- Published on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 00:00
- Written by Heidi Ellison
Rocking to a
Henri Leproux, founder of the Golf Drouot, with Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell. © Jean-Louis Rancurel
Last week, a little-known (outside of France) clan gathered in the City Hall of Paris’s ninth arrondissement to celebrate its past glory. Black leather jackets, gray ponytails and dark glasses abounded in the crowd filled with aggressive paparazzi and guests pushing and shoving to get a glimpse or a photo of... well, I’m not sure – some other people with black leather jackets, gray ponytails and dark glasses, whose faces are familiar only to French rockers of a certain age. The occasion was the installation of a plaque commemorating the nightclub Golf Drouot – which had the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of French rock – at no. 2, rue Drouot.
One helpful woman in the packed room where a copy of the plaque was unveiled – too young
herself to have been a client of the club but whose boyfriend had been a drummer in a group that played there – tried to fill me in. “There’s Danyel Gérard over there,” she said. I was unenlightened. “He’s standing next to Paul-Loup Sulitzer.” Ah, there was a name I recognized, but wasn’t he a millionaire novelist known for his “financial Westerns”? Yes, but he was also a rock fan who had frequented the club famed in France for helping to kickstart the careers of Johnny Hallyday (real name: Jean-Philippe Smet) and Eddy Mitchell (real name: Claude Moine), two French rock-and-roll idols who made it big by imitating the look and sound of American rockers and singing translated versions of their songs. Today, Johnny still inspires Elvis-level passion in his French fans, even though the flint-faced rocker with a tough-guy look is now 70 years old and retired.
Johnny and Eddy, the two biggest stars spawned by the club, failed to show up for
Eddy Mitchell (center), a bank-employee-turned-rock-star, back in the day.
the event, but the fans and former habitués of the club seemed content to share their memories and snap photos of the rockers who did attend, among them Michel Jonasz (the
Michel Jonasz and Vigon at the plaque-unveiling ceremony. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Gurliat/Mairie de Paris
only one I had ever heard of), Alain Chamfort, Erick Bamy, Vigon, Danny Boy (accompanied by the three members of his group, the Pénitents, their heads covered by red balaclavas, as they always had been onstage), Bébert, Moustique (in a gold suit and multicolored baseball cap) and Alain Chennevière.
In the crowd, I met Pascale Morizur, who worked in the cloakroom of the Golf Drouot
The early Beatles look and the Sgt Pepper look.
in the early 60s while her late husband René played sax in Johnny’s backup band. With her was hairdresser Jackie Ligier, who was reliving fond memories of dancing at the club on Sunday and Monday afternoons – her days off – with “boys from the Sentier” (Paris’s garment district). “It was the first club in Paris where young people gathered to listen to live rock,” she said.
One musician I spoke to, with the requisite earring, black leather jacket and shades, said he was too young to have been a regular at the Golf Drouot, but he proudly remembered being thrown out by owner Henri Leproux after showing up drunk as a young teenager.
Looking for their younger selves in a display of photos from the club.
Another man, Alain Truffaut, had given up his early career as a drummer in a band that played at the club to become an airline pilot.
The biggest star I met at the gathering, as far as I could tell, was Antoine Baciu, who grew up to be an automobile lighting engineer, but who in the heyday of the club in the mid-60s had had a popular Dracula act with his group, Les Murators. Dressed as the famed vampire, he
The 22-year-old Antoine Baciu as Dracula.
would burst out of a coffin and gnaw on raw beef hearts, which he then threw into the audience. The high points of his career were being asked to stand in for Donovan at the famed Olympia concert hall after the British singer was injured by falling out of an airplane
A poster from the club’s groovy period.
(the stairway had not yet been put into place), and opening for the Moody Blues a couple of times, also at the Olympia.
The Golf Drouot’s strange name is explained by the fact that it actually housed a nine-hole miniature golf course in its previous incarnation as a tearoom. The club closed in
1981, and what used to be the Café de l’Angleterre next to it on the corner of Boulevard Montmartre is now a McDonald’s. Today, the only sad – and ersatz – vestige of the neighborhood’s rock-and-roll heritage is the Hard Rock Café down the road.
For a thorough history of the Golf Drouot (in French) by some of those who lived the life, visit www.golfdrouot.fr.
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