Eddy Mitchell summed himself up in one of his most famous songs, singing that his heart lay halfway between Nashville and Belleville. The beloved Monsieur Eddy has sought inspiration for his songs on both sides of the Atlantic, but while his head has often been lost in the Stars (and Stripes!), the singer remains firmly attached to the tradition of French 'chanson'.
Eddy Mitchell (Claude Moine) was born on July 3rd 1942 in the 11th arrondissement in Paris. He spent his childhood in Belleville, a working class quarter of the capital. His mother worked in a bank and his father was a mechanic at the RATP (the Paris transport authority). Claude’s sister, Gisèle, and his brother, Pierre, were respectively nine and seven years older than him.
When he was a boy his father often took him to the cinema, where he discovered the magic of Hollywood movies, particularly the westerns, with their heroes, played by the likes of Gary Cooper or John Wayne.
After several years at the Lycée Turgot he obtained his certificate of studies. Only fourteen, he went to work at Crédit Lyonnais. Later he was a motorcycle courier for an insurance company. But all the time his dream was to become a cartoon artist.
Brillcreamed Hair and Rock'n'Roll
At the end of the fifties, Claude discovered rock ‘n’ roll, newly arrived from America. His favourite stars were Bill Haley and Gene Vincent. Young people in Paris, eager to hear the new music, began flocking to the now legendary night club, Le Golf Drouot, opened in 1956. Claude, who became known as "Schmoll", started a group with a friend, Jean-Pierre Chicheportiche, who recruited two more young musicians. After practice sessions and appearances at the Golf Drouot, they began looking around for a record label. Their first audition was with Barclay. The musical director, Jean Fernandez, was impressed.
By the end of 1960, Claude Moine had become Eddy Mitchell and his group Les Chaussettes Noires : his name was a tribute to Eddy Constantine and the group’s was inspired by a publicity campaign for socks made by Lainières de Roubaix, with whom Eddy Constantine had a promotional contract.
They were an instant success. In 1961, they released six singles and sold two million records, including 800.000 copies of "Daniela". In March 1962, Eddy Mitchell was called up for his military service, during which he nevertheless found time to record new tracks and play at dances with the Chaussettes Noires. Already, Jean Fernandez had in mind a solo career for Eddy, whose vocal talents he rated highly. In November 62, he recorded a four track EP, "Mais reviens-moi".
When he finished his military service in August 63, Eddy Mitchell was able to devote himself entirely to a solo career. In October he went to London to record new material with English musicians (including the very young Jimmy Page). The result was "Eddy in London", an album of cover versions of numbers by his rock ‘n’ roll heroes, Eddie Cochrane, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley. In 1964, he was back in the London studios again recording a second album, "Panorama".
The rhythm was frantic. The third solo album, modestly entitled, "Toute la ville en parle, Eddy est en ville", came out in 64. This was the first recording of original material by the singer, who signed lyrics such as "Toujours un coin qui me rappelle". Until then he had only sung French adaptations of English lyrics.
After rock ‘n’ roll, he discovered the soul of James Brown and Otis Redding and changed musical direction. In 65, his new album, "Du rock ‘n’ roll au rhythm ‘n’ blues", included titles such as "J’avais deux amis" and "Si tu n’étais pas mon frère". The horn section became more and more prominent, which suited the artist’s stage shows perfectly.
Eddy Refuses to Jump on the Yé-Yé Bandwagon
By the mid-sixties, Eddy Mitchell was already very different from the other singers of the period, most of whom had climbed on to the yéyé bandwagon. In 66, he recorded "Seul" in London. The album included a later hit, "J’ai oublié de l’oublier", his first (and not his last) collaboration with one of the musicians in his orchestra, Pierre Papadiamandis, and also "Société anonyme", his personal way of denouncing something not to his liking, The same year, he was back on stage at Bobino in Paris, where he had performed the year before.
"De Londres à Memphis" was recorded in 1967, the year Eddy’s dream came true: to record in America, cradle of rock, R&B and country. He came back with a new hit "Alice". In March, he did a fifteen-day stint at L’Olympia in Paris. Now turned thirty, his career seemed to have taken off for good. Nevertheless, 68 was the beginning of a lull in his career. Only his hard core fans greeted each new album release with the same old fervour. Meanwhile, Eddy, ever faithful to himself, polished his tranquil rock star persona.
None of the six or so albums which he released between 68 and 74 ("7 colts pour Schmoll", "Michellville", "Rock ’n’ roll", "Zig-zag", "Dieu bénisse le rock ‘n’ roll" and "Ketchup éléctrique") sold hugely. Even if some songs were well put together, the public didn’t go overboard about them. Record buyers were more attracted by the musical styles in vogue in the early seventies. In May and June 74, Eddy Mitchell hosted a radio programme on France Inter. With that personal brand of humour he was increasingly becoming known for, he called it, "En attendant que ça se passe".
