley Davidson is taken in front of the Time Life Building. This “Joe’s Harley” will appear on the front side of the album jacket and will become a dream of an entire generation. The last glance cast at the Kennedy Airport and the plane takes off for Paris. The CBS decides to release the fifth EP along with the first LP (Long Play). The first appears on November 17, and the latter on 18. The success is almost immediate. “Excuse Me Lady” is a Christmas hit and the sales figures begin to rise.
In January, Andre Salvet and Bernard Chevry create the MIDEM. The professionals who believe in this project are few. But Plait who knows Salvet and owes him a lot decides to support the idea. He shows up at the presentation together with Joe, Maryse and Colette. The little company settles on a yacht anchored in a marvelous old port of Cannes. The journalists swarm at this first rendezvous of the world show business but there are very few real stars and Joe is a favorite target of the press. What can be better than to wrench an interview out of Jules Dassin’s own son in the world capital of cinema? But Joe realizes that this game is far too risky for him. At this time he prefers to avoid being mentioned in the newspapers and limits his performance to the presentation of the first MIDEM awards. But anyway, even if he does not sing, a handsome guy conducting the show with such ease – and in two languages, no problem! – is noticed in the media almost at once. Next morning, from an “upcoming star” Joe turns into the Star. “Excuse Me Lady” goes well enough but one has to think about the next hit. Plait does nothing but turn in mind the idea of a song which will let them go much further.
One morning on the yacht Dassin gets ready to slink to the shore, his guitar in his hand. Plait, extremely surprised, wonders what is happening. Dassin explains that he wants Henri Salvador to listen to a tune composed by Joe himself, Jean-Michel (Rivat) and Frank (Thomas). Joe says, this is not “his” kind of song. Curious Plait wants to be the first to listen to the new creation. Joe does not consider it to be wise. The two men confront. Minutes are passing. Plait wins and Dassin sings leaning on the guard railing: “Tagada tagada, voila les Dalton, tagada tagada ‘y a plus personne…” Jacques is pale as a sheet. Joe still does not understand. But the fury in Jacques’ eyes provokes one of his outbursts of anger: “Never in my life! I refuse to sing it! This song is not for me…” Plait who has already grabbed his hit does not intend to let it go so easily: “I forbid you to give it to Salvador!” And so on and so forth. Finally Joe surrenders, he will record the “cowboy song”. For the first and the last time, according to the contract. There is only one obstacle left: the touring, which is one of the main components of promotion. Joe meets an impresario Charley Marouani but doubts the outcome. His stage experience is short and not very pleasant. The terrible failure of his concert in Brussels in 1966 caused by unprofessional performing of the local orchestra is still fresh in his memory. To cut it short, Joe is terribly afraid of any public performances. Charley Marouani makes him change his mind and proposes him to participate in the first part of the Adamo concert. That’s a deal. On March 9, the tour debuts in Vire. Very fast Joe wins recognition of both public and the tour manager Georges Olivier who raises his fee. Between two galas, in April, Joe and Jacques are again in London where they record four songs for the sixth EP.
Some days later they are back in Davout studio for vocals recording. But “Les Dalton” turns out a real impediment. As an English singer fails to pronounce the sheriff’s part from “Les Dalton” intro, Jacques Plait grabs the mike to show him an example. One, two, twenty times. The tape recorder reels are turning, Plait is reciting, the Englishman is stammering. The situation becomes ridiculous. Jacquot delivers his speech such fervor that Joe and the sound director, dead of laughter, decide to keep this version. Jacques cannot even imagine that the innumerous TV broadcasts and a single Dassin’s scopitone session are waiting for him. Meanwhile, Joe wants to place “Viens voir le loup” on the side A of the new disc. But Jacques refuses to surrender. The saga of Lucky Luke’s four sward enemies of is a huge hit and must be on the side A. Lyrics of one of the two other songs on this EP belong to Claude Lemesle. Joe met him during a concert of young talents at the American Cultural Center situated in front of his house on Boulevard Raspail. It was a nice summer evening and Joe went to the Center looking for a banjo player. He did not find his banjo player but a female singer, Michele Cherdel who later on would become Vava from “Big Bazar”. At the same time he found a co-author and a friend. Joe just looked down at Lemesle from his short-sighted 1m 86 and said with shy kindness: “I really liked your songs, mister. Would you and your friends like to have a drink at my place? I live nearby…”
After Rivat and Thomas, Lemesle was the third parolier who joined the Dassin adventure. For good. On May 3, “Les Dalton” is released on the side A in a jacket without any side indications. The disc is a summer success. It will be the last Dassin’s EP and his last “comic” song, either. Joe’s creations of a kind that followed will be performed by his friend Carlos. After such a result Joe’s team is in high spirits. Plait is totally obsessed by the idea of finding “strong” songs that would consolidate the success. He has already acted the same way with Sheila. On the contrary, Joe, relaxed, takes his time. He writes France Gall’s “Bebe requin” which smashes the other song from the disc written by Serge Gainsbourg, having spelled the end for the collaboration between Serge and France. Joe is a popular crooner but he wants to record serious songs, too. In order to equalize the Daltons’ attack, in the fall of 1967 he records a Bobby Gentry blues, “Ode To Billy Joe”, which becomes “Marie-Jeanne”. Rivat carefully translates the song from English. More corresponding to the previous hit and written as usual by Rivat, “Tout bebe a besoin d’une maman” is represented on the side B. And even if the side A tune is an obvious commercial risk, it is good for the singer’s image. In the beginning of October Arthey conducts the orchestra during recording sessions in London. Joe records vocals in Davout. It takes him two weeks and results in 200 versions for “Marie-Jeanne”… with the first chosen for the disc. The latter is released on October 17, for the second time with a drawing on the jacket. The radio stations favor the side B over the side A. Joe begins to realize that he is probably too handsome and too young for singing some tunes. He understands it but will never accept the fact. At the same time Joe records the rest of the songs for the second LP (called now “album”) – two new tunes with lyrics written by Claude Lemesle and four American originals. This is a smashing novelty on the French market. The LP is released in November just before the holidays.
Joe’s success confirms day by day but he has to “transform” his daring attempt, to become a number one conqueror of hit-parades. During a trip to Italy with Jacques Plait where Joe promotes five of his songs, he also listens to “potential” tunes. This American who has never looked for cover versions anywhere but USA would probably find something in the country of mandolins. Joe and Jacques come back home with a suitcase of records. By February 19, “l’equipe a Jojo” reunites in London. Their aim is recording a megahit. In the De Lane Lee Music recording studio on 129, Kingsway the atmosphere is electrified. Four songs are recorded. One of them is a cover version of a tune found in Italy, another – “La bande a Bonnot” – an original with Rivat’s lyrics. A few days later, during the vocals recording sessions the excitement reaches its peak. Plait has a presentiment of something really incredible. On March 4, two singles, with two songs on each, appear on the market almost simultaneously.
The rebellion grows in France. General de Gaulle is trembling. Unlike the catcalled ye-ye singers who have to go to exile, Joe becomes a “revolution” hero. Whole France whistles on the hill, a little bouquet of wild roses in hand. Spring and summer come and Joe’s songs are broadcast by all radio stations. The only problem of these revolutionary times is the music stores replenishment. Joe makes the most of a situation recording his two first songs in Italian on April 29. These tunes appear on the peninsular market in June. He also extend his contract with the CBS on June 26 and starts a promotional tour in Italy two days later, on June 29. As both of the ORTF channels are occupied by the students taking part in a demonstration, the French music takes its refuge on the RAI. While in Italy Joe gets acquainted with Carlos and Sylvie Vartan whom he met on a ship. Carlos will become one of his best friends. This friendship will strengthen in the course of a report from Tunisia made for a popular magazine Salut Les Copains, known as SLC. By September the CBS gets a new press attache, Robert Toutan. From now on this latter will watch over Joe’s image. In November Jacquot and Joe go to London to record sound and come back to Davout Studio for vocals. They record four songs, three of them are hits. Like two previous discs the two new singles are a double-shot. They are released at the same time in November. “Ma bonne etoile” is an Italian original rewritten by Delanoe. “Le temps des ?ufs au plat” lyrics belong to Ricky Dassin and Claude Lemesle. On the other side is represented “Le petit pain au chocolat”, another Italian song adapted by the same Delanoe. The disc industry is undergoing a serious crisis and the CBS does not release the disc for the holidays. But on November 10, Joe sings “Ma bonne etoile” in the “Tele-Dimanche” TV program and France capitulates. The end of the year is explosive. In bakeries throughout France the chocolate rolls are in great demand. Along with Pagnol’s famous movie, Joe’s song makes the bakers’ profits increase dramatically. Some of them even change the inscriptions on their signboards to “Chocolate Roll’s”, making obvious that Joe is much more than just another singer. From now on he is a social phenomenon. The CBS is unable to meet the demands of the record shops and an English-speaking group, the Tremeloes, makes English versions of Joe’s “Italian” songs. On November 26, Joe and Jacques, excited to the point, fly to Montreal via New York. Three days later they start a week of interviews in Quebec: Montreal, Trois Rivieres, Quebec, then Ottawa in the English-speaking part of Canada. They receive a hearty welcome everywhere. The promotion is fantastic. Everything is all right except for the increasing demands from the music stores.
