This is the audio version of Pete Feenstra’s interview with French drumming legend Jeff Gautier including music from his band Bars On Fire and other examples from a 40 year career. The English translation is below. (58:26)
Interview: JEFF GAUTIER
This is the Pete Feenstra Feature speaking to Jeff Gautier, one of France’s busiest drummers.
Jeff’s musical CV includes Jean-Jacques Goldman, Johnny Hallyday, Paul Personne, Calvin Russell and Bonnie Tyler.
He is also a band leader, manager, lyricist, venue owner, promoter and author.
Jeff is celebrating his 40th anniversary in the business and here he is back in 1979 with band called Weekend Millionaire and a funky single, called ‘French Music Par Excellence’
Thank you and hello.
What a great single that was. Was that the first song you ever recorded?
No, not exactly. It was the first album I worked on with Week-end Millionaire, but before that I worked with PPH (Paris Palace Hotel), which was around 1978 I think.
The singer in that band was Patrick Hernandez (52 gold and platinum record awards) and we recorded the first version of a worldwide hit ‘Born To Be Alive’.
Going back to French Music Par Excellence’, the horns and funky groove evokes Steely Dan. Did that single get any air play at the time?
Well it was played a lot at the time and did receive a lot of media coverage, but it was not a commercial success.
You also had guitarist/keyboard player Lance Dixon in that band who once played with the great London band Gonzales. How did you meet up?
I met him through Michael Jones and he’s still a good friend of mine.
OK let’s come back to the present and play the first of a handful of tracks by the big band you are leading at the moment called Bars On Fire and a track called ‘My Kind Of Woman’ featuring Jeff Gautier on drums and Ken Barrett on vocals.
OK Jeff we’re doing the interview in your club Le Bistrot Gourmand in the hamlet of Bars, Perigord, SW France,
Was it always your dream to run a venue after you came off the road?
Yes it was always a dream, but not easy to achieve.
How did you find the place and how long have you been here?
Well we’ve been in Bars about 5 years now (Jeff and his partner Marianne run the Bistrot, with Jeff in charge of the music).
As regards finding the venue, about 30 years ago I had lived in Dordogne with my first wife. We had a son and later separated. But I kept coming back to the region and the people are warm and friendly.
So when I retired from touring and after living in Paris, Switzerland and Normandy, I was looking for a place with Marianne my new partner in Dordogne.
We were looking for a commercial outlet and we looked at the adverts in the papers and found this place (Bistrot Gourmand in Bars). We had eaten there some months before and loved the place, but it wasn’t for sale then.
Then later it did become available we phoned straight away and we moved to Bars.
It’s a very interesting place as we get people from everywhere. People from different backgrounds and countries all come to the place. They may be Dutch or English for example, but all these people come together to the place and create a particular vibe.
The track we played by Bars On Fire the line-up is; you on drums, Ken Barrett on vocals, Alain Willems on guitars, Pascal Evrard on bass Paul Mouradian on keys, Patrice Quentin on Saxes & flute, Cyrille De la Hammaide on Trumpet, Arnaud Maillard on Trombone and Fred Laborie backing vocals.
How did you manage to get together such an impressive big band in the middle of the countryside in Dordogne? (laughs)
Yes it was a bit difficult and we had to work very hard to make the band come together in the middle of nowhere! We rehearse a lot and play mainly outside of the club and Bars itself.
Let’s go back to the beginning of your career What made you become a drummer in the first place, and who were your original influences?
When I was 11 or 12 my parents took me to a July 14th ball in the little village where we lived. And when I saw the drum kit on stage and all the sparking red light surrounding it I was hooked. Then I saw the drummer – I still remember his name to this day – and that was when I decided I wanted to become a drummer.
You’re known for being a versatile and high energy drummer, but you can also groove, do you enjoy playing many different styles rather than playing in one band?
Yes I do and you have to be versatile to keep working of course.
Who were your biggest influences as a drummer?
The biggest influence for me was Deep Purple’s Ian Paice. He was the drummer I stole most of my ideas and style from. I tried to copy him because of his precision. He is a metronomic and always a straight ahead drummer. He has been a constant inspiration through my career especially in the way I play.
You started in Paris playing in clubs like Golf-Drouot in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It started in 1955 as a tea room with a miniature golf course and in 1961 it became a nightclub, which promoted acts like people like Free, David Bowie and The Who.
What kind of music was being played at the time you were there and who were the sorts of bands on the circuit?
As you said there were band like Free and Brian Auger. Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express was another big influence on me. I used to go weekly to watch bands like that, but I was also playing in a competition, in which the winner was given the opportunity to progress in their career. The prize would be something like a free studio session for example.