Rocking in Nashville
In 1974, Barclay re-released some of the old Chaussette Noires numbers. Unexpectedly, sales of these records rocketed. The defunct band’s leader had the idea of starting it up again. Eddy Mitchell refused outright and flew to Nashville for another recording, this time with Charlie McCoy, a versatile and talented instrumentalist, and leader of a team of highly effective studio musicians. The return trip took twenty-four hours.
Eddy’s solo career quickly took off again with the release of "Rocking in Nashville", which went to the Number 1 in French album charts, where it stayed for several weeks. Each of the singles sold well: "A crédits et en stéréo", "Bye bye Johnny be good", "C’est un rocker", etc.
After a memorable season at L’Olympia in May 75, where he was backed by McCoy and his musicians, a live record was released by Barclay (the second after the one released in 69). Sticking to the winning recipe, they returned to the States again to record "Made in U.S.A.". The album was a golden disc in France.
Eddy Mitchell launched his own production company in 76 with "Pas de boogie woogie", an adaptation of an American standard. From then on he left only the distribution of his discs to Barclay. The same year, he toured France from May to September.
It had been Nashville that had put Eddy back on the road to success. Faithful to this hospitable town (he is an honorary citizen), he returned to record "Sur la route de Memphis", which included the hits, "La fille du motel" and "Sur la route de Memphis". Even though his inspiration came from the other side of the Atlantic, his warm voice still conveyed the varied atmospheres of his French lyrics with great sensitivity and precision.
Back in the USA
A Nashville studios season ticket holder, Eddy continued recording albums at the rate of one a year. In 77, he concocted a new Franco-American cocktail; "la Dernière Séance", a tender tribute to the mythical films of his youth. On this album, there is also an autobiographical song, "Et la voix d’Elvis…". Nostalgia began to manifest itself more and more in the artist’s songs. His fans remained faithful and the album was yet another golden disc (it was becoming a habit).
Also in 77, Eddy played at the Palais des Sports for a week and, to mark his attachment to his beloved Nashville, he divided his show into two halves: "before and after Nashville, and had American backing singers and musicians, including the inevitable Charlie McCoy.
Eddy, the Veteran Crooner
After a new album in 78, "Après minuit", and the hit, "Il ne rentre pas ce soir", in 79 he recorded "C’est bien fait". New hits were on the way: "L’important c’est d’aimer bien sa maman" and "Tu peux préparer le café noir". The lyrics of these songs are tender, humorous slices of everyday life : nothing revolutionary, simply a debonair attitude which suits him down to the ground.
The new decade began well for "Monsieur Eddy", as he was now known. His professionalism was admired by everybody. In 1980 he celebrated twenty years in the music business with "Happy Birthday". The album sold 500.000 copies, thanks to the hit number which has become his signature tune, "Couleur menthe à l’eau". After a two year break, he returned to L’Olympia, where he recorded a triple live album.
But, at the beginning of the eighties, it was the cinema which seemed to interest him most. Film director Bertrand Tavernier gave him a real chance to prove himself as an actor in "Coup de torchon". In 82, Eddy Mitchell’s love for the Seventh Art led him to host and produce, "La dernière séance", a programme entirely devoted to cinema on the French television channel, FR3.
In 82 it was off to the States again for another recording: "le Cimetière des éléphants". Another hit.
After withdrawing Barclay’s distribution rights, Eddy Mitchell signed a contract with RCA in 83. The first two albums released on this label were respectively a compilation and a collection of previously unreleased recordings. It was not until the following year, after another cinematic interlude ("Attention une femme peut en cacher une autre") by Lautner and "A mort l’arbitre" by Mocky), that his next album of new material was released: "Racines". Without doubt the most accomplished of all his albums, "Racines" received the Académie Charles Cros award. Again in the nostalgic vein, it included "Nashville ou Belleville and "Comme quand j’étais môme".
From then on he divided his professional life between the cinema, music and television. The variety of activities seemed to suit him perfectly. Passing from one to the other, he was as at ease in front of the cameras as he was in front of the microphone.
In 84, he was at the Palais des Sports in Paris with a stage show directed by theatre director Jerôme Savary. A double live album of the show was released. In 85, he was back on stage at the Printemps de Bourges festival with his old friend, Johnny Hallyday, for a joyous musical flashback to the sixties. Success guaranteed.
The album, "Eddy "Paris" Mitchell", was the beginning of a new way of working. For the first time in a long time, he recorded new material in Paris, taking advantage of the occasion to record the duo, "Vieille Canaille", with Serge Gainsbourg. However, the change in musical direction didn’t receive wholehearted approval from his fans.
He gave up producing his own material, giving this over to Polydor, his new label. Soon after this he left for Nashville again and in 87 brought out "Mitchell". The single titles were "La peau d’une autre" and "M’man". One also has to mention "Soixante, soixante-deux", a song about the Algerian war. Eddy Mitchell, aided as ever by Pierre Papadiamandis, had gradually turned into a crooner with the warm, ample voice of a rock singer. 89 was a busy year with the release of a new album, evocatively entitled, "Ici Londres". With Johnny Hallyday, Jean-Jacques Goldman, Véronique Sanson and Michel Sardou, he went on a benefit tour for the Restos du Cœur, a charity organisation founded by the French comedian and actor, Coluche.