The Orly runway and the windows of big supermarkets are decorated with neon lights. Christmas is coming. Joe is back. Together with Maryse they celebrate Nativity in their new five-rooms apartment on rue D’Assas and dream of a child.
The third album is not ready yet. In February CBS releases a single with two previous hits, “Bip-Bip” and “Les Dalton”. At that time, the comics’ increasing popularity gives a tremendous boost to the story of four outlaw brothers. Meanwhile, Joe goes to London for recording sessions. From this time on, he has London and Heathrow at his fingertips. Six new titles are “stored away”, two of which are obvious hits. “Les Champs-Elysees” is a cover version of Smacka Fitzgibbons’ “Water-loo Road” and “Le chemin de papa” is written by Dassin in tandem with Delanoe. There is also a reprise of “Me que, Me que”, a funny song created by Becaud and Aznavour, and two more tunes by Joe and Ricky. The work being finished, Joe returns to Paris – straight in the whirl of TV and ra-dio interviews, not to mention the growing number of concert engagements.
On April 1, he collapses. Heart attack as a result of viral pericarditis. Joe is bedridden for one month but in the period between May and June, getting barely better, he releases the album and the only single containing “Les Champs-Elysees” and “Le Chemin de papa”, let alone a little promo record. More than ever, the public loves what Plait likes. The album becomes a smash hit as, on June 16, Joe makes up his mind to get his French driver’s license. At the same time he is invited to the “Salves d’or” – a TV program starring Henri Salvador. Joe has already got used to the set and doesn’t count down to his own performance. Anyway, this is the first time when, following Jacque-line Salvador’s advice, he tries the white suit which, since then, will become his official “trade-mark” attire on stage. This same time Joe’s contract with Jean-Michel Rivat and Frank Thomas, his two accredited co-authors, expires but neither part intends to resume it…
In Port de Salut Joe meets Boby Lapointe, makes friends with him, and they go on a tour. At the dinner table Boby introduces him to Georges Brassens. The dinner is pure magic. There Joe finds “his” world – far from show and business. He will always be thankful to Lapointe for this encoun-ter. After Boby’s death, in order to save his heritage for the future generations, Joe considers it his most important duty to request the Philips company to re-release all Lapointe’s records. Dassin’s fame spreads like wildfire. The whole France is singing “Les Champs-Elysees”, while in July Joe goes skiing to Tignes. This short vacation is followed by the tour, which main goal is preparing his first Olympia, scheduled for the fall. Meanwhile, CBS wastes no time releasing the double compila-tion album, Dassin’s first but certainly not the last… Joe’s popularity seems to cross all the borders – “Les Champs-Elysees” enter the Dutch hit parade and acquire 11th position in 7 weeks, which is a very good score. This is the first time when Joe is rated in the Netherlands. On October 1 and 15 he records the English version of “Les Champs-Elysees”, followed by the German one. This latter is re-recorded in the Davout studios on October 29, along with “Le Chemin de Papa” in German.
From this time on, Joe will always be ranked here, there and everywhere in the world. As Johnny Hallyday dreams in vain of starting an international career, Joe, willy-nilly, wins love and recogni-tion of the audience throughout the world. He even becomes No.1 in the Moscow hit parade, leav-ing the Beatles behind. And this happens long before Joe’s songs are heard on the Tian an Men square, sung by the Chinese students face to the tanks during the terrible spring of 1989… The first Olympia is a triumph. On October 22, just after the premiere, the dinner at Maxim’s takes place. But the dearest gift arrives on October 25. This is a letter of congratulations from Brassens.
With Olympia behind and Parisian press tamed, Joe carefully starts the German market penetration, with two songs recorded in the language of Goethe as a secret weapon. On November 27, in Hano-ver, he takes part in Peter Froehlich’s “Studio B”. At the same time in France CBS releases a single with the English version of “Les Champs-Elysees”. Unobtainable. December comes and Jacques Plait hesitates. The single and the album are selling so good that it seems as though there is no need to release another title. Anyway, the new song has to be as strong as the previous ones. After all, “C’est la vie, Lily” and “Billy le Bordelais” are chosen to carry the responsibility. The single has no side B but two As. Bull’s eye! Almost immediately the disc scores a success. The brave dipso re-ceives a fantastic welcome in Saint-Emilion and the members of the non-alcoholic league content themselves with the story of Lily’s life. For the second year running Joe does not release the album for the holidays. What is it, lack of time or some smart commercial move? It is true that Joe is ex-hausted and he sure has to restore his heart. He decides to go on honeymoon he and Maryse missed two years before. After some time spent in New-York, where the couple takes part in a very strange performance “O! Calcutta”, they head for the Caribbean Islands and stay at Barbados till January 15. Swimming and sunbathing are on top of their agenda.
Meanwhile, Germany catches sight of the handsome multilingual cowboy. For the first time, on January 3, Joe is rated in the German hit parade with “Die Champs-Elysees”. He stays there for 4 weeks and moves up into 31st position. Plait can hardly believe his ears. Joe is back and after a gala in Palais d’hiver of Lyon, once again he has to cross the Rhine. On January 21 and 22, armed with four songs, he comes to Wiesbaden for the famous TV program “Star-Parade”. On January 28 he is already in Davout, for a re-recording session. “Les Champs-Elysees” along with “C’est la vie, Lily” turn into “canzoni italiani”. The French tour is scheduled for February and March. Besides Joe takes part in the Grand Prix of the Academy of Charles Cros ceremony where he receives the best album award for “Les Champs-Elysees”. The summer disc recording sessions approach. The so-called “summer hit” is the invention of the 70s and usually means intense broadcasting by the beach radio stations during July and August, including the important September sales. Sessions in London and Davout being finished, Joe presents “L’Amerique” and “Cecilia” – the two cover versions adapted by Delanoe. The story of “L’Amerique” is rather funny. Plait, always worried about Joe’s reaction on some songs, makes him listen the original version of “L’Amerique”, telling (on purpose) that he is going to give this song to Johnny Hallyday. He sure hits the mark. Dassin rises to the bait, menacing to shake the hell out of CBS in general and Jacques personally if he doesn’t get “his” song. For the third season running, the summer hit belongs to Joe. Waiting for the single to come onto the market in May, Joe performs some concerts and, on April 28, goes to Italy for TV shows in Naples and Milan. He sings the Italian versions of his two tunes in “El Caroselo” and “Cette Voci” TV programs. At the same time, Dassin writes a song for Gigliola Cinquetti, a female singer from the Plait stable. “Le bateau-mouche” is released by CBS. The summer comes with its usual round of concerts and a few unforgettable recording sessions. During one of them, on July 16, the Japanese versions of “Les Champs-Elysees” and “Mon village du bout du monde” are recorded. Again some concerts, and, on October 16, Joe records the Italian versions of “L’Amerique” and “Cecilia”. Though Jean-Marie Perier keeps photographing Dassin from time to time, his accredited photogra-pher is Bernard Leloup. On October 27 this latter takes Joe some 50 km from Paris to an old mush-room growers’ hut where his friends keep Leloup’s extremely photogenic cheetah called Loulou. There, standing on the tracks of a little deserted railroad, Loulou on a lead, Joe makes one of his cult photo sessions. Like Harley-Davidson four years before in New-York, Loulou will accompany Joe on the numerous disc jackets and posters. On November 9 Joe goes to Berlin for the third time. Meantime in London, waiting for him to come back, Arthey prepares the arrangements for a new album. One day Claude Lemesle brings Joe two fresh-written songs: “Les filles que l’on aime” and “L’equipe a Jojo”. Lemesle has written both music and lyrics but Joe rejects them, saying bluntly: “Claude, why is that you want me to take the music I’m able to write myself?” In August Lemesle comes to Jacques Plait’s beautiful house in St.Cezaire sur Siagne. In answer to Jacques’ question about any new musical material, Claude shows him his two songs held in reserve. Being a man of devotion, Jacquot gets excited in no time: “I’ve been looking for a hit comparable in quality with “L’Amerique” for two months and it seems to me that I have found it now!” Claude is naturally not so optimistic: “Jacques, you know, there is only one little problem… I’ve already let Joe listen to them and he turned everything down.” “He is absolutely crazy,” shouts Jacquot, “but don’t worry, I’ll fix it up!” After some weeks of withstanding the attack, Joe finally surrenders and takes both Lemesle’s songs. But he utterly changes their melodies and lyrics. The result is well known: “Les filles que l’on aime” becomes “La fleur aux dents” and “L’equipe a Jojo” keeps only its title un-changed. Really, Joe is not an easy-going kind of guy! Working with him means a tremendous lot of minor and major alterations, modifications, corrections and revisions. Though nice and kind-hearted in private life, Joe is a workaholic and a true pain in the neck for his team, so Delanoe and Lemesle call him “charming nerd”.
