Joe Dassin

Born : 05/11/1938 in New York (USA)
Dead : 20/08/1980 in Papeete (Tahiti)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Male Artist
Style of music : Chanson

Joe Dassin launched his career in America, singing French chanson classics on the local bar circuit. But the enterprising young singer would soon bring his distinctive brand of American folk to France, rocketing to the top of the charts in the 60's with his hit single "Bip Bip". Although his career was cut short by a fatal heart attack in Tahiti in 1980, Dassin would record a whole string of hit singles including his legendary "L'été indien".

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Joe Dassin launched his career in America, singing French chanson classics on the local bar circuit. But the enterprising young singer would soon bring his distinctive brand of American folk to France, rocketing to the top of the charts in the 60's with his hit single "Bip Bip". Although his career was cut short by a fatal heart attack in Tahiti in 1980, Dassin would record a whole string of hit singles including his legendary "L'été indien".

Joseph Ira Dassin was born in New York on November 5 1938. At the time of his birth his father Jules, a Russian Jew, was attempting to launch an acting career while his mother Béatrice Launer, a Hungarian-born musician, was working as a violinist in an all-female orchestra.

Soon after Joseph's birth, the family moved to Los Angeles where his father, Jules, became one of the most prominent Hollywood movie directors of the 40's. Meanwhile young Joe spent a golden childhood in California with his sisters Rickie and Julie.

Yet Joe's idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end during the McCarthy era when his father was blacklisted in Hollywood because of his political beliefs and could no longer find work. The family left the States and began a long period of wandering from country to country, young Joe being dragged from one school to another. The Dassins eventually settled in Paris in 1950. Joe, who appeared to be far more passionate about sport than about his school studies, nevertheless managed to pass his 'baccalauréat' in Grenoble, even gaining a distinction. The young boy was obviously destined for a university career, but following his parents' divorce in 1956, Joe left France and returned to the United States. It was here that he would finally enroll at university, studying medicine before switching to ethnology. A gifted student, he soon went on to obtain a PHD.

Dassin meets Berr yGordy and Bob Dylan

During his student days Joe earned his living through a series of odd jobs, working as a cook, a dustbin man and a plumber, before landing a job as a DJ on WCX radio in Detroit in 1958. It was here that he met Berry Gordy, the famous creator of Tamla Motown. During his stay in the States Joe became friendly with a number of top names in the music business including young 60's folk singer, Pete Seeger, who introduced him to a young man by the name of Robert Zimmerman (who would later become the legendary Bob Dylan). Joe was gradually becoming interested in music himself and he would frequently go busking with a French friend, performing classic Brassens's songs on the sidewalks and cafe terraces. This proved to be useful experience for young Joe, as it gave him plenty of guitar practice.

In the early 60's Joe returned to France where he continued to pick up a series of odd jobs. His father found him work in the film industry but it was Joe's presenting job on the Paris-based radio station RTL which proved to be the turning-point of his whole career. For it was here that Joe met a press attaché from the record label CBS who persuaded him to record a first single.

Joe's début single "Je change un peu de vent", an adaptation of a popular American song of the time, was released in March 1965. It was something of a flop, selling only 1,800 copies, but Joe was undeterred by this early failure. He had been bitten by the music bug and was now absolutely determined to launch a singing career. After a fateful encounter with the songwriter Jacques Plaid Joe's career got off to a flying start. Plaid's songs soon got the young singer rocketing to the top of the charts and the first hit "Bip Bip", released in 1966, turned him into an overnight star. Joe's husky, deep voice, his exotic American origins and his natural elegance caused a real stir on the French music scene and the singer's new repertoire of American folk songs and country music proved to be a welcome novelty in 60's France.

The professional perfectionnist

In 1966, Joe married, Maryse, a woman 7 years younger than himself. Maryse was instrumental in getting Joe's career off the ground, acting as his private secretary and press attaché as well as taking on the role of general impressario. Joe, catapulted to fame overnight, soon picked up the basic rules of the recording industry. Renowned for his professional perfectionism, the young man demanded to record all his work in London, claiming that London recording studios produced a more sophisticated modern sound. In London Joe worked with only the top professionals including Johnny Arthey, one of the most talented musical arrangers of the 60's.

