French record producer who signed Aznavour and Brel
Eddie Barclay: Eddie Barclay, who has died aged 84, was the doyen of French record producers, a man who in his own words "dedicated life to preserving the art of French song".
Often called the Bluebeard of the music world - he was married nine times - he was notorious for giving lavish parties and for his playboy lifestyle. But it was his devotion to La Chanson Française and to American jazz which made his fortune and his reputation.
Born Eduard Ruault in Paris, he was the son of a cafe waiter father, while his mother worked for the post office. In the late 1920s his parents were able to take over a large bar, Cafe de la Poste, facing the Gare de Lyon. Although Eduard and his brother spent some of their infancy in the Taverny suburb with their grandmother, at 15 his parents had removed him from school and put him to work in the cafe. As he later recalled, he had been a lazy student, and he learned a good deal more behind the bar than he had managed at school.
A self-taught musician, he was devoted to the playing of Fats Waller, and his style was good enough that he was taken on as bar pianist at a club called L'Étape on the rue Godot-de-Maury. He alternated half-hour sets every evening with another beginner, Louis de Funes, later one of the top stage and film stars in France. Whenever he could, Eduard went to the Hot Club de France to hear Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt and their quintet.
With the second World War, the fall of France and the German occupation, jazz was banned by the Nazis, and a group of friends would meet in Eduard's room over the bar to listen to jazz records, or tune in to clandestine radio stations.
Pierre-Louis Guerin, later the proprietor of Le Lido, gave Eduard another job as pianist, at his first nightspot, Le Club.
After the liberation in 1944, and with the fashion for American music, Eduard changed his name to Eddie Barclay. With Eddie's Club, he claimed to have launched the first discotheque and in 1947 started his own band, with a line-up including Harry Cooper on trumpet, Jean-Pierre Sasson on electric guitar and Bobby Guidott on bass. The vocalist was Eddie's second wife, Nicole, who called herself Eve Williams - his first marriage, in 1945, to Michele, doesn't rate a mention in his autobiography, Que la Fête Continue.
It was with Nicole's help that Eddie was able to launch his first label, Blue Star - this was still the era of 78rpm discs. They kept the stock in their flat, and distributed it from the back of his scooter. Their first successes were with records by Renée Lebas, Eddy Constantine and Don Byas.
As well as directing his band, Barclay also co-wrote songs, including Le Rock de Monsieur Failair, with Boris Vian, and Quand tu m'embrasses, with Charles Aznavour, later recorded by Josephine Baker. Barclay composed several film scores, including Jean-Pierre Melville's classic gangster thriller Bob le Flambeur (1955). Vian, the great French poet of jazz, played sometimes with the band, and Eddie helped him edit the first important French publication dedicated to their subject, Jazz Magazine.
One of the American jazz enthusiasts who had come to Eddie's Club was Alan Morrison, and in 1952 he urged the Barclays to come to the US to see the new revolution in recording, microgroove 45s and 33rpm LPs. Eddie made a deal with Mercury Records, and he returned to France with 60 masters. An arrangement with Pathe-Marconi to be allowed to press the discs at their Paris plant gave him a head start, and soon he had launched the microgroove into French popular music. He was able to issue many great American records for the first time in France, including albums by Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Sammy Davis jnr and Duke Ellington. Barclay found a studio on the rue Hoche and engaged a German sound engineer, Gerhard Lehner, whom Barclay credited with making all his best discs.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he discovered talent. The Egyptian beauty queen Dalida was launched by him in 1956, but his greatest coup was to lure three top singer-composers: Charles Aznavour, who stayed 22 years; Leo Ferré, who recorded some of his greatest songs, including Avec le Temps and Jolie Môme; and Jacques Brel, who deserted Philips to join Barclay in 1962. The Dutch company threatened to sue, but it was settled out of court, and Barclay agreed to let go a young singer he had under contract: Johnny Hallyday.
Barclay's friendship with Brel was sometimes stormy, but he gave the composer artistic freedom. For several years Brel abandoned singing, but towards the end of his life he made a final LP. He asked for no pre-publication hype, but, taking advantage of this, Barclay staged a magnificent launch. One million copies of the disc were pressed, and these were distributed to shops and radio stations in locked boxes. On release day, the code of the lock was announced, and the discs set free. The album sold 650,000 copies on the first day.
The list of singers who recorded for Barclay is a roll-call of some of the greatest names of those days: Henri Salvador, Juliette Greco, Jean Ferrat, Claude Nougaro, Cora Vaucaire, Michel Sardou, Frank Alamo, Mireille Mathieu - and Brigitte Bardot, who cut Nue au Soleil.
It was Bardot who introduced Barclay to Saint Tropez in the late 1950s, and encouraged him to buy land nearby. He took 25 years to build a house, but once installed he made it the venue for parties that were the delight of the paparazzi; indeed they seemed to be designed as much for the press as for the guests.
After Brel died in 1978, and Barclay himself had survived treatment for throat cancer, he sold his record label to Polygram, although he retained a 20 per cent interest. He later launched another label, but the great days were past. For the last two decades of his life, it was parties, and a procession of young brides, that occupied his energies. The mayor of Neuilly, at his fifth or sixth wedding, said: "Ah, Bonjour, Monsieur Barclay, what a pleasure to see you yet again." Barclay said that although his life was dominated by love and friendship, his fidelity was reserved for his colleagues, and it was working with artists that had brought him his most profound happiness. When he talked about his lavish parties, it wasn't the food or fancy dress he remembered, but the impromptu performances from his real friends, the musicians.
He is survived by his wife Tiare, and his son Guillaume from his third marriage.
Eddie Barclay (Eduard Ruault): born January 26th, 1921; died May 13th, 2005