The album having just been released, the sales figures grow dramatically. 10 days slip by and Joe gets his Golden Disc. Incredible. The radio stations are broadcasting the two promo records re-ceived not so long ago… CBS does its best to take the opportunity and the work is in full swing. For the first time Joe goes on a tour to Africa. The deal with a local promoter Gerard Sayaret is ar-ranged by Charley Marouani. Sayaret arranges a 21-day concert tour of ten countries. With Pierre Lumbroso as road manager, Joe takes his team of eight musicians and leaves France on December 1. The passages are short, the climate is oppressive: Morocco (Casablanca and Rabat), Senegal (two nights in Dakar), Ivory Coast (Abidjan), Togo (Lome), Dahomey (Cotonou), Cameroon (Yaounde), Central African Republic, Zaire (two nights in Kinshasa), Gabon (Libreville), again Cameroon (Douala), Chad (Fort Lamy)… Somewhere up in the North the young French are reviewing their Geography course, following Joe in his trip through the heart of darkness. Joe is back to Paris and has barely time to celebrate Christmas – Germany is waiting for him. On December 29 and 30 he goes to Berlin to sing in German and, thus, to consolidate his position of an international star.
On January 4, while the single “La fleur aux dents” goes on sale, Joe is awarded with 6 golden discs. He cannot believe his eyes. On January 6 Dassin and Plait go to the United States where Joe runs across his father and Melina Mercouri. During a business lunch with the CBS International ex-ecutive director Sol Rabinovitz Joe meets an impresario Paul Rosen who has to represent Dassin in America. But something is wrong and the deal is broken. On January 26 and 27 Joe is again in Da-vout, singing in German. The session is of great importance – four titles are recorded. It is “La fleur aux dents”, “Melanie”, “Le cadeau de papa” and one original German version. Extremely tired, Joe goes skiing to Courchevel. This winter vacation is, in fact, his only vacation, for all summer is reserved for touring. In April Joe is again in Germany, promoting his songs in Munich, Bavaria. This country is no secret for him any more. The single with “L’equipe a Jojo” is released in June but Joe decides to record another four “summer titles” written by Jojo’s gang. Both singles are released in July but even if “Fais la bise a ta maman” is a success, it is not a summer hit. In Novem-ber Joe goes to London for a new album. He has written most of the songs, one title belongs to a tandem Michel Mallory/Alice Donna and arranged in Paris by Alfredo de Robertis. The album con-tains very few potential hits, the producer is reluctant to release it but the singer objects and persists in launching the disc. There is a little tension between the two but, fortunately, the foreign market brings good results. On November 15, “Das sind zwei linke shuh'”, a German original, hits the 21st position of RFA hit parade and stays there for 12 weeks. This funny song is Joe’s greatest German success. Impeccable white pants, silver belt and open shirt – Joe’s character of “American lover” is admired by both Berlin and Munich. After Bundesrepublick comes Tunisia. A few days of fun and joy in Djerba are spent with Carlos and Bernard Leloup. Joe also makes it up with Jacques, inviting the Plaits to a trip to Morocco on December 9. All four of them go to the sacred place of Mamounia.
The album is released in January but it doesn’t contain any hits and CBS re-releases the single with the previous summer success. For the first time the thing seems to slip. Joe decides to play a waiting game with the French market and, on April 17 and 20 in Davout, he records an album for Germany: “Fais la bise a ta maman”, “La ligne de vie”, “Bye-bye Louis”, “A la sante d’hier”, “La mal-aimee du courrier du c?ur”, “Allez roulez”, “L’equipe a Jojo”, “Adieu mes amis”, “Elle etait oh!”, “Le chanteur des rues”, “Sylvie” and two originals – a dozen of tunes sung in German is a record! Not to mention “Taka takata”, released in May. The latter is an absolute success in France and Plait breathes with relief. Maryse insists on a new tour. This time Joe goes to the islands and other terri-tories at the back of beyond. According to the tour timetable, the Reunion, Madagascar and Djibouti are to be visited in June. Then Joe flies to New Caledonia and Tahiti via Paris. But not everything goes as smoothly as it has to… Antananarivo airport is closed because of disorders and a violent cyclone flattens Noumea during Joe’s stay in New Caledonia. Now, siding Joe and his road man-ager Pierre Lumbroso, eight musicians and three back-vocalists ride in the Dassin’s gang, not to mention Bernard Leloup who is accredited to take photos for Salut les Copains and Maryse, ready to follow her husband everywhere, even if she has to be packed in his suitcase. After the concerts Joe and Maryse have a twelve days vacation on the island of Tahaa, in a coconut forest – an abso-lute dream. Joe is so absorbed by the beauty of the island that he buys twenty hectares of its terri-tory including one kilometer of the fine sand beach. He knows that from this time on it will become his favorite vacation site. In June Joe goes to the USA, to his sweet home California. On June 24 he meets with Jeff Barry from A&M Records and makes three songs in English for the American mar-ket, including his famous “Vaya-Na-Cumana”. The usual summer tour follows, tiring, sure, but full of gastronomic surprises. Every small town has its own delicious cuisine and Joe doesn’t intend to miss any tasty opportunity. Though he recorded a mighty lot of songs in German, it is “Taka takata” that enters the German hit parade on September 4 to occupy the 50th position. Halloween is spent in Deauville, at Pierre Delanoe’s place, where Joe discovers the pleasures of golf. He is fascinated by this noble game and, from this time on, he takes his golf clubs everywhere he goes, to Paris, to Valbonne, to Morocco, to Tahiti… Two years later Joe participates in the Trophee Lancome competition and his partner is Arnold Palmer himself. November comes with its ritual of recording sessions in London and Davout. Plait controls the process and little by little the new album begins to take shape. But this time Arthey has something up his sleeve – a brand-new device called synthe-sizer. The trio decides to take advantage of the contraption and decorates the Dassin trademark sound with some synthesized parts. The album contains 12 titles, two of which are hits – “La com-plainte de l’heure de pointe” (A velo dans Paris) and “Le moustique”, both cover versions. Joe pre-fers “The City of New Orleans”, written by Steve Goodman, arranged by Arlo Guthrie and adapted by Claude Lemesle with the participation of Ricky Dassin, but Plait keeps in mind the failure of the previous album and reduces costs. Nevertheless, the Goodman/Guthrie creation will become “Salut les amoureux”… The release of the album is planned for December and CBS decides to re-release “La Bande a Bonnot”. The first single, containing “La complainte de l’heure de pointe”, appears at the height of the Christmas shopping season. France celebrates the New Year’s Eve pushing the pedals of the bikes in time to Joe’s song…
The year begins well. Joe is on vacation in Courchevel. As usual, two singles are released simulta-neously. The first one – “Le moustique” – is a raving success and “Salut les amoureux” becomes an all-time classic. The spring is coming and Germany calls Joe again. On March 21 he offers these cycling fans the German version of “A velo dans Paris”, recorded in Davout. When Joe has to go on his usual summer tour, Maryse is pregnant. This is the most beautiful thing that might happen to the couple after ten years of family life. Joe is over the moon, so happy that he decides to move to the country. He buys a plot for a country house in a suburb west of Paris. Besides, in order to see to the construction process and to give the future mother some fresh air, important for the child, he leaves D’Assas Street and rents a house near the golf course of Saint-Nom-la-Breteche. The house of hap-piness is to be built in the forest, in Feucherolles. The first petrol crisis doesn’t seem to make an im-pact on the construction progress but the swindlers of all kind have already located the couple and the house costs them a whole fortune. In May Joe goes to London but this time he leaves old Lans-downe for Audio International Studios. Again in association with Arthey and Plait, he records two titles with the lyrics written by Delanoe and Lemesle. One of them, “La chanson des cigales”, has to be the sequel of “Le moustique” but it won’t work. Before Joe would be disappointed at the fact but now, when he is about to become father, he just doesn’t pay so much attention to this insignificant failure. In July Maryse takes a vacation in Deauville, while Joe goes to Tahiti. No doubt, he is to-tally subjugated by this paradise on earth. His aim is to begin the construction of the fares (little bungalows) on his plot of land. In August he has to return to France and go on a tour without any hit of support. And, as troubles never come singly, the worst thing that may happen to the future father befalls on him.
Maryse gives birth to a premature newborn, Joshua, who dies five days later. From this time on nothing is like it was before. Joe sinks in the deepest depression. His friend Carlos tries to give him some support. Together they go on a tour where Carlos sings Joe’s tunes. The ones Joe cannot sing himself. This is the way “Une journee de Monsieur Chose” is created. At the same time, though CBS puts on the market the double compilation, Joe has to prepare the new album. He is completely absorbed in his work, because this is the only thing that lets him forget… He takes Bernard Leloup to Las Vegas, Nevada and to Arizona, to the canyon country, where they take a few photographs in the canyons. The new album, recorded in November in Lansdowne and Davout, is released in De-cember. It contains 13 new titles and very few potential hits, except for “Fais-moi de l’electricite”, written by Joe’s gang. There are also two good tunes written by Daniel Vangarde and Alice Dona.