Joe made his concert début in 1967, supporting Salvatore Adamo on tour. By 1968 he was back at the top of the charts with "Les Dalton", which was soon followed by a whole string of new hit singles. By 1969 the young Franco-American star was firmly established at the forefront of the French music scene. After a tour of Canada and Africa, Joe performed a series of concerts in France that summer, followed by thousands of screaming girl fans wherever he went. Tickets for Joe Dassin concerts were, needless to say, sold out weeks in advance. Joe's hits earnt him a veritable collection of gold discs and later that year the young singer received the ultimate accolade, winning the prestigious "Prix Charles Cros de l'Académie du Disque". At the end of the year Joe performed at the Olympia, the most famous of all Paris's concert halls - a sign of ultimate success in itself.

Les Champs-Elysées

The 70's got off to an excellent start for Joe when the single "Les Champs-Elysées" rocketed to the top of the charts, breaking all his previous sales records. Joe continued his busy lifestyle, performing sell-out tours, winning another string of gold discs and becoming a permanent fixture on French chat shows. In May 1972 Joe invested part of his new-found wealth in a house in Tahiti, close to the island of Bora Bora, where he took time off to indulge in one of his favourite sports, fishing. Whenever he could take a break from touring and recording Joe could be found in his island home surrounded by his group of close friends, which included fellow singing star Carlos (the only artist apart from himself for whom Joe ever wrote any songs). On February 19 1974 Joe returned to the Olympia for another series of sell-out concerts.

L'été Indien

Joe was by now working with two talented French songwriters, Claude Lemesle and Pierre Delanoé. It was this pair who were responsible for Joe Dassin's best-selling hit of all time, "L'été indien" (an adaptation of one of the Italian singing star Toto Cutugno's most popular songs). Released in October 1975, "L'été indien" went on to become one of the French music scene's all-time classics. That same year Joe bought a new house in the countryside north of Paris (in the Seine et Oise region) and installed offices and a home studio there, so that he could manage his career from home. 1975 was also the year of his divorce from Maryse.

In 1976 Joe Dassin was back at the top of the charts with the single "Ça va pas changer le monde". This single was soon followed by "A toi" which proved to be another smash hit in 1977.

Joe, an extremely private person who shunned the limelight as much as he could, was not able to stay out of the headlines in 1978 however. His marriage to Christine Delvaux, a young woman he had met in Normandy two years earlier, was featured on all the magazine covers. Surrounded by a sea of photographers and adoring fans, Joe's wedding took place on January 14 in the tiny village of Cotignac in Provence (where Joe owned another house). After the wedding the couple would set off on their honeymoon, travelling around North America with Joe nipping back to Europe for touring and recording engagements. It was while the singer was performing in Canada later that year that his son, Jonathan, was born in Paris on September 14 1978.

The final concert at the Olympia

In 1979 Joe returned to the Olympia for what was to prove his final concert there. In December the singer suffered a heart attack and was later rushed to hospital for an operation following the discovery of a stomach ulcer. Joe, visibly exhausted by these operations, cancelled the remainder of his tour dates.

In March 1980 Joe's second son, Julien, was born, but this joyful event was marred by the singer's second divorce just a few weeks later. Joe was plagued by health problems for the rest of the year, and was taken to hospital in Paris and then Los Angeles for heart problems. On July 11 he was back on stage, however, giving a final gala performance in Cannes before flying off to Tahiti for a break with his mother, his two sons and his closest friends. It was while on holiday in Tahiti, during an outing to a restaurant in Papeete that Joe suffered another heart attack, which would this time prove fatal. The singer died on August 20, 1980.

In spite of his untimely death Joe Dassin remains one of the most popular figures in the history of French music. His songs, which sold millions worldwide during his lifetime, are still frequently played on French radio today almost 20 years after his death. In 1994 a group of young French artists (including Les Objets, Katerine, Jean Louis Murat and the group Autour de Lucie) got together to pay tribute to the inimitable Franco-American star, recording cover versions of his most famous songs on the compilation album "L'équipe à Jojo".

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