I’ve always been a sucker for French girls singing, especially the yé-yé type. Years ago I found out about this awesome song – 7 Heures Du Matin – by Jacqueline Taïeb, only to find out she had performed in Amsterdam – my hometown – some months before. I knew from that moment on that I had unfinished business with Jacqueline. I contacted her recently to do an interview. What started as an interview, kind of transformed into being pen-pals for a while. It is my pleasure to share our conversation with the people, lisez!
You were born in Tunis, Tunisia. Although you moved to France at a young age, do you remember any Tunisian music that was around back then?
Ever since I was born, my mother used to sing me stuff that went from Tunisian songs to Ella Fitzgerald with some Charles Aznavour in the middle. My favorite Tunisian song is Bahdha Habibti (when I’m near my loved one).
What music were you into around the time you first picked up an instrument and started singing? I figure this must be early 60’s?
At the age of twelve, I wanted a bicycle, and my father gave me a guitar!!! Such a good inspiration, god bless his soul. During summer holidays in Tunisia there was this young neighbor, sixteen years old, who taught me the first chords and how to make my guitar groove. This guy was a cool teacher. He taught me the right way to find the chords to the songs I loved. I think the first song I ever played and sang was Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles. I loved Ray Charles, James Brown and all this kind off stuff, and I still do. I had already fallen in love with Elvis and his music when I was eight, and I still am. He gave me the desire to learn English, because I wanted so much to understand what he said. I quickly tried to write, compose and sing my own songs. My guitar became my best friend. I wrote my first song when I was fifteen, called Oh Dans Tes Yeux (oh in your eyes).
What was your first recording and how did you get there?
I’m seventeen, another summer holiday in Tunisia. Me and my guitar, playing and singing on the beach with my friends. Sun, laughters and the sea – sounds coming from another planet now -. A woman passes by, stops and listens. She tells me “I like the music you’re playing, I’m a music publisher. I’d like you to come see me at my office when you get back to Paris” and she gives me her business card: Rolande Bismuth / Editions Barclay. I was petrified…I had just succeeded my “ Bacaloréat” and was ready to go to the Sorbonne for an English Master. I had never thought of recording or having a show business career. I was more of a fan of singers than a singer myself. Actually, my secret dream was to have my songs sung by the singers I loved.
However, I went to her office in september – of course -, with my guitar – of course – and she aked me to sing some of the songs I had written. When I started 7 H Du Matin she began to laugh. At the end of the song, she said something like
“Love it, it’s fun and original, let me make phone calls, I want to introduce you to the people I work with”. A few days later – things were going quickly at that time – I met Roger Maruani, A&R at Festival Records, and Jean Bouchety, the french Quincy Jones. Rolande offered me a publishing contract for a couple of my songs and Roger offered me a recording contract!
As I was a minor all this had to be signed by my parents. They were more busy quarreling with each other than caring about me singing or not, so they signed! And here I am, working with Jean Bouchety. He was great because he listened to my ideas about the arrangements I heard and optimized my good ideas and took off my bad ones. He was so respectful towards a seventeen little thing! I never worked with such a respectful arranger/producer since then. They often want to impose their visions. And it’s uncomfortable for me, because when I write a song, I can hear drums playing this way, strings doing this or that, etc…
As Jean used to do with the other artists he worked with – Françoise Hardy, Michel Polnareff – he took me to London to record my first 4 titles EP: 7 H Du Matin/La Plus Belle Chanson/Ce Soir Je M’En Vais/Bienvenue Au Pays.
It was a dream, a laaaaaarge recording studio in the center of the swinging London, the best English musicians playing for me, a Sound Engineer touching lots of buttons!!! I was ecstatic. When we got back to Paris Rolande and Roger were very glad with the result and they decided to release the EP and present it to the first MIDEM in Cannes, January 1967. Both were in Cannes and I was in Paris. Suddenly I received a phone call from a friend, yelling at me “Jacqueline, Jacqueline, put on the radio! Europe 1 station! They just said your name! They said you’re the best newcomer of the first MIDEM! They’re now playing “ 7 heures du matin!”.
That’s a really nice story, like a dream come true. I like Jean Bouchéty’s arrangements for your songs a lot. Also the stuff he did with Polnareff, Stone and Nicoletta. Where there ever plans for doing a full album? (I know there is a ’67 LP release from Canada, but that seems more like a compilation).
Yes – sorry I forgot Stone and Nicoletta and many other great french Artists for whom Jean Bouchety had worked.
No – I think albums were only made for the stars! I was a beginner and my team was more inclined to release an EP every two or three months. I think they were perfectly right, actually, it’s still the format I prefer. With an album, you often find only four songs – or less – worth being released. To me the ideal for artists would be to record their best songs whenever they feel it, and then release a single, EP or album, being very demanding about the choice of songs.
For almost a decade, mostly covering the 70’s, you didn’t (as far as my sources go) release anything. What happened?