The single from the album is released in January. There is no side A or B, both songs, “Quand on a seize ans” and “A chacun sa chanson”, are represented as equal. But both titles fail and, by the end of January, CBS hastens to put on sale another single with “Les plus belles annees de ma vie” and “Fais-moi de l’electricite”. The result is barely better. Joe has to find his second wind, for sure. Anyway, he is as inspired as ever when he writes for others. This way Carlos gets such hits as “Se-nor Meteo” and “Le bougalou du loup-garou”, written by Joe in collaboration with Claude Bolling. And what is more, Joe sings in duo with Dolto, Jr. “Cresus et Romeo” is recorded not long before February 19, Joe’s next performance in Olympia. A very strange one, indeed. The Claude Gagnasso orchestra of 17 musicians, ten dancers and five back-vocalists are invited to record a “live” album. Joe practices his lasso tricks and sings, in addition to his own titles, a medley of American hits of the forties. Ambience a la Andrew Sisters is guaranteed. Having done with this, he goes to the Kluger Studio, to Brussels, where three songs in German have to be recorded – “Quand on a seize ans”, “La derniere page” and “A chacun sa chanson”. But Bundes Republik seems to go on strike and the songs almost fail. Joe has promised himself to go to Tahiti once a year and this time he de-cides to make his trip in May. The Dassins ask their friends, the restaurant owners from Aix-en-Provence, Gu and Renee Galasso, to join them. The little company is fond of funny jokes and the journey is excellent. After this short vacation Joe goes to London. He needs a summer hit. Two ti-tles are recorded, one of which is “C’est du melo”, but the single passes unnoticed. Plait is furious. He must find the new titles! On a summer tour Joe entertains the audience with his golden oldies. The nostalgic atmosphere of the concerts drives him mad. Even the fact of moving to his beautiful new house in Feucherolles doesn’t appease him. One of the most successful French singers has a tedious time – his family life is broken and his career is as monotonous as ever… Plait refuses to say uncle and redoubles his efforts but Joe doesn’t believe him anymore. Why so, he is not a Number One! But one needs something more to cut the ground from under the famous Jacques Plait, the best French producer of the time. A whole gang is enabled to work on the new album. In November, in Lansdowne, Plait and Arthey decide to hire another sound engineer. John Mackswith joins the team at the right time. The album is released promptly in the end of November, for Plait wants to make it with the New Year sales. And high time it is. Two songs from the album – “Si tu t’appelles melan-colie” and “Vade retro” – literally smash the hit parades. At a moment’s notice the single is released. There is no more reason to save money on the new titles. Plait takes chances, gambles on Lady Luck, and breaks the bank. Joe worked his way up to the top.
Somewhere in the dark the disco is rumbling but Joe Dassin, invited to the MIDEM, is hardly aware of its existence. Meanwhile, Plait considers re-positioning Dassin. It is March and everything must be done to consolidate the success of the last single. He is on the look-out for “the” song, “the” summer hit. The spring passes by quickly. There is no more time to lose. And the miracle happens. During one of the listening sessions in the CBS office in the beginning of May, Joe’s producer hears musical production “made in Italy”, which is to be distributed in France. One of the songs – “Africa” – belongs to the group Albatros, and is written by a certain Toto Cutugno and Vito Pal-lavicini, known in France as author of some Italian cover versions. It is sung in English. Plait goes for it and makes Dassin listen to the song. Joe is completely stunned. He makes it over and over, while Plait is busy lending Lansdowne studio, buying tickets to London and giving Delanoe and Lemesle an extra bother about the lyrics. The destination is clear – Roissy, Heathrow, Lansdowne, Heathrow, Roissy. In a few days Joe is back in France for the voice recording sessions. On May 24, he walks into the studio CBE which belongs to Bernard Estardy. This latter is a famous sound engi-neer, one of the biggest names in showbiz. He knows best of all how to “catch” the voice of the greatest French chansonniers. A perfect melody, refined arrangements, spoken intro recorded by pure chance and a strong title found by Delanoe are the indispensable ingredients of “L’ete indien”. Plait is enthusiastic – he has a presentiment of a great hit. But the hardest thing is yet to come – broadcasting, promotion, TV sessions… On May 27 the fire is set to the outskirts. The disc itself is released on June 6, the anniversary of the American troops landings in Normandy. A good omen. Plait is willing to kill three birds with one stone: on June 24 and 25, as usual in CBE studio, Dassin records German and Italian versions of “L’ete indien”. Spanish and English versions follow. The latter is recorded in the Studio 92 on September 3. After ten years of singing career, Joe is holding in his hands something more than just another “summer hit”. “L’ete indien” proves to be his biggest success. And not only in the country of de Gaulle and Giscard. On August 2 the song enters the Dutch hit parade and stays there for five weeks to acquire the 22nd position. The German version enters the Deutsche hit parade on September 22 to reach the 28th place in fourteen weeks. It vies with the French version which penetrates the German market only on October 20 and in two weeks arrives at the 47th position. But this is nothing in comparison with Spain and South America, where Joe becomes a cult figure. After all, the disc will be released in twenty-five countries to achieve un-precedented success as against the original English-Italian version. In September, visibly revived, CBS releases a double compilation along with the “Golden Album”. Joe, also full of energy, signs with the tandem Cutugno-Pallavicini, who produces hit after hit. The album is prepared in London with Arthey and tweaked at CBE with Estardy. Needless to say, it is literally stuffed with hits: “Et si tu n’existais pas”, “Il faut naitre a Monaco”, “Ca va pas changer le monde”, “Salut”… The disc is released for Christmas holidays, supported by a little promo record. It is a smash success in France, as well as the forty-five with “Ca va pas changer le monde” and “Il faut naitre a Monaco”, released promptly in January. Thus comes the much expected renaissance.
In March, CBS releases a new single with “Salut” and “Et si tu n’existais pas” and the success doesn’t make anyone waiting. For everybody to understand: this “Salut” is not “Au revoir”. Abroad Joe operates trouble-free. On April 10, “Ca va pas changer le monde” strikes the Dutch hit parade to stay there for five weeks and finally get the 23rd place. CBS informs that Dassin has sold – unbe-lievable! – 20 millions of discs during his career. In the beginning of summer he joins the CBE team to record “Il etait une fois nous deux”, which is released in June and becomes promptly classed as the summer hit. On July 6, the Spanish versions of “Et si tu n’existais pas” and “Ca va pas changer le monde” are released. Thanks to all this, Joe’s next tour with the Martin Circus is second to none. In September, CBS puts on the market a new double compilation, smartly baptized “Grands succes volume 3”. The beginning of the school year turns out to be the best time for this kind of produc-tion. As a break in the routine of recording sessions, Joe enters the CBE studios to start work on his new album in October. Sixty musicians and eighty back-vocalists under the direction of Arthey are summoned to perform a miracle called “Le Jardin du Luxembourg”, a 12-minutes title, composed by the same Italian duo, Vito Pallavicini and Toto Cutugno. Because of its length, “Le Jardin du Luxembourg” will first be rejected by the radio stations and Plait will be forced to release a promo single with explications. Along with “Le Jardin du Luxembourg”, “A toi” and “Le cafe des trois colombes” will also be remixed.
Despite this hitch, first the album, and then the single with “A toi” and “Le cafe des trois colombes” have been triumphing since January. Plait seems to work wonders – with the disco music flourish-ing, he managed to find a new team “slow” for Dassin and it does work! In March and April, as usual at CBE, Joe records two new tunes for the upcoming summer. Both titles are written by the awesome Italians but the single with “Et l’amour s’en va”, released in May, is drowned out by the disco music… Still a big friend of Carlos, Joe writes some nice songs for this performer, the ones he thinks he couldn’t sing himself, like “Le big bisou”. Meanwhile, the CBS stable gets reinforced with a new female singer. Jeane Manson is American and, thus, has a lot in common with Joe. They make friends. At the same time Joe and his wife Maryse make a decision to get divorced. No of-fences, no quarrels – they just wish to live separately and on May 5 settle the matter out of court. Some days later, “Vendredi 13” goes to the Martinique with Joe and Johnny Hallyday on board. On June 7, Joe records Spanish versions of “A toi” and “Le Jardin du Luxembourg” – Spain and South America are delirious. In September CBS releases next two compilations and in December, though the Disco is the king, Joe persists in producing fine slows. Only one song from his new album be-comes a hit and it is “Dans les yeux d”Emilie”, promptly released in a single format. The rest of the album “Les femmes de ma vie” is a moving tribute to all those women who mattered to Joe, espe-cially his sisters and his new companion, pretty Christine.
The LP is released in January. Two songs from it, “La premiere femme de ma vie” and “J’ai craque” are written by Alain Goraguer, the ex-accomplice of Serge Gainsbourg, who has just joined Jojo’s team. Alain also assists Dassin in writing “Le petit ballon”. On January 14, Joe marries Christine Delvaux. The ceremony takes place in Cotignac with Serge Lama and Jeane Manson as invitees. Tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes… On March 4, “Dans les yeux d’Emilie” rushes into the Dutch hit. In June, Joe and his mother-in-law, Melina Mercouri, record a duo in Greek, “Ochi den prepi na sinandithoume”, intended to be the part of “Cri des femmes” soundtrack. Later this song will also be released as a promo single. Just before, in April, Joe rear-ranged “No Woman, No Cry”, a reggae tune, written by Bob Marley and rehashed by “Boney M”. Delanoe and Lemesle transformed it into “Si tu penses a moi”, leading Joe – for the first and the last time – to the slippery ground of disco-reggae. Christine is pregnant and the summer passes by in looking after the expectant mother. Meanwhile, CBS wastes no precious time: the 3rd volume of The Greatest Hits compilation and a three discs set are released. On September 14, eight months exactly after his wedding, Joe’s first son, Jonathan, is born in the American Hospital in Neuilly. Needless to say, Joe is the happiest man in the world. He comes up with an idea to record two ver-sions, French and Italian, of “Little Italy”, a musical comedy created by Pallavicini and Guarnieri. Marcella Bella is invited as a female vocalist. The result is designed for the French and Italian tele-visions. But the beautiful project, carefully planned by Gilbert and Maritie Carpentier, will never be brought out. After these recording sessions Dassin goes on a tour to Canada. In October and No-vember Joe returns to CBE for next album, but this time he seems to be a bit less enthusiastic about his work. His family life is of much greater importance! Nevertheless, he records two songs in Eng-lish, “La beaute du diable” and “Darlin'” of The Poacher. As a single for his new album, “15 ans deja”, Joe chooses “Darlin'”. The reason is clear: France gets completely crazy about English. Sheila, Juvet, Cerrone, Karen Cheryl, all the bonzes of the French showbiz consider their duty to record tunes in English. Thus, Joe the American has every prospect of success. But his production in native language is almost a failure. CBS has to react quickly, and the single with “La vie se chante, la vie se pleure” appears in January. This song, written as usual by Delanoe and Lemesle, is certainly the only one to be remembered, though for this album Plait invited some nicest songwrit-ers of the moment, such as Alice Dona, Toto Cutugno, Didier Barbelivien and William Sheller.