OK let’s play another track by Bars On Fire, with Ken Barrett on vocals and a version of Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin Alright’
With such a big band, who decides the material you play?
It’s a collective decision, though of course the music has to suit the singer you have. I was the founder member of the band and I met vocalist Ken Barrett and we became friends. My initial idea was to play American Rhythm and blues – stuff like Sam & Dave for example, but very quickly we found that having Ken in the band meant the music was closer to Joe Cocker and British bands.
If we eventually take the band on tour – and it might happen – the choice of material would come from Ken. I think it’s very important for the singer to choose the songs.
You’ve played with a lot of bands – pop, rock, soul, disco, funk , country and blues groups – also with chanteurs, orchestras and you have been a studio musician. Which do you prefer live or studio?
I always preferred playing live; this is what gives me most pleasure.
In your long career you have played with high profile artists like Alain Souchon, Laurent Voulzy, Johnny Hallyday, J.J. Goldman, Paul Personne, Calvin Russell and even Bonnie Tyler in the States?
Which was the favourite part of your career?
I would have to say my time with Paul Personne. He is a great guitarist, singer and blues man. He is a very focused performer and a very demanding musician.
He used to be a drummer himself, so he knew what he wanted, particularity from the drummer. He would ask you to learn a specific way of playing different parts, but after a while he said: “you know what I want, play as you want to”. It was great for me and I toured with him for 5 years.
OK time for another track from Bars On Fire – this is your version of Miles Davis’s ‘So What’
Does Bars On Fire have any plans to record at all?
I really hope so, I’d really like to. But the intention behind recording would be to either write some new material or do original arrangements of covers.
Guitarist Allan Willems and keyboard Paul Maradian from the band write songs and Ken has some lyrics, but we need to spend more time together to create something.
We mentioned Michael Jones at the start of the programme and you also cut a disco single with him with Gulfstream called ‘For Daniel’ on Pathe Marconi. Was it through Michael that you were introduced to Jean-Jacques Goldman?
Yes. I was playing with Michael Jones in the studio. He was the guitarist in Weekend Millionaire, we stayed several years together in that band. We did a lot of studio work, different sessions and making music for adverts etc, we became better and better, but eventually went our different ways.
This when Michael met Jean-Jacques Goldman. And when Jean Jacques decided he wanted to tour he asked Michael to put a band together and so Michael called me and the others.
You also appeared on ‘Promises’ – a track from the Michael Jones & The Swinglers album in 1987.
Yes I played on the Swinglers for Michael.
There’s was a big 80’s drum sound around that time Jeff, did you ever get into electronic drums or those Lynn machines at all?
Well I did play some Simmons electronic drums, but they were part of the acoustic kit. I did it as it was very fashionable at the time and everybody wanted the electronic sound.
But I always preferred the acoustic sound of the drum. It is the only pure sound and the personal touch of the drummer. No drummer has the same touch as another drummer.
The 80’s wasn’t a great time for drummers, with drum machines etc, did you find yourself having to diversify or did you just busy touring?
Yes you have to diversify and be versatile to get work. We were in France after all, not the USA and it’s hard to make a living just by being a drummer alone.
I always tried not to compromise myself and never worked on projects I didn’t like or with people I didn’t like. As a musician I was always trying to be at peace with myself.
You joined Jean-Jacques Goldman in 1983 for about 7/8 years and you were on 3 albums and 3 DVD’s. Was there still plenty of Goldmania (The French equivalent of Beatle mania) at the time?
Just a bit (he laughs). It really was GOLDMANMANIA. It was crazy, we all had in our mind the picture of the screaming crowds for The Beatles and by the second tour we felt a bit like the French Beatles. I mean because of the craziness not the music. They wanted autographs everything they could get, especially the girls….
You were also part of the famous ‘Positif’ tour in 1984, tell us about that?
Oh yeah, it’s a tour we will never forget, 180 gigs!! We toured everywhere, mainly in France to start with, then Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and even French Canada.
But for the ‘Positif’ tour Jean-Jacques made the decision to play different dates in Europe. We played in London, Munich, the Flemish part of Belgium and it became a custom that after each tour all the band was offered a trip around the world. He was a very generous man.
But we also played in all those places where we went, such as Asia for example…Jakarta, Manila, Bali, Bangkok, Vietnam etc, but also small places with a French community. Even then we were playing to about 1/2000 people a night, so we all made enough money to do the tourist trip in parallel to our playing.
On another end of tour we went to the USA, we played New York, Miami, LA, San Francisco etc. In fact in LA they sang along in French and incredibly there was between 5 to 6,000 people there!
Did you ever get the chance to work with his vocalist Carole Fredericks – a great singer who is sadly no longer with us?
