Robert Charlebois: “You learn more by listening to the songs of a people than political speeches”

We love our guest like crazy this morning. He performed with Leonard Cohen, he threw tennis balls at the public in 1969 for his first Olympia and sent Louis Aragon to the hospital. He toured for Sergio Leone and played with Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau and Jean Louis Trintignant. He performed with Léo Ferré, Barbara and so many others. Frank Zappe plays on one of his albums. He even ran for the Quebec legislative elections where he wanted to distribute free machine gun sausage. And he built his house in Guadeloupe with Coluche. Robert Charlebois has a thousand lives, but he is above all a genius, prolific, and psychedelic singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He gives two concert-events

April 1 and 2 at the Grand Rex in Paris, the CharleboisScope surrounded by 10 musicians on stage, with projections of unpublished archives, a total show that traces 50 years of Quebec history through its songs. The opportunity for Morning Music to look back on a career spanning more than 50 years, with the man nicknamed the “Mick Jagger of Quebec”.

Robert Charlebois in his total show
Robert Charlebois in his total show “Robert en CharleboisScope”

– Bruno Destombes

Author of more than 300 songs, Robert Charlebois is nevertheless always brought back to some of his greatest hits, such as Ordinary, The wings of an angel, Between two seals, All torn apart, I’ll come back to Montreal, I love you like crazy or Dolores, a bit like a tree that hides the forest: “A politician’s career can be summed up in three sentences. And me it’s 4-5 songs out of 300. There is a politeness when we make hits, standards, pieces that people make us happy to love for 50 years or more, we have to be careful about this that we write because it sticks to our ass until the end of our days. I wrote stupid songs too, I claim the right to bullshite.”

An unusual career

In addition to being a singer and composer, Robert Charlebois is a multi-instrumentalist, pianist, guitarist and drummer all at the same time.
In addition to being a singer and composer, Robert Charlebois is a multi-instrumentalist, pianist, guitarist and drummer all at the same time.

– Bruno Destombes

Son of an engineer metallurgy plant manager and a secretary mother, Robert Charlebois was born in Montreal. As a child, he moved around a lot, and changed schools many times. He begins the piano to overcome his discomfort at school, thanks to a nun. He left school before the baccalaureate. He made his real debut on stage in September 1962, at the age of 18, in the first part of Félix Leclerc. In 1965, he stood out for his song The ballcomposed at the age of 16, which earned him the Grand Prix du Festival du Disque, then very influenced by French song.

In 1967, he performed alongside Leonard Cohen, on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition in Montreal, a decisive moment when he discovered new musical universes, which led him to travel to California, and discover the hippie culture and American rock. His music comes out deeply modified, more electric, more psychedelic. It was in 1968 that he achieved international success with his song Lindberg, a hit he co-signed with Louise Forestier. He made his first Olympia in 1969, a legendary concert where he welcomed the spectators by throwing tennis balls at them. Long tours followed in Quebec, Canada and Europe, alongside Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Léo Ferré. He wrote more than twenty albums between 1970 and 2019, most of them in the 1970s. He won a Victoire de la Musique in 1992 with his album Immensely.

“The great songs are always the simplest”

To write his albums, he notably surrounded himself with Mouffe, or even the writer Réjean Ducharme with whom they collaborated for nearly 70 years: “According to Raymond Queneau and Jean-Marie Le Clézio, he would be the most important writer of the Francophonie of the 20th century, I put him above my two other idols who are Françoise Sagan and Clézio. For me, it was my greatest years of happiness and creativity with this writer“Robert Charlebois is defined above all by his many meetings with Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Léo Ferré, Frank Zappa, Gainsbourg, or even Barbara, to whom he offered the song The black piano.

In 2013, to celebrate his half-century on stage, Robert Charlebois released a box set of 50 essential songs that marked his career, before creating a large-scale rock concert in 2019 that unfolds in music and images: Robert en CharleboisScope.

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