The New Year holidays pass in a split second. The times are a-changing. Johnny Hallyday and some other old timers are pushed aside by a squad of newcomers named Cabrel, Duteil and Bala-voine… Joe feels that if he wants to stay where he actually is, he has to redouble his efforts. Jacques Plait is as fastidious as ever – even if “Darlin'” is rated in the German hit parade and climbs to the 49th place in two weeks, Joe has to be on the alert. On February 14 he records the Spanish versions of “La vie se chante, la vie se pleure” and “Si tu penses a moi”. From this time on, Joe works more for the Latin America than for Iberian peninsula and Marie-France Briere teaches him the particu-larities of South American Spanish, especially pronunciation in its Argentinean variant. While waiting for Joe to produce at least one title for the upcoming summer, in the beginning of April CBS releases another single, extracted from the album, “Cote banjo, cote violon”. His private life gets complicated and takes him more and more time. Nonetheless, in May, as always at CBE, he records a hit of Italian origin, “Le dernier slow”. The disc is released in a single format, but also as a maxi (promo and commercial), which is unusual for Joe. This slow will make dance all the lovers in the night clubs throughout France and push Julio Iglesias down from his pedestal. For four years Joe has been triumphing in South America and he is still on top. In all countries where his discs are selling he takes part in radio and TV programs, let alone the concerts. On August 10, 1979, Joe flies to Chili. After a short landing in Argentina his plane heads for Santiago, but is forced to return to Buenos Aires because of thick fog. When Joe finally arrives to the Chilean capital, he is deeply touched by the sight of excited crowds, singing his songs by heart, even in French. On the local television, Chanel 13, he sings “A ti” and every Chilean muchacha feels concerned. Our “Latino lover against his will” seems to have cast a spell over this part of the world! On August 14 he comes back to Argentina to set fire to the pampas with his songs… Plait cannot believe his own eyes – the slow “made in France” easily enthralls the kingdom of tango. On August 16, feeling revived and highly enthusiastic, Joe arrives to Los Angeles to record his next album. Arranged by Mike Utley, “Blue Country” is supposed to be the album of his renewal. While the musicians are busy with re-cording tunes of Jim Croce, Eric Clapton and Tony Joe White, Joe goes to Tahiti for a vacation. On coming back, he dubs in his voice in English and French in Devonshire Sound Studio. To Joe’s delight, his idol, Tony Joe White, comes to play the guitar and harmonica during the recording ses-sions. One song from the new album, “Le marche aux puces”, written by Dassin and Lemesle, will be adapted by Tony under the title “The Guitar Don’t Lie”. Joe is filled with pride. In autumn, while the English album is released in Canada under the title “Home Made Ice Cream”, Christine is pregnant for the second time. But Joe, feeling exhausted by her endless jealousy, sues his wife for a divorce and decides to see in the new year with his son Jonathan.
“Blue Country”, the album of maturity, is released in France on January 11, without any single pre-ceding. The media are enthused, even if Joe’s regular fans are a bit perplexed. Being on a visit to Montreal, where he takes his back vocalists, Joe re-records four titles from his last album. From this time on he will record and sing only in English. After the release of the promo single, on February 18 Joe comes to CBE to remake a song from “Home Made Ice Cream”, followed soon, on February 25 and 26, by another three titles from the same album. On March 11, CBS risks to release a single with “Faut pas faire de la peine a John”, a cover version of Elvis Presley’s tune. As for Joe’s private life, his wife Christine gives birth to their second child, Julien. Joe should be the happiest man in the world, but…
On March 31 and April 1, Dassin joins Bernard Estardy in the studio on the rue Championnet, where they remake five English versions of songs from Joe’s last album. At the same time, on April 1 and 2, another three titles in English from this same album will be remixed in the latest fashion. So, now Joe is almost ready to release in France his “American” album. He takes this disc very much to heart. The summer is coming and CBS decides to issue “The Guitar Don’t Lie” in a single and a maxi format, but puts off the release of the album. Joe is waiting for the public verdict on his creation. His state of health, and especially his heart, cause him a lot of problems. He wasn’t careful enough and let himself too much abuse of all kinds. In July, suffering already from a stomach ulcer, Joe falls victim to a heart attack and is taken to the American Hospital in Neuilly. On July 26, Jacques Plait comes to see him before his departure to Tahiti. They’re meeting up in Papeete from where they are supposed to go visit Joe’s land he purchased some 120 miles south of Tahiti. Another heart attack strikes Joe in Los Angeles, landing point between Paris and Papeete. His state of health allows him neither smoking nor drinking, but feeling depressed, Joe pays it no attention. On his arrival to Tahiti with Claude Lemesle, his mother Bea and his two children, Joe tries to forget his personal problems. But there is no escaping fate. It is from this garden of Eden that Joe takes a one-way ticket to Paradise.
In the restaurant “Chez Michel et Eliane”, on August 20, at noon local time, Joe collapses, victim of his fifth heart attack. The one ambulance of the hospital was busy and arrived too late. He was 41.
When AFP announces the news in France, all the radio stations dash to broadcast Joe’s songs. So that they can take him to his “village at the back of beyond”. While the media tries to puzzle out the Dassin case, the public, still in the torpidity of summer vacation, snatches at Joe’s discs. In September, a great number of compilations are released, including the three discs set, conceived as a tribute to American from Paris. This is the way the things will con-tinue… Because Joe Dassin is not just “another singer”. Like Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens or Claude Francois, he is a social phenomenon. Once and for all.
In the period between 1981 and 1985, Joe is still in great demand, especially in 1982, when CBS releases a single with “A mon fils”, a piece from formerly unpublished “Little Italy”. In 1983, “A toi” and “L’ete indien” are reissued, let alone the re-editions and compilations of all kind that follow one after another.
Between 1986 and 1990 the first CD changes the situation on the market. Will Joe Dassin be forgot-ten? No way! The fist laser compilation, “Une heure avec… Joe Dassin” is followed by the book about Joe, published by Jacques Plait and Joe’s first wife, Maryse Massiera. All the albums are gradually reissued in the new format including the quasi-complete collection of songs in French and the video, produced in collaboration with INA. “L’ete indien” appears once again as a single, but this time it is accompanied by a megamix. The first TV advertising campaign on Joe, “Un ami revient”, is launched by Arsenic.
From 1990 till 1995, Dassin, along with Cabrel and Goldman, makes the best CD sales of Sony-France. He is so unavoidable that his discs are released even by France Loisirs. After the first CD single with “Les Champs-Elysees” and “A toi” is issued, Jacques Plait is on the point of jumping for joy. The matter is that French rocker number 1, Johnny Hallyday, records “The Guitar Don’t Lie”, turned into “La guitare fait mal” with the new French lyrics by Etienne Roda-Gil. Thus, “Le marche aux puces”, rearranged and “updated” proves, if there’s any need to do it again, that Joe was really ten years ahead of his time.
In 1993, another big campaign on Dassin, but this time with Platine, results in a compilation crowned with a double Golden Disc. And, finally, a brand-new L’equipe a Jojo including Les Innocents, Jean-Louis Murat, Les Objets, Jerome Soligny and Louise Feron, Dominique Daclan, Bill Pritchard, Autour de Lucie, Mr Kuriakin, Oui Oui, Pascal Comelade, Les William Pears, Droles de Beaux Gars, Marie Audigier, Katerine, Chelsea, Daniel Darc and Bertrand Burgalat, records a double album to pay tribute to the singer, whose songs still help us to live.
Joe Dassin had citizenship in both the USA and France. He was a talented polyglot, recording songs in German, Russian, Spanish, Italian and Greek, as well as French and English.
July 23, 1980 – Keith RichardGodchaux (The Grateful Dead) was born on July 19th 1948 born in Seattle, Washington, but grew up in Concord, California where he commenced piano lessons at five at the instigation of his father (a semiprofessional musician) and subsequently played Dixieland and cocktail jazz in professional ensembles as a teenager.
According to Godchaux, “I spent two years wearing dinner jackets and playing acoustic piano in country club bands and Dixieland groups… I also did piano bar gigs and put trios together to back singers in various places around the Bay Area…playing cocktail standards like ‘Misty’ the way jazz musicians resentfully play a song that’s popular – that frustrated space… I just wasn’t into it… I was looking for something real to get involved with – which wouldn’t necessarily be music.” He met and married former FAME Studios session vocalist Donna Jean Thatcher in November 1970.
