A Montreal rock band, rehearsing for that night’s performance, is developing one particular blues riff. This was the birthplace of Câline de blues, a song now revered as a classic in the blues-rock repertoire that established the international reputation of the group Offenbach, and that was born from the bass of Michel Lamothe, the melody of Gerry Boulet, and the pen of Pierre Harel.
Offenbach’s members had long debated what language they should sing in. Boulet held strongly to the custom of singing in English, but Pierre Harel felt that French would be more natural. While the band members sat around waiting on Harel’s arrival, they started playing around a good “walking boogie” lead by Michel Lamothe. When Harel arrived, Gerry was singing “That’s why, that’s why I’m singing the blues”. Harel then composed French lyrics on a paper place-mat that became the chorus “L’aut’soir, l’aut’soir, j’ai chanté du blues / L’aut’soir, l’aut’soir ça l’a rendu jalouse”, creating a ground-breaking adaptation of Canadian French to the rhythms of American rock.
Câline de blues was first recorded in January 1972 as part of the soundtrack to the film “Bulldozer” by Pierre Harel, and then released on Offenbach’s first LP, “Offenbach Soap Opera,” on the Barclay label in May 1972. Câline de doux blues was released as a 45-rpm single. In 1973, it was released in France, with Faut que j’me pousse on the B side.
The song is an unusually long (over five minutes) tongue-in-cheek lament on a bluesman’s girlfriend having left him because he spends too much time playing the blues. The first lines translate roughly as “Darned sweet blues, Darned blues, I gotta play you,” reflecting the genre’s addictive nature.
Câline de blues became a staple of Offenbach’s live performances and recordings. It was featured on their 1973 album “Bulldozer,” and again in 1979 on the single, Offenbach Avec Vic Vogel – Câline de blues, with Le Blues me guette on the B side. It was also used as one of the two theme songs in Harel’s 1974 film “Bulldozer,” a rock opera shot partly in a dump of Abitibi, a marginal and hopeless world
within which the disparate characters seek to break free.
Offenbach’s first gold album, “Offenbach en fusion” (a jazz-rock hit), contained another edition of the song, helping steer Offenbach to three ADISQ (Félix) awards in 1980. They performed it at their final concert in November 1985, and it is heard on their 1983 album “À fond de train Live” and 1985’s “Le dernier show.” At a 2005 reunion concert, guest singer Martin Deschamps and the band performed the song as the finale.
Câline de blues has been recognized both formally and informally. It received a SOCAN Classics award in 2004 for over 25,000 radio plays (the first award for Harel from his peers); the Montreal Gazette included the song on a list of Quebec anthems, and it is performed at blues festivals. But perhaps the most telling honour is that the phrase “câline de blues” has entered the French language, for example, in reference to the winter blues.
Câline de blues appears on compilation albums like “40 grands succès de la chanson populaire du Québec,” “Québec Rock 1970-1979,” “Les 20 plus grands succès Barclay,” “Les jalouses de blues,” and “Succès tout frais/Refreshing Hits” (1975), where it is paired with classic Canadian hits like Born to be Wild, Last Song, and These Eyes. Arrangements have been published for solo guitar, voice and piano, and student jazz band; and Richard Ferland orchestrated an arrangement for brass, guitar, bass, piano, and drums.
Gerry Boulet died of cancer in July 1990 and was posthumously honoured with a Félix award for lifetime achievement. After a few years with Offenbach, Pierre Harel, Roger Belval and Michel Lamothe (the son of country singer Willie Lamothe) formed another successful group, Corbeau, with Donald Hince in 1976. This band gained success soon after Marjolène Morin (Marjo) and Jean Millaire joined the band. When they both left the band in 1985 the fusion of Corbeau and Offenbach’s Michel Bessette and Robert Champoux became Corbach. Corbach played “Câline de blues” in every concert they played for nearly 30 years.