Oxford American | In Search of Vigon

A forest inexperienced signal hanging above globally acquainted golden arches proclaims ouvert, on the primary stage of an Haussmannian-style constructing within the ninth arrondissement of Paris. Six weeks after the French capital ended an eight-month-long COVID curfew, cafés, espresso outlets, and fast-fooderies nonetheless pronounce to the general public they’re open for enterprise. On the nook, an older girl carrying a hijab sits exterior beneath an olive umbrella, feeding her little one pomme frites. Where Boulevard Montmartre meets the rue Drouot, I lastly discover the small plaque I got here trying to find, marking this McDonald’s as a former “temple du rock” from 1955 to 1981: Le Golf Drouot nightclub.

Tracing Southern soul music’s worldwide migration led me to 2 rue Drouot within the Opéra district. A quaint Korean bistro referred to as Pause Corée now occupies the deal with—as soon as a hangout spot for David Bowie, the Who, and the Moroccan soul man I’m particularly in search of, Vigon. I prepare my camouflage fabric masks and stroll into the restaurant, trying previous colourful banners to the uncovered brick partitions they hold from: the unique partitions of Golf Drouot. Climbing a forty-step staircase as soon as led clubheads to an expanded area above the current-day McDonald’s (previously Café D’Angleterre) to a dance ground space with a small stage. Picture the Paradise Garage mashed up with CBGB, and voilà.

I cross the road and {photograph} Pause Corée alone, then with adjoining McDonald’s within the body, as Parisians zip by on rented electrical bicycles or wander the sidewalk absorbed of their smartphones. Casting my thoughts again to black-and-white footage from the early ’60s that I googled the day earlier than, I think about the nook of the block crowded with younger adults, all ready in line beneath the pink neon signal studying golf drouot. Sunglasses and sport coats, mod cuts and miniskirts.

The horseshoe-shaped space at present occupied by children unboxing Happy Meals as soon as housed an indoor mini golf course within the ’50s (therefore its title). Inspired by Whisky à Gogo over within the sixth arrondissement, a bartender floated the concept of attracting a cool crowd with American rock & roll. Installing a Seeburg jukebox full of seven-inch vinyl data introduced in by American troopers stationed within the metropolis, Golf Drouot was quickly alive with the sounds of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Fats Domino, and extra. This went on for nearly a decade earlier than an African greengrocer on trip named Abdelghafour Mouhsine made his approach to the stage in November 1964, overlaying Little Richard songs like “Long Tall Sally” and fronting an area band referred to as Les Lemons. The lanky nineteen-year-old with the relaxed afro had rechristened himself Vigon. 

“I used to be going to the grunts’ dances each Saturday,” the singer instructed Agence France-Presse 13 years in the past. As a youngster in Morocco, he encountered the music that shaped the muse of rock & roll whereas partying at U.S. army air bases in Sidi Slimane and Kenitra. “And there, they introduced the data that got here from America on the week of their launch. ‘Twist and Shout’ by the Isley Brothers, it was sung in Morocco earlier than the Beatles lined it!”

Musically, the world of the mid-’60s takes of bit of creativeness to conjure. I’m sufficiently old to recall the times earlier than streaming companies, broadband web, digital file sharing, and worldwide cable networks—all issues that subsequent generations of music lovers have lengthy been used to. Practically talking, to be in France again then meant that native radio primarily supported hits like “Les Mauvais Garçons” by Johnny Hallyday and different homegrown singers like him. Some (like Hallyday) imitated the rockabilly model of rock & roll from the U.S. But the soul music of black American labels like Stax and Motown was nonetheless largely the stuff of cult followings. Record corporations’ world distribution lacked the right attain. French partyers had a greater probability of listening to Bo Diddley at Golf Drouot from 45-rpm singles introduced into the nation by Americans than on the France Musique radio station. 

And whereas Johnny Hallyday felt free to imitate Elvis, the place have been the black French who would possibly’ve copied the Ike & Tina Turner Revue? People like my spouse’s household—initially from the French West Indies of Martinique—made up the inhabitants of black France, together with Africans from French-colonized nations like Senegal, Algeria, and the Ivory Coast. But the interval of the ’60s holds no document of black French singers expressing themselves by means of the idiom of soul music from the states, exterior of occasional cowl variations. Les Surfs, a sextet from Madagascar, scored on the French charts with “Reviens Vite et Oublie,” aka the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and “Shoop Shoop…Va L’Embrasser,” a canopy of Merry Clayton’s “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” The white French rock & roll group Les Chaussettes Noires tailored Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” for his or her greatest hit, “Eddie Sois Bon,” in 1961.

And then there’s Vigon, who scored a cope with Atlantic Records after his debut at Golf Drouot.


Crocodisc document retailer sits in strolling distance of the Sorbonne, on a road actually named the rue des Écoles, or the “road of faculties.” I move the college’s stately chapel and amble down the rue Champollion, identified amongst movie buffs for its arthouse cinemas: La Filmothèque, Reflet Médicis, Le Champo. Taking observe of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and a Jodie Foster retrospective, I stroll the Latin Quarter a number of blocks earlier than noticing an ornate chain-link gate signaling that Crocodisc is closed for enterprise.

nous serons en vacances du 25 juillet au 15 août reads an indication taped to the entrance door. Even contemplating how exhausting Parisian companies have been hit for the reason that pandemic, lots of French shops proceed to take their August holidays. I had meant to provoke an old school digging-in-the-crates seek for some Vigon vinyl, however a lot for that. In France, the so-called juilletistes vacation in July whereas the aoûtiens take off for elements unknown within the month of August. Unluckily for me, some fairly devoted aoûtiens run Crocodisc.

Unable to flip by means of their labeled bins, I peek behind the gate to see the music on show, with an eye fixed for black American music. Of nearly twenty-five albums offered within the window, practically half come from the U.S. I spy jazz drummer Chico Hamilton’s The Dealer; Sun Ra’s Blue Delight; Ramsey Lewis’s Mother Nature’s Son; James Brown’s uncommon disco album, Sex Machine Today; Jimmy “Bo” Horne’s Dance Across the Floor; Weather Report’s 8:30; Lonnie Liston Smith’s Visions of a New World; the Main Ingredient’s Euphrates River; the Blackbyrds’ City Life. No Vigon, although I’m not shocked.

The Atlantic Records roster consisted of soulful legends like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett by 1968 once they launched Vigon’s sole American single, “It’s All Over” (with “The Spoiler” on the B-side). Sites like Discogs promote the seven-inch on-line however combing by means of dusty classic vinyl at all times looks like extra enjoyable. Since rocking Golf Drouot, he’d launched his solely French-language single, “Un Petit Ange Noir” (a translation of the Joe Tex ballad “Hold What You’ve Got”), in 1967. English, nonetheless, was a language Vigon may solely sing phonetically—he would by no means study to talk soul music’s native tongue, or fully perceive it. By ’68 he hit a groove in his adopted metropolis, opening for the likes of Little Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and Sam & Dave once they made their stay appearances at Olympia music corridor.

Walking twenty minutes from Panthéon, crossing the Seine to Les Halles by tourist-filled footbridge, I arrive on the Monster Melodies document store. The homeowners have to be juilletistes as a result of they’re open for enterprise. Vigon’s