The couple introduced themselves to Jerry Garcia at a concert in August 1971; ailing keyboardist/vocalist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (who would go on to play alongside Godchaux from December 1971 to June 1972) was unable to undertake the rigors of the band’s next tour. At the time, Godchaux was largely supported by his wife and irregularly employed as a lounge pianist in Walnut Creek, California. While he was largely uninterested in the popular music of the era and eschewed au courant jazz rock in favor of modal jazz, bebop, and swing, several sources claim that he collaborated with such rock acts as Dave Mason and James and the Good Brothers, a Canadian trio acquainted with the Grateful Dead.
According to Godchaux, “I first saw the Grateful Dead play with a bunch of my old lady’s friends who were real Grateful Dead freaks. I went to a concert with them and saw something I didn’t know could be really happening… It was not like a mind-blowing far out, just beautiful far out. Not exactly a choir of angels, but some incredibly holy, pure and beautiful spiritual light. From then on I was super turned-on that such a thing existed. This was about a year and a half ago, when I first met Donna… I knew I was related to them.” He was also known to Betty Cantor-Jackson, a Grateful Dead sound engineer who produced James and the Good Brothers’ debut album in 1970.
Although the band had employed several other keyboardists (including Howard Wales, Merl Saunders and Ned Lagin) as session musicians to augment McKernan’s limited instrumental contributions following the departure of Tom Constanten in January 1970, Godchaux was invited to join the group as a permanent member in September 1971. He first performed publicly with the Dead on October 19, 1971 at the University of Minnesota’s Northrup Auditorium.
After playing an upright piano and increasingly sporadic Hammond organ on the fall 1971 tour, Godchaux primarily played acoustic grand piano (including nine-foot Yamaha and Steinway instruments) at concerts from 1972 to 1974. Throughout this period, Godchaux’s rented pianos were outfitted with a state-of-the-art pickup system designed by Carl Countryman. According to sound engineer Owsley Stanley, “The Countryman pickup worked by an electrostatic principle similar to the way a condenser mic works. It was charged with a very high voltage, and thus was very cantankerous to set up and use. It had a way of crackling in humid conditions and making other rather unmusical sounds if not set up just right, but when it worked it was truly brilliant.” The control box also enabled Godchaux to use a wah-wah pedal with the instrument.
He added a Fender Rhodes electric piano in mid-1973 and briefly experimented with the Hammond organ again on the band’s fall 1973 tour; the Rhodes piano would remain in his setup through 1976. Following the group’s extended touring hiatus, he primarily used a baby grand piano in 1976 and early 1977 before switching exclusively to the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano in September 1977. The instrument’s unwieldy tuning partially contributed to the shelving of the band’s recordings of their 1978 engagement at the Giza Plateau for a planned live album.
Initially, Godchaux incorporated a richly melodic, fluid and boogie-woogie-influenced style that intuitively complemented the band’s improvisational approach to rock music; critic Robert Christgau characterized his playing as “a cross between Chick Corea and Little Richard.” According to Garcia in a 1980 interview with Mark Rowland conducted shortly before Godchaux’s death, “Keith is one of those guys who is sort of an idiot savant of the piano. He’s an excellent pianist, but he didn’t really have a concept of music, of how the piano fit in with the rest of the band. We were constantly playing records for him and so forth, but that wasn’t his gift. His gift was the keyboard, the piano itself.” Bassist Phil Lesh lauded his ability to “fit perfectly in the spaces between our parts,” while drummer Bill Kreutzmann was inspired by his “heart of music.”
Increasingly frayed from the vicissitudes of the rock and roll lifestyle, Godchaux gradually became dependent upon various drugs, most notably alcohol and heroin. Throughout the late 1970s, he was frequently embroiled in violent domestic scuffles with Donna, who also developed an alcohol use disorder.
Following the Grateful Dead’s 1975 hiatus, he largely yielded to a simpler comping-based approach with the group that eschewed his previously contrapuntal style in favor of emulating or ballasting Garcia’s guitar parts. Despite occasional flirtations with synthesizers (most notably a Polymoog during the group’s spring 1977 tour), this tendency was foregrounded by the reintegration of second drummer Mickey Hart, resulting in a heavily percussive sound with little sustain beyond Garcia’s leads. During this same period, Godchaux’s playing in the Jerry Garcia Band — which had fewer instrumentalists and hence a more “open” sound — retained more elements of his earlier work with the Grateful Dead.
In early 1978, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir began to perform slide guitar parts with an eye toward variegating the group’s sonic palette, with Weir concluding that “desperation is the mother of invention.” Garcia biographer Blair Jackson has also asserted that “the quality of Keith’s playing in the Dead fell off in ’78 and early ’79. It no longer had that sparkle and imagination that marked his best work (’72-’74). Much of what he played in his last year was basic, blocky, chordal stuff. I don’t hear many wrong notes, but he’s not exactly out there on the edge taking chances and pushing the others, as he frequently did, in his own quiet way, in his peak Grateful Dead years. I guess the worst thing you could say about later-period Keith is that he was just taking up sonic space in the Dead’s overall sound. Did this affect the others? No doubt, though it can’t be measured.”
Eventually, according to Donna Jean Godchaux, “Keith and I decided we wanted to get out and start our own group or something else – anything else. So we played that benefit concert at Oakland [2/17/79], and then a few days later there was a meeting at our house and it was brought up whether we should stay in the band anymore…and we mutually decided we’d leave.” The Godchauxes were replaced by keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland.
During his tenure with the Dead, his only lead vocal was “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away,” from Wake of the Flood (1973). It was performed live six times, all in 1973. Keith and Donna Godchaux issued the mostly self-written Keith & Donna album in 1975 with Jerry Garcia as a member of their band. The album was recorded at their home in Stinson Beach, California, where they lived in the 1970s. A touring iteration of the Keith & Donna Band with Kreutzmann on drums and former Quicksilver Messenger Service equipment manager Stephen Schuster on saxophone frequently opened for Grateful Dead-related groups in 1975, allowing Garcia to sit in on several occasions. Following the dissolution of this ensemble, the Godchauxes performed as part of the Jerry Garcia Band from 1976 to 1978. “Six Feet of Snow,” a collaboration with Lowell George of Little Feat, was featured on the latter group’s Down on the Farm (1979); George had recently produced the Grateful Dead’s Shakedown Street (1978).
After Godchaux’s departure from the Grateful Dead, he cleaned up and remained in the band’s extended orbit, performing alongside Kreutzmann in the Healy-Treece Band (a venture for Dan Healy, the band’s longtime live audio engineer) and on at least one occasion with lyricist Robert Hunter. He also formed The Ghosts (later rechristened The Heart of Gold Band) with his wife; this aggregation eventually came to include a young Steve Kimock on guitar.
Godchaux sustained massive head injuries in an automobile accident while being driven home from his birthday party in Marin County, California, on July 21, 1980. He died two days later at the age of 32.
In 1994, he was inducted, posthumously, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead.
A much more revealing story titled:
How Keith Joined the Dead
On September 17, 1971, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan went into the hospital, seriously ill and near death. The Dead were faced with a dilemma – just a month later, a midwest tour was to start in Minneapolis. Would they go on without a keyboard player? The decision was made quickly. From September 28, we have our first tape of their rehearsals with Keith Godchaux.
What happened in between?
From the Dead’s perspective, Godchaux came out of nowhere. They had several other keyboard players they had been working with, who could have joined:
Ned Lagin had played on American Beauty, and guested with them at the Berkeley shows in August ’71, along with several other ’71 shows and backstage experiments. But as far as we know, he wasn’t considered, or turned them down.
He mentions in his interview with Gans, “That fall I went back to Boston for graduate school. Brandeis gave me a fellowship that included all expenses, plus recording tape and all sorts of stuff to work with in their electronic music studio.” Many college students wouldn’t think twice between the option of another year at school or joining the Grateful Dead; but Lagin was on his own path. (Ironically, he became unhappy with Brandeis and soon dropped out, to resurface on a later Dead tour…)
Merl Saunders, of course, was playing with Garcia all the time, plus he had done studio overdubs on several songs for the Dead’s 1971 live album that summer. But if they asked him, he was not interested. In later interviews, he sounds like he preferred the independence & freedom to work on his own projects.
When he was asked why he hadn’t joined the band in 1990, he said, “I’ve always done my own thing. Before the Dead, I was working with Lionel Hampton, Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis. Why would I want to work in the Dead and just be the way they worked?” He was proud of doing music theater: “During the late ’60s, I was doing a Broadway play in New York at the George Abbott Theatre. I was musical director for…Muhammad Ali. So those are the things that if I was with the Grateful Dead, I couldn’t do. I played with Miles Davis for about a year. The Lionel Hampton Band. Did a lot of recording with Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. I wanted to be myself and go the direction I wanted. Although I did record with the Dead. But when they asked me to come in and do their thing — to join them — I didn’t really want to join the band. When it’s Grateful Dead time you have to do a Grateful Dead thing.”
