Sunday, August 27, 2006

Les Sultans - Non Non Non (DSP 8624)

Non Non Non

Well, we made it back in one piece. Our latest foray into the unknown covered over 2000 miles of highway, and took us to one of my favorite places on earth, Québec.

Québec City was founded in 1608 (!), and while that might not seem like any big deal to those of you on the other side of the pond, the fact that you can drive there in one (tres long) day from New York is, once again, like operating a time machine.

One of the first things you notice after your machine crosses the border is that you can actually listen to the radio. This place has a music all its own... great guitar driven rock & roll-ish stuff that keeps me interested, even though I have no clue as to what the lyrics might mean. The last time we were up there was something like 15 years ago, and a tape I made off of the radio of people like Robert Charlebois still holds up today.

I spent some time in the great Archambault location in the old city this time around, listening to some current CDs, and left with new releases by Pierre Lapointe and MalaJube that came highly recommended by the incredibly helpful people that worked there.

No vinyl, though... hmmm.

I got out the yellow pages (en Francais) up in our hotel room, and was able to decipher enough of it to find the great 'Chez Sonny', just outside the gates of Vieux-Québec. LPs line the walls, and spill out of cardboard boxes on the floor. My kind of place. I didn't see any 45s, though, but when I asked Michel behind the counter (using my rotten high school French), his eyes lit up. He pulled out a couple of those vintage naugahyde boxes, and we started going through 'em. I told him my knowledge of the local musique was essentially zero, and asked him to pick out a few. (All of this was happening, of course, while the wife and kids were waiting out in the car, and so things were a bit rushed...) I ended up leaving with a handful of records, the coolest of which, Michel assured me, was our current selection. "The Japanese just LOVE this stuff!", he told me...

Well, ya learn something new every day. As it turns out, Les Sultans were one of the most popular groups to emerge from the Québecois Garage Band scene of the mid 60s. Originally an instrumental outfit known as Les Dowries, they added lead vocalist (and local hearthrob) Bruce Huard in 1963 and changed their name. A number of singles on local labels like Fontaine and Laniel were to follow, but it wasn't until they signed with Teledisc in 1966 that things really started happening.

Teledisc was formed in 1965 by Denis Pantis, who had started out in 1961 as Elvis-styled singer Danté. He had gone on to do production work for labels like Trans-Canada, working with award winning songstress Michele Richard. Pantis was almost single-handedly responsible for creating the North American equivalent of Parisian yé-yé, and had Les Sultans cover some Zombies and Kinks tunes on their debut album. By 1967, he had formed his own promotion and management company called, oddly enough, Denis S. Pantis Industries, with it's own label, DSP. Les Sultans' second album, Express, was one of the first to be released on the label, and was kind of like their "Rubber Soul", showing off their acoustic folky side.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the band recorded a live album in early 1968, Les Sultans En Personne A Starovan, that was billed as their "Spectacular Goodbye". It was apparently a HUGE record in Québec, and featured high energy covers of Motown and Chuck Berry tunes, as well as their popular originals. Today's B side is the flip of their last single, En Fermant La Porte, a French language cover of the Wes Farrell penned Jay & The Americans hit, Knock Down The Door, and was apparently released just before their spectacular goodbye. Written by Pantis and lead singer Huard, it's acoustic guitars and tight harmonies put me in mind of 1967 contemporaries like Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds... a very cool record by a band that could have been big south of the border. It's a shame they said adieu so soon!

Anyway, our trip continued on to Charlevoix and around the Gaspésie, through some of the most spectacular scenery on the face of the Earth. It was like living in a dream, man.

I'm having a hard time waking up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know ths comment is coming a million years after the original post, but I had to come back to say that I absolutely love this song. It's been a constant on my iPod. The way he delivers the chorus ("non non non") is so heartbreaking and that high harmony in the back really enforces the sadness. The 7th chords/minor chords and the surprising swing ending absolutely kill me. It's a beautifully written and performed pop song. Thank you so much for introducing me to this song!

1:49 PM  
Blogger Hectorvadair said...

Yep ! There have been lot of days passed since this post for me too, but as I a french guy, this post talks to me you guess.
Les Sultans is obviously a huge band in the land of 60's francophone garage collectors, and the fact you wrote this note as a Quebec turist with all the poetry that goes with it (around the rest of your usual posts) is extraordinary.
Thank you for this. That's pretty cool and shows a sympathetic mind's overture.

4:38 PM  

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