A Very Busy Schedule
The cinema, concerts (at the Casino de Paris and the Zenith) and tours took up most of the next two years. In 93, he released a new album, "Rio Grande". The ten songs, recorded in London and in Alabama, flirted with rhythm ‘n’ blues, the blues and the crooner’s ballad. His fans had a new taste of what they liked best in Eddy: simple, effective lyrics, and music conjuring up the wide open spaces of America. Sales passed the 500.000 mark. As though in exchange for this, the singer gave three series of concerts, each with a different theme: big-band format at the Casino de Paris in December, country at L’Olympia in January 94, pop at the Zenith in February, and finally all three together in "Tout Eddy" at the Bercy sports arena in March. A series of high quality live album releases followed.
After writing "P’tit Claude", a collection of short stories about the Belleville quarter of Paris where he grew up, Eddy Mitchell acted in Etienne Chatiliez’s "Le bonheur est dans le pré," a huge box office success for which he was awarded a César. He then embarked on a series of recording sessions in Memphis, Nashville and Paris. The album, "Mr Eddy", produced by Ian Taylor, was entirely written by Papadiamandis, as was "Un portrait de Norman Rockwell", a tribute to the American painter.
True to form, Mitchell went on to win the 1996 "Oscar de la Chanson française" (awarded by the French copyright association la SACEM). He went back on stage again at the Bercy stadium in February 97 then embarked upon a major tour. In May and June 98, Mitchell performed a new series of concerts at Le Petit Journal (a well-known jazz club in Montparnasse, Paris). These concerts - of a smaller, more intimate nature - proved a huge success with his fans.
Mr Eddy returned to the forefront of the French music scene in October ‘99 with a new album entitled "Les Nouvelles aventures d’Eddy Mitchell". Musically speaking, the album was influenced by three American towns - rhythm’n’blues from Memphis, Cajun sounds and rock’n’roll from New Orleans and ‘crooning’ and soaring violins from Los Angeles. In fact, Mr Eddy’s musical adventures were actually not as new as all that, the singer simply fusing his veteran style with new musical trends from the 90s.
Mr Eddy kicked off a new tour on 21 January 2000, hitting the road with a group of nine musicians and a 12-strong string ensemble. After kicking off his tour at Le Zénith in Caen, Eddy went on to bring the house down with a series of concerts at Bercy stadium in Paris (where he was joined on stage by a full orchestra of 38 musicians!) The stage decor for these shows was a tribute to Eddy's other great passion in life: cartoon strips.
After his triumph at Bercy, Eddy hit the road again but the tour was brought to an abrupt halt when the singer was rushed to hospital with kidney problems. The indefatigable star resumed touring again in July, however and on July 23 rd he scored a big hit with the audience at the Vieilles Charrues music festival in Carhaix, Brittany. In April 2001 fans were treated to a new album ("les Nouvelles aventures live") and later that same year Mr Eddy threw a mega-party to celebrate his 40 years in showbizz.
Mr Eddy, tranquil daddy of French rock ‘n’ roll, bon vivant and connoisseur of whisky, is now familiar to everyone. His professionalism, his strengths and weaknesses, are known to all, as is his glacial humour, which can be disconcerting but which always ends up by charming us.
In May 2003, Eddy Mitchell released a new album that bore the sober title of Frenchy. He chose to remain faithful to Pierre Papadiamandis who wrote most of his hits. Reflecting Eddy’s usual style, the tracks borrowed from old-time rock’n’roll (especially "Faut faire avec moi") and some were tinged with country music, e.g."Route 66", the opening song. "Au bar du Lutétia" paid a tribute to the late Serge Gainsbourg, a dear friend of the singer’s. Indeed, the Frenchies fell for it and the album soon rocketed to the top of the French charts.
In the autumn of that year, Mr. Eddy embarked upon an extensive tour which included some sixty dates as well as a run at the legendary Olympia, in Paris (18 September - 5 October 2003). His live album, "Frenchy Tour" was recorded there and released as both a CD and DVD in November 2004.
On his 2006 album "Jambalaya", Eddy turned to Louisiana for inspiration. The album, named after the Cajun culinary specialty known as jambalaya, was recorded in Los Angeles. But it was infused with a strong country-rock flavour as a tribute to New Orleans (still mostly lying in ruins in the wake of Hurricane Katrina which had devastated the city a year earlier). Guest composers on the new album included Pierre Papadiamandis, JP Nataf, Art Mengo and Henri Salvador, who wrote "L'amour se trouve au coin de la rue". Eddy also invited his old friend Johnny Hallyday to guest on the duo "On veut des légendes" and recorded other tracks with American stars: Little Richard (on a cover of "Elle est terrible") and Beverly Jo Scott ("Comme la planète").
courtesy of RFI November 2006