His associations with these other people may have been very brief in real life, but it should be noted he was much prouder of his work with them than any work he could have done with the Dead. http://www.digitalinterviews.com/digitalinterviews/views/saunders.shtml http://www.musicbox-online.com/merlint1.html
Howard Wales had also played on several songs on American Beauty, and had jammed with the band back in ’69, and had a close personal connection with Garcia – although he hadn’t played the Matrix club dates with Garcia for a year. The Dead even planned to play a benefit with him at the Harding Theater on September 3-4, 1971: http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2011/03/gd19710903-4-harding-theater-sf-ca.html
It’s not known whether this benefit actually happened (probably not). But McNally tells the story of Wales auditioning with the Dead around this time. Weir (no doubt rolling his eyes) recalled: “We spurred him towards new heights of weirdness and he spurred us towards new heights of weirdness…much too weird much too quick…everybody backed off, scratched their head and said, ‘Well, maybe, uh, next incarnation.'”
Apparently Wales’s free-flowing weirdness, which Garcia enjoyed fitting into, was a bit too strong for a band that was now more focused on shorter ‘normal’ songs. Garcia would soon get the chance to play some more with Wales in the January ’72 east-coast tour supporting the Hooteroll release. (I would imagine Lesh might also have liked to play with Wales more – back in ’69 he had complained to Constanten: “Phil pointedly remarked how much he preferred Howard Wales’s playing when he sat in with the band.”)
On the other hand, from Wales’ perspective, the Dead might have been a little too big for him. He had apparently stopped playing at the Matrix when too many people started coming to see Garcia! John Kahn remembered, “One night there were a lot of people out there, and Howard realized that that’s not what he wanted to do, and he stopped doing it.” Garcia also said, “Howard went off…periodically he gets this thing of where he just can’t deal with the music world any more, and he just disappears.”
Of course there were plenty of other keyboard players around San Francisco who might have auditioned. It was Godchaux, though, who showed up at just the right moment and grabbed the baton.
Keith & Donna Godchaux, who’d married in November 1970 shortly after her first Dead show, were both already Dead fans. Donna had gone to the 10/4/70 Winterland show (drug-free), taken by some deadhead friends, and had quite an experience. As she said in a Relix interview, “The Grateful Dead came on, and it was more than music…I just could not even believe it. I had not taken anything, and I was just blown away.” She told Blair Jackson, “I couldn’t sleep that night because I was so excited. I kept thinking, ‘What did they do? How did they do that?’ They weave a spell. There’s this whole mystical energy that happens when you see the Grateful Dead and you’re ready to receive it. I was ready to receive it, and I got it. So every opportunity, every rumor that we heard that they might be playing, there we were… We’d all go see the Dead together, or at the very least get together and listen to Dead records.”
One of these friends of friends turned out to be Keith, who was also in these Dead listening parties. As he said in the Book of the Dead in ’72, “I first saw them play with a bunch of my old lady’s friends who were real Grateful Dead freaks. I went to a concert with them and saw something I didn’t know could be really happening… It was not like a mind-blowing far out, just beautiful far out. Not exactly a choir of angels, but some incredibly holy, pure and beautiful spiritual light. From then on I was super turned-on that such a thing existed. This was about a year and a half ago, when I first met Donna… I knew I was related to them.”
As it happened, they were introduced almost simultaneously to the Dead and to each other, and soon married. Getting connected with the Dead took a little longer, but surprisingly, in hindsight neither of them had any doubt it would happen.
Donna: “I had a dream that it was supposed to happen. It was the direction our lives had to go in. The only direction.”
Keith: “It had to happen. I knew it had to happen because I had a vision… Flash: go talk to Garcia… I wasn’t thinking about playing with them before the flash. I didn’t even try to figure out what the flash was…I just followed it, not knowing what was going to happen. I wasn’t playing with anyone else before that. Just playing cocktail lounges and clubs.”
He played jazz piano & cocktail music in a Walnut Creek club, but was just starting to get into rock & roll. As Donna said, “Keith would practice his rock & roll piano at home, and I was basically supporting the two of us.” He’d had no rock experience at all, and apparently listened to little rock music. Though he’d played with small jazz bands before, he was tired of bar gigs: “When other kids my age were going to dances and stuff, I was going to bars and playing… I was completely burned out on that. Then I floated for about six months, and then ended up playing with the Grateful Dead.”
He’d played piano in club bands since he was 14: “I spent two years wearing dinner jackets and playing acoustic piano in country club bands and Dixieland groups… I also did piano bar gigs and put trios together to back singers in various places around the Bay Area…[playing] cocktail standards like Misty the way jazz musicians resentfully play a song that’s popular – that frustrated space… I just wasn’t into it… I was looking for something real to get involved with – which wouldn’t necessarily be music.” (Getting a job was out of the question: “I could never see working during the day, and nobody would hire me for anything, anyway.”)
Considering what he would play later, it’s surprising that when his jazz trio went “in the Chick Corea direction,” Keith decided “I didn’t really have any feeling for that type of music,” and instead listened to big-band jazz, Bill Evans, and bebop: “the musicians the guys I was playing with were emulating… After gigs we’d go to somebody’s house and listen to jazz until the sun came up. They dug turning me on to bebop and where it came from. So I understood those roots, but I never got taken on that kind of trip with rock and roll – and I never had the sense to take myself on it.”
Until he met Donna, who turned him on to rock & roll. He sighed in ’76, “I’m just now starting to learn about the type of music I’m playing now… I never played rock and roll before I started playing with the Grateful Dead.” (Shades of Constanten!)
The interesting thing is that when he saw the Dead, he thought they needed more energy: “When I’d heard them play a couple of times, they really got me off; I was really high. But there were still a lot of ups and downs. Like [they] didn’t quite have the strength to pull the load…”
As far as I know, all the accounts of Keith’s joining the Dead come from Donna’s story – as told to Blair Jackson for the Golden Road magazine in 1985. The turning point came during a visit to their friends Pete & Carol (who had introduced them and turned them on to the Dead, and so played a hidden part in Dead history).
“One day I came home from work and we went over to Pete’s and he said, ‘Let’s listen to some Grateful Dead.’ And Keith said, ‘I don’t want to listen to it. I want to play it.’ And it was like, ‘Yeahhh! That’s it!’ We were just so high and in love! We said to Pete & Carol, ‘Hey guys, we’re going to play with the Grateful Dead!’ And we really believed it. We had no doubt.
We went home, looked in the paper and saw that Garcia’s band was playing at the Keystone, so we went down, of course. At the break, Garcia walked by going backstage, so I grabbed him and said, ‘Jerry, my husband and I have something very important to talk to you about.’ And he said, ‘Sure.’
…I didn’t realize that everyone does that to him. So Garcia told us to come backstage, but we were both too scared, so we didn’t. A few minutes later, Garcia came up and sat next to Keith, and I said, ‘Honey, I think Garcia’s hinting that he wants to talk to you. He’s sitting right next to you.’ He looked over at Jerry and looked back at me and dropped his head on the table and said, ‘You’re going to have to talk to my wife. I can’t talk to you right now.’ He was just too shy. He was very strong but he couldn’t handle that sort of thing. So I said to Jerry, ‘Well, Keith’s your piano player, so I want your home telephone number so I can call you up and come to the next Grateful Dead practice.’ And he believed me! He gave me his number.
The following Sunday the Dead were having a rehearsal and Jerry told us to come on down, so we did. But the band had forgotten to tell Jerry that the rehearsal had been called off, so Jerry was down there by himself. So Keith and Jerry played, and we played him some tapes of songs that I had written and was singing on. Then Jerry called Kreutzmann and got him to come down, and the three of them played some. Then the next day the Dead practiced, and by the end of that day Keith was on the payroll.
They asked me to sing right away, but somewhere in my ignorant wisdom I said I wanted to Keith to do it first, so he did two tours and I stayed home… So Keith and I went into it as green and innocent as we could be. I’d never sung before an audience before, really, and Keith had done only very small gigs.”
She also pointed out to Relix that “Keith and I didn’t know that Pigpen was sick or anything.” http://www.blairjackson.com/chapter_twelve_additions.htm http://www.levity.com/gans/Donna.980328.html http://www.tonibrownband.com/donnajg24-4.html
McNally has but a few details to add:
He notes (from a different Donna interview) that after meeting Jerry, she tried calling the Dead’s office a few times with no luck – “she called the office and left several messages, but was ignored. Finally she got him at home.” So it may have been a more circuitous path between the first meeting and the rehearsal, but in Donna’s memory it was about a week.
He identifies the Dead’s rehearsal space as “a warehouse off Francisco Boulevard in San Rafael.” (The tapes of Keith’s rehearsals are labeled as being from an unknown location in Santa Venetia – but Santa Venetia is basically a neighborhood of San Rafael, so it is likely the same place. Possibly they could have moved to a studio to tape some of the sessions, though.)
And he says that “Keith and Donna played Garcia a song they’d written, Every Song I Sing.”
Donna told Blair Jackson, “When Keith and I first got together, we wrote some music that we wanted to be meaningful and spiritual. We wanted to write music to the Lord, because it didn’t seem like there was much out there that was spiritual. But when we heard the Grateful Dead…it seemed to have such spiritual ties. It had a quality that was magical, ethereal, spiritual, and that’s part of what was so attractive about it.”
What’s interesting here is that they’re playing Garcia THEIR music, in order to convince him of their rightness for the band. And there does seem to have been a spiritual tie – this moment prefigures not just Keith’s time with the Dead, but the later Keith & Donna band with Garcia sitting in, and the Garcia Band circa ’76 with Keith & Donna, bringing gospel music into the shows. (I think she has mentioned how she, Keith & Jerry would listen to lots of gospel music at home circa ’76.) So they hit Garcia with just the right note.
