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Jean Millaire

Year of Induction: 2023
Origin: Montréal, QC

A distinguished guitarist and brilliant songwriter, Jean Millaire left an indelible mark on the Canadian music scene. Known for his ear for melody, Millaire had a prolific career marked by collaborations with countless artists and blues, rock and pop bands. His guitar solos are often so catchy that you can hum them.

Born in Montréal on August 17, 1951, Millaire shows a marked interest in music at a young age. At the age of 15, Millaire doesn’t have his own guitar, so he practises with a friend’s instrument and learns to play by listening to British bands and artists including The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds, Chicken Shack, Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall. Thanks to Mayall, he went on to discover the great American bluesmen: Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and B. B. King, to name a few. His mother, whom he considers his biggest fan, encouraged him to keep on with the guitar and occasionally attended his shows.

In 1968, with the band Expedition, he travelled through Québec and the Maritimes, where he is sometimes paid $5 per show. On November 22, 1972, Expedition recorded the album Live at the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. Until the late 1970s, Millaire and his group performed at Café Campus, located near the Université de Montréal, accompanying all the blues performers who played there, including John Lee Hooker. 

It’s around that time that he met harmonica player Jim Zeller. Together, they jammed with all the big names in the blues universe: Muddy Waters, Willy Dixon, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton and B.B. King. He performed in François Guy’s musical revues, accompanied singer Priscilla and joined the group Offenbach before quitting eight months later, just before the release of the album Traversion. He then met Murray Head, with whom he played at Place des Arts when his hit Say It Ain’t So was just taking off.  

It’s while he played for Steve Faulkner that he met Michel Lamothe, one of Corbeau’s founding members. After joining the group, he took on the role of co-creator by writing songs with singer-songwriter Marjo, who later became his life companion around the time Corbeau’s second album, Fou, was released. The fusion of Millaire’s melodic riffs with Marjo’s powerful voice is a key element in Corbeau’s success. Numerous songs, most notably Ailleurs, Illégal and J’lâche pas, have become anthems of Québécois rock. 

Marjo and Millaire left Corbeau in 1984 and began working together on the singer’s first solo album. Released in 1986, Celle qui va was a hit both in Canada and in France with more than 200,000 copies sold, and it went on to win the Félix award for Rock Album of the Year. Their musical collaboration, which lasted several years, was prolific and gave rise to a number of timeless songs such as Chats sauvages, Impoésie and Doux, numbers that are foundational to his discography. 

Over the years, Jean Millaire explored a range of musical horizons, collaborating with a multitude of artists and delving into new styles. His musical curiosity led him to incorporate jazz, blues and folk influences into his guitar playing, creating a rich and varied sound signature. His mastery of the guitar, musical sense and constant desire to explore new avenues have made him one of the most respected guitarists in Québec.  

  

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