Yes of course, she was part of the band and was on tour with us. She was a great singer, and a very big personality, but also a great human being. She was very religious, but never bothered us with that. She was also a very kind person.
OK let’s play part of a great live cut from 1989, by Jean-Jacques Goldman, this is ‘Traces Medley’ from the ‘Traces’ album on Epic.
In the mid-80’s you also worked on some demos for the Johnny Hallyday album ‘Gang’, How did that come about?
Well the ‘Gang’ album was written by Jean-Jacques Goldman. We were working with him and when he needed a band to work on the album he called us up. After that Johnny’s manager also asked me to play on some of the video clips.
At that time we were still touring with Jean-Jacques Goldman and Johnny was very close to Jean-Jacques. He would come out at the end of several gigs and sing with us, maybe one or two songs. And if Johnny was there, there would always be an after show party, as Johnny liked partying!
OK let’s play a track from Johnny’s 1986 ‘Gang’ album, this is called ‘Encore’
How did you find working with Johnny?
I really enjoyed working with him. He was an exceptional singer and a very unique character, what you call a force of nature.
Every time he came on stage he had a powerful presence. The band could feel it and he gave everyone a lot of energy.
OK lets jump to 1996 when you formed JEFFCA MUSIQUE with your sister.
Did you move more into production and editing at that point? And is Jeffca Musique still going?
Yes it still exists, but now I’m a bit out of it all. But my sister Cathy and her son are still running the company. At the beginning we were mainly into production and editing, and though we didn’t have any hits, we were close several times.
When I left the company my sister Cathy decided to do mainly live music and she became what we call entrepreneur de spectacles (an agent).
In 2003 you started touring with blues-rock guitarist Paul Personne for several years, especially in 2004 on what he called the “French Never Ending Tour.” How long did that last and what do you remember about that?
‘The Never Ending Tour’ was originally planned to last about 18 months, but it was so good that he didn’t want it to stop. So he asked his manager if we could go back on the road. We ended up touring all round France, as well as the French islands, Réunion, Canada etc, so it became known as the ‘Never Ending Tour.’
That was a great band with you Fred Payonne, Claude Langlois, Jeremy Lacoste, and Gloria) are those guys still around?
Yes I think they are all still playing though the bassist Stefan Eichler who I worked with is very ill unfortunately. We are very close and he was like my musical brother.
Jeremy Lacoste is Paul’s son and he’s also a very good guitarist and he should be playing Bistort Gorman in Bars in early 2020.
OK let’s play part of a great long live track: this is Paul Personne and ‘Big Blues’ from the live DVD release ‘Les Vieilles Charrues 2004’ on Polydor
That festival appearance was fantastic and there were about 40,000 people there too.
So you had 5 years with Paul, then you hooked up with Calvin Russell.
He plays a lot of different style from Americana and Tex- Mex to blues and rock & roll, so I guess you were his perfect versatile drummer?
Yes you have to be (laughs), otherwise I couldn’t have played with all those different bands and as you say you have to be versatile to play with someone like Calvin.
OK let’s play a track by Calvin Russell. This is ‘Are you Ready’ from ‘Contrabendo’ on XIII BIS Records
Since that time Jeff, you have been as busy as ever, with bands like Soulification, JMM Blues, Bus Stop, Rolando Giordani, The Bluebirds and En Passant – featuring members of Jean- Jacques Goldman’s band and of course Bars On Fire.
Yes I still try and keep busy and I really hope it will never end. My life is to play music and pursue different projects.
Actually there’s a band you didn’t mention called Texas Line, which is closer to country music and a great band.
Did You play Billy Bobs with them at the Disney village?
Yes we did. For me Texas Line’s ‘Old Time Is Still There’ is a very good album and one of the albums I’m most proud of. The band also played at Le Bistrot Gourmand in Bars at the very beginning of the venue.
Finally, you also became a co-author of several books including ‘Blues Mortel’, with Josie Hack. Was that book autobiographical?
Not really, but it was something very particular. I met Josie because of our mutual love for Rory Gallagher and we ended up talking about writing something.
I said I’d like to write my biography for my kids. In fact I’ve got 200 pages so far, but I don’t think I will edit it, but will make it something for my family and friends.
So going back to Josie, she wanted to write a murder fiction. So I said I said I had 2 or 3 ideas and so on. So we ended up writing together. And it was funny as the murder story was based round a blues band, and the murderer was a bassist who killed the people with his bass strings (laughs).
OK thanks so much for being on the show Jeff. Merci!
People can check out your gigs and the club on facebook at Le Bistrot Gourmand or Jeff Gautier.
OK, we’re playing out with Bars On Fire’s version of the Otis Redding soul classic ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’.
Interview & Photos 1/2/3/5 by Pete Feenstra
Translation: Anne Pioton
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