Blair Jackson observes that Keith had also played on a James & the Good Brothers record (a band the Dead were friends with) – Kreutzmann played drums on one track, and the album was recorded by Betty Cantor, so Keith may not have been a complete unknown to Garcia. (On the other hand, Keith is not mentioned in the album credits, so it’s a mystery where Jackson got this info.)
In early 1972, the Dead had a little promotional flurry, releasing a few band biographies for the press & fans. These offer a less detailed, but slightly different course of events. The Dead’s spring ’72 newsletter recounted:
“Pigpen was extremely ill, and unable to travel. Jerry had about this same time met Keith Godchaux, a piano player he and Billy had jammed with at Keystone Korner, a small club in San Francisco. With Pigpen sick, three major United States tours facing them, and the desire to have another good musician to add to their music, Keith was asked to join.”
Promo bios of each of the bandmembers released at the same time include this about Keith:
“After jamming with Jerry and Billy at a small club, and getting together with the Dead to work out some tunes, he joined the band in September of 1971.”
Keith was also quoted in the Book of the Dead: “We went into this club in San Francisco where Garcia was playing, and just talked to him. A couple of days later I was playing with him and Bill, and it just sort of came together.”
While these bios are brief and lacking in detail (Donna’s role is not mentioned at all), they were written only a few months later, so they should be taken into account.
The first surprise is to read that Keith had jammed with Jerry & Bill at the Keystone. This seems to have entirely slipped Donna’s memory! Is it possible there was a “lost” Jerry & Keith jam at the Keystone sometime in September ’71?
(Perhaps someone mixed up the Keystone and the rehearsal space – either way, Jerry & Bill jammed with Keith before the rest of the band did.)
It’s also a curious detail that Keith initially got with the Dead “to work out some tunes.” This is frustratingly vague – it may mean nothing; or it may mean that the initial intention was not to actually join the Dead.
Keith confirms that no time passed between meeting and playing: “a couple of days later…” This is even briefer than in Donna’s account!
This brings up the question of just which was the Keystone show where Keith & Donna met Garcia. He had a couple shows with Saunders in this month:
Tuesday, Aug 31
Thursday, Sept 16
The 16th has been considered the most likely date, since it’s closest to Keith’s first rehearsals. Note that Pigpen went into the hospital the next day. Donna remembered the Dead rehearsal being scheduled for “the following Sunday,” but the Dead canceled and only Jerry came. I have to think that, if it was Sunday the 19th, due to the sudden turmoil of Pigpen’s illness, it seems unlikely Jerry & Bill would have jammed with anyone that day. (It also may explain why Donna had a hard time reaching Jerry on the phone that week, though there doesn’t seem enough time for multiple phone calls.)
But note: the jerrysite lists the New Riders playing the Friends & Relations Hall in San Francisco on Sept 17-19, which wouldn’t preclude daytime rehearsals. And Keith did say he played with Garcia just a couple days after meeting him.
Or, if Donna’s memory is right, possibly Sunday the 26th was the first day Keith played with Jerry. This seems superhuman, though – it means his first day with the full Dead would have been the 27th. Our first rehearsal tape comes from the 28th, and it by no means sounds like Keith’s second day with the band. In fact, it sounds like he’s already settled in. (Not only that, it would mean they lost no time in taping rehearsals with the new guy, in fact starting immediately. Pretty speedy, for the Dead!)
So while it’s possible that Keith only started playing with the Dead near the end of the month, I think it’s also possible that he’d met Garcia on 8/31, and perhaps even jammed with him & Kreutzmann a time or two at Keystone Korner; and rehearsals may have started earlier than we think. The Dead may have been considering a new keyboard player even before Pigpen succumbed, and if Keith had already been playing with Garcia informally, their next candidate was right in front of them. (We don’t know how poor Pigpen’s health was in early September, but the Dead may have been aware before 9/17 that he was in decline.)
Or perhaps the Dead initially saw Keith as a temporary stand-in, a Hornsby-like figure until Pigpen could be eased back in. It would’ve become obvious pretty soon, though, that Keith was born to play with the Dead.
Or, the traditional story could be true: the Dead suddenly discovered after the 17th that they needed a new player; Garcia met one that very week, and they snatched him up immediately; and he learned all their songs in a week or less. Serendipity in action…
A closer listen may reveal more, but for now it sounds to me like there is not one attempt to teach Keith a single new song in these rehearsal tapes, only practiced run-throughs of already-learned songs. Very few songs even stumble or break down. At least when they rolled the tapes, Keith was ready to go on every song. This suggests that at the least, there were more than one or two days of rehearsal before these tapes were made.
Admittedly, Keith was quite familiar with the Dead’s music before playing with them; also, some of these songs were as new to the Dead as they were to Keith!
Lesh was quite impressed with Keith: “He was so brilliant at the beginning. That guy had it all, he could play anything… It’s like he came forth fully grown. He didn’t have to work his way into it.”
Lesh wrote in his book that in the first rehearsal, “all through the afternoon we played a whole raft of Grateful Dead tunes, old and new. That whole day, Keith never put a foot (or a finger) wrong. Even though he’d never played any Grateful Dead tunes before…[he] picked up the songs practically the first time through…everything he played fit perfectly in the spaces between [our] parts.”
Kreutzmann later told Blair Jackson, “I loved his playing. I remember when we auditioned him. Jerry asked him to come down to our old studio and the two of us threw every curveball we could, but he was right on top of every improvised change. We just danced right along on top. That’s when I knew he’d be great for the band. He was so inventive – he played some jazz stuff and free music that was just incredible. He had a heart of music.”
Manager Jon McIntire remembered when he first heard about Keith: “I saw Garcia and asked him what it was about, and he shook his head, very amazed, and said, ‘Well, this guy came along and said he was our piano player. And he was.'”
Surprisingly to anyone who ever saw him, Keith said in ’72 that “what I’ve contributed to the band as a whole is an added amount of energy which they needed, for my taste… I have a super amount of energy. I’m just a wired-up person and I relate to music super-energetically… The part of their music which I played fit in perfectly, like a part of a puzzle.”
It’s notable that Keith plays both piano and organ equally during the rehearsals. (Possibly the first instrument he played with Garcia was the organ, though I don’t think Keith had any experience with it; at any rate, organ was the Dead’s first choice for many of the new songs.) Over the course of the tour, though, he gradually dropped the organ altogether, and played it only rarely thereafter. When he is on piano during these rehearsals, the honky-tonk sound from many fall ’71 shows is very clear.
The Keith highlight is the first few tracks of 9/30, with Keith in full barrelhouse mode. It’s also interesting to hear him on organ on songs like Jack Straw, Tennessee Jed & Truckin’ on 9/29. (There’s also an oddly assertive moment before Cold Rain & Snow on the compilation, where Keith channels Keith Jarrett for a little solo riffing.)
There are almost no jams here, just straight songs (there is a short, interesting band jam on 10/1, and a rehearsal of the Uncle John’s jam on 9/29). I would guess there must have been more rehearsals over the next couple weeks (they had to have tried out some of the ‘deep’ jams), but no more tapes have come forth. Perhaps the Dead did not bother recording more improvisational jams.
We know Garcia gave Keith a batch of live tapes that had been recorded at the August shows, so Keith would also have been able to listen & practice the songs at home before his 10/19/71 live debut. Not that he did!
From a note on the Dick’s Picks 35 “Houseboat Tapes”: “In the late summer of 1971, just before Keith Godchaux began rehearsals with the Dead, Garcia handed him a big box of tapes and said, “Here, this is our most recent tour. Learn our music.” The irony was that Donna Jean doubts mightily Keith ever bothered to listen to them – he’d never listened to the Dead all that much before he auditioned… In any case, he left the tapes on his parents’ houseboat in Alameda, and there they stayed.”
In fact, in one interview with Lemieux it was speculated that Keith never even took the reels out of their box. But it makes sense – when you can rehearse with the band each day, there’s little need to check out their tapes.
So Pigpen stayed at home until December, while Keith went out and surprised Dead audiences. (Some were thrilled, others dismayed.) This was the second time Pigpen had been replaced by another player; but he probably took it in stride, as he had more serious things to worry about. He was still eager to rejoin the Dead, though, and went back on tour perhaps sooner than was wise. Lesh later felt guilty about this: “It would have been better for him if we’d just canceled the tour and let him recover all his strength at his own pace… It was agreed that Pig would rejoin the band when he felt up to it. Without realizing it, we put a lot of pressure on him to hurry up and get better.”
That was the band’s pattern, though, as the future would reveal – they wouldn’t cancel a tour no matter who was dead or dying. (And though no one knew it, Pigpen was likely beyond recovery by that point anyway.) Though he didn’t necessarily live for the road, Pigpen’s identity was bound up with the band, and he lashed himself to their mast as long as he could, whatever the cost to himself.
He would not be alone. The years on tour wouldn’t be kind to Keith either – indeed, the damage Dead keyboardists inflicted on themselves would become well-known – but Keith started out feeling cosmically optimistic. “The Dead’s music is absolutely 100% positive influence. When I met them, I knew these were people I could trust with my head. They would never do anything which would affect me negatively… They are righteous people.”