After leaving his stamp on more than 325 songs in the 50 years of his career so far – including four SOCAN Classics – Michel Robidoux was finally persuaded by Pierre Lapointe, two years ago, to revisit and record eight of his immortal songs, two new ones, and one that his mother wrote when he was three, “Petit Ange Blond.”
In the end, those 12 songs, produced by Lapointe’s invaluable collaborator, Philippe Brault, remind us all the extent to which Robidoux is a genius of melodies, composition and arrangements.
“I’m really enjoying this because I’m finally hearing those songs as I had imagined them when I wrote them,” says Robidoux. “Of course, arrangers will do what they please, and appropriate your songs once you let them go. I played Jean-Pierre [Ferland] Pierre Flynn’s superb version of ‘Le Petit Roi’ as well as the two stripped-down versions of ‘Le Chat du café des artistes’ [written by Lapointe and Ariane Moffat], and he said: good job, Robidoux!”
The Robidoux premier album also features Alex Nevsky, Bïa, Daniel Bélanger, Marie-Noëlle Claveau and Catherine Major, who all contribute to re-visiting Robidoux’s musical legacy and extensive track record: La Boîte à Clémence, L’Osstidcho, the Charlebois-Forestier classic where “Lindbergh” came from, Jean-Pierre Ferland’s classic Jaune, Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, Renée Claude (“Ce soir je fais l’amour avec toi,” which is magnificently reprised by Major), the cult children’s TV show Passe-Partout (175 episodes co-written with Pierre F. Brault), and even a collaboration on Pierre Lapointe’s Punkt! (2013), not to mention his bass-plying duties in the country band Les ours.
And since Ferland was mentioned earlier, we had to talk about Jaune a bit, since two songs came from that album. Robidoux was part of the in-studio creative process until producer André Perry fired him and instead hired two Americans, Buddy Fasano (who came up with the piano intro for “Petit Roi”) and Art Phillips.
Once Jaune was released, Ferland hooked up with Robidoux and his touring musicians, who were part of the Bulldozer show at the Wilfrid-Pelletier hall (Guy Latraverse, the show’s producer, had authorized the onstage presence of a huge yellow bulldozer).
But no matter the nature of the adventure, Robidoux always was the figurative designated driver, the most sober one, in charge of keeping the brood under control in the studio or onstage. But once the job was done: party!
“Look at the Lindbergh album cover,” says Robidoux. “Next to my name, they wrote ‘Musical Connector.’ I was the link between all those out-there musicians, and I was in charge of making sure they’d get to the studio on time, and ready to play. We recorded part of it at the [now-defunct] Stereo Sound on Côte-des-Neiges [in Montréal] and the rest at André Perry’s studio. In 1967, Robert and I hung out at the Esquire Show Bar, which was the spot to hear American soul musicians. You can hear it on the album, especially the organ groove on ‘Engagement.’
“But by 1969, I was exhausted from being ‘Tout écartillé’ [the title of one of the songs which freely translates to “discombobulated”] in Paris with Robert. The big show at the Olympia, non-stop partying, I had to take a break, it was getting too heavy for me. That’s when I told Jean-Pierre I was available.”
Leonard Cohen is another one of Robidoux’s ex-bosses. Cohen had heard some of his work in 1988 and immediately hired him on for his I’m Your Man album, and Robidoux ended up as the album’s artistic and musical director, arranger and keyboardist.
“When the time came to record his vocal tracks, he was surprised that I was still there, while all the other musicians had left,” says Robidoux. “He said I was the first musician interested in sticking around for the vocal takes. He cut me three cheques for the three songs I co-wrote (two ended up on the album, ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘Everybody Knows.’ And one of the three cheques bounced,” he says with a guffaw. “Cohen had access to an unlimited budget from Columbia (CBS Records) and he’d just gotten a Crystal Globe Award. But he still cut me a bounced cheque!” Turned out it had something to do with an overzealous bank teller. That infuriated Cohen and he immediately compensated Robidoux for his trouble.
Following an open-heart surgery and quadruple bypass, Robidoux now thinks of his health, first: “I smoked for 59 years. We weren’t exactly choir boys, back then. We basically abused every substance. But I’m an old Micmac, I’m tough…”
But why release an album now? “I chose to be a session musician and a composer,” he says. “But now is the time, man!” Robidoux plays on eight of the album’s 12 songs. “What am I proudest of? My Felix trophy for best arranger on the Passe-Partout Christmas album (Le Noël de Cannelle et Pruneau) ,because that award was voted by my peers. Let’s not forget François Dompierre was also in the running! That’s no small feat.”
Not bad for a musician who can’t read or write music. Does it make you want to record another album? “You bet!”