When I graduated and got my English diploma, I started teaching English in two different schools. But I never stopped writing songs. At that time, I was hanging around with Julien Clerc and his team. He was the star of the musical Hair, performed in Paris in the early seventies. One day, I was playing this melody – with no-name and Maurice Valet – then one of Julien’s lyricists told me “I love it, it inspires me! Do you want me to write the lyrics?“ I was so happy because I loved his way of writing and his making the words flow. Bonjour Brésil is a very poetic text about the beauty and the wildness of this country, and about the Brazilian natives who had been expelled from their land. I recorded a single Bonjour Brésil/On la connate, which was released in 1972. It was produced by Bernard Saint Paul, Véronique Sanson’s producer.
A few years later, as I was still dreaming of having my songs sung by other singers, I met with Jeane Manson. A beautiful and talented American singer who had just made a big hit in France with her first single Avant De Nous Dire Adieu. Summer 1975, I’m invited by Andre Djaoui at La Madrague, Brigitte Bardot’s villa in Saint Tropez!!! André had rented this villa as a show off to impress the women he loved (later on they got married and their Daughter Shirel is a famous singer too)!. Jeane and I are chatting around the swimming pool, I take my guitar and sing my last song to her, My happiness. She says “je la veux chanter “, which is so cute, because in French, you say “je veux LA chanter”, not “ je LA veux chanter “. A few months later, Jeane records my song “My Happiness” for her first album, released in 1976. The album was a big success and Jeane asked me to go on tour with her as her background vocalist. I accepted, of course!!! The tour led us to all the big cities of France and ended in Paris, at the mythical Olympia. Different artists were part of the show, of which the two stars were Jeane Manson and Dave, for whom I wrote a song a few years later!. I loved this experience and cherish these memories.
At the same time, I was composing and writing with musicians and friends : Steve Shehan, Patrick Kessis, Catherine Podguzer, Elisabeth Vigna etc …They all wanted me to sing again. At last, I got the opportunity to record a new single Printemps à Djerba, a single with two tracks was the new format. The single was released Christmas ’77.
One day – or one night – as we were a little high, my friends and I started imagining a musical fairytale in which a group of children would be the stars. We chose a dozen of children and baptized them Les Cousins De Miel (the honey cousins). We wrote the script and the songs. The album La Petite Fille Amour Chez Les Cousins De Miel was released in 1979 and didn’t get the success we were waiting for. However, 35 years later, two songs from this album are used in different movies! Maman Jusqu’Où Tu M’Aimes is part of the soundtrack for the Conan O’brien documentary Can’t Stop (2011) and of the PAN AM tv-series. Petite Fille Amour is part of the soundtrack for the American film My Idiot Brother (2011) and for the Angelina Jolie’s film By The Sea (2015).
Then, I wrote new songs and released a new single in 1979 with J’Suis Pas Nette, which – at the very late seventies – led me to work with Michel Fugain!
My sources lied haha, apparently you were all over that decade. Lovely tunes! Then came the late 70’s/early 80’s. I own a copy of your 1981 release Il Faut Choisir/Pourquoi T’Es Pas Chez Toi, love that stuff. Could you tell me something about your cooperation with Michel Fugain and perhaps what other things went down music-wise in this period?
The next day after the TV show where I sang J’Suis Pas Nette, I received a phone call from Michel Fugain. I had known him in the sixties, we had started almost at the same time and had the same Publisher, Rolande Bismuth. He appeared in the Fac De Lettres clip, but I hadn’t heard from him for a long time. He wanted to know who wrote the lyrics to J’Suis Pas Nette, so I said I did. He started to laugh because the lyrics are kind of crazy, he was very enthusiastic about it. He told me he was preparing a new album and needed lyrics to his melodies, “would you like to work on them” he asked? Me: of cooooooourse! I usually loved his stuff, and still do. Michel Fugain is a great composer and singer and a fabulous showman. So I went to his place – a beautiful Moulin – 50 miles away from Paris and he had me listen to a dozen of melodies. The lyrics to five of them were already written by big French names such as Pierre Delanoe, Claude Lemesle. I was very impressed to find myself on the same boat! From the seven melodies left I fell in love with one, which became Les Sud Américaines, and was released in the early 80’s. It was a hit and became a standard of Michel’s repertoire (and the French’ repertoire). I also wrote four other songs for his album he named Les Sud Américaines. Working with Michel Fugain was a fantastic experience to me. At first because of the fun of it, – as we say in French – you don’t need to tickle Michel to make him laugh. The jokes were bursting over and over. Secondly because of the professional side of it, when he likes something – a word, a rhyme, an idea, an image – he tells you WHY. Same as when he doesn’t like, he explains you why. So I learnt a lot working with him.
Almost at the same time, I recorded a new single, with one of my songs I like the best, Dis Moi Des Betises/Je Cherche Quelqu’Un (1980). Also another single, Il Faut Choisir/Pourquoi T’es Pas Chez Toi (1981). These two singles were recorded in the best studio, with the best musicians in Paris, but it didn’t get the success I was hoping for…I was very sad.
I know you played with an Amsterdam band a couple of times, I even heard rumors you lived in Amsterdam for a while. Since I live there I’m sure you don’t mind me asking…what is your connection with Amsterdam?
Let me tell you about my Netherlands experience. One day – around 2005 – I received a mail from Mikkel Van Dermelen saying something like “Here in Amsterdam, we love your music and we’d like you to play with us. I’m the saxo player & leader of Amsterdam Beat Club, a rock band”. This mail was so unexpected. As I love Amsterdam for different reasons, I was very excited! So Mikkel invited me there, I rehearsed with ABC, fantastic musicians. I went there a dozen times and we played in different Amsterdam clubs, in Utrecht and in Rotterdam; the gig I enjoyed the most, because of the great audience and because the Yardbirds were performing at the same festival! Meanwhile, I wrote & composed Partir A Amsterdam. We included the song in our repertoire, of course. Mikkel and I decided to co-produce an EP. Mikkel wanted me to record 7 H Du Matin again, but I said I was too old for the lyrics. Instead I wrote 7 H Du Soir and 7 PM. I just love this record and the memories I have from my Amsterdam experience, but I never really lived there. I just know the Paris – Amsterdam Thalys by heart! Then we had some other gigs in other clubs, but the band broke up. I don’t know why, that’s show business.
I never knew you wrote so many stuff for other artists, great! I’ve been checking out your playlist on youtube. Some of the stuff I never heard before, like for example Maréva Galanter, Karim et les Pro-Fetes and Oonabella are awesome.
Oonabella is a spanish singer who – in 1990 – adapted Ready To Follow You, in Spanish. The hit I wrote for Dana Dawson, so kitsch, isn’t it? Let me tell you a secret, I’m currently working on the french version with Agathe, a twenty old singer with a very good potential. We’ ll be recording the song in a few days. Surprise.
Karim Et Les Pro Fêtes…I’ve recorded so many songs, so many artists from different horizons. Some became successful, but a lot were hardly born. You don’t really know why it works and why it doesn’t. To be or not to be at the right time, right place, with the right persons I think. Je M’En Fous was fun though.
As for Mareva Galenter, the gorgeous ex Miss France, she released a record with 60’s songs she liked (2006). My publisher – Warner Chappell Publishing – asked me if I was okay with her singing 7 H Du Matin her way. What do you think was my answer? Lol.
You’ve been involved in a lot of different musical corners. Where are you right now with making music? What other modern music do you like/inspires you?
I love music too much to choose genre X and eliminate genre Y. I like writing songs that fit me the best – mostly rock/funk – as much as I like writing songs for other singers who have the right voice to sing them. Composing and/or writing for other artists, is like being a sur mesure, tailor or the director of my own musical fantasies. Sorry, I don’t know if I’m being clear…I write a song whenever I feel like it and when I hold an idea that catches me. Then I work on it in my home studio with very basic equipment and demo it. This is what they call 10% Inpsiration – 90% Perspiration.
Lots of music inspire me. When I watch clips on TV or listen to the radio, I zap very quickly when I don’t like it and stay when I do, then search them on youtube if I’m really interested. Youtube is vital to me!
I couldn’t tell any new English singing artist I’m really fond of, I can’t find any. I hate the Adele’s Hello, I’m rarely interested in the so called nowadays R&B, nor outdated ballads like You’re Beautiful sung by I don’t remember who, and I think that Can’t Stop The Feeling by Justin Timberlake is a pale copy of old Michael Jackson stuff such as Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough…It’s much less groovy and has stupid lyrics. Michael forever. Definitely – since Elvis, The Beatles, Queen, The Stones, The Doors, Gino Vanelli, Aretha, Stevie, Michael, David Bowie, Whitney – no English speaking artist has really turned me on.
As for ‘new’ French artists. i love Julien Dore, Indila, Benjamin Bioley, Amel Bent and Claudio Capeo. My French idols will always be Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Michel Berger, Michel Fugain and Veronique Sanson.
I’m currently working with a 20 year old artist. She’s very cute and has a big potential as a singer. We just finished recording the first song Je Te Suivrai N’Importe Ou, which is the French version of Ready To Follow You. The name of this young artist is Agathe The Blues.
I could’t agree more on the whole Adele thing, I’m definitely not into this whole ‘vocal acrobatic’ thing. As for Michael Jackson, as a kid I would practice his moves in front of the TV with my brother while watching our VHS copy of Moonwalker about every day…Perhaps you still have some funny, strange, sad or anyway noteworthy anecdote that would just be to good to leave out?
I’m happy you don’t like boring music either! It’s been a pleasure to tell you a part of my life. I’d like to add this…in 1968 I released Le Coeur Au Bout Des Doigts. In 2014, I was contacted by this fabulous Danish band Asteriod Galaxy Tour. They wanted to use some of my songs. We worked together and made a new song that fits beautiful.
– Gros bisous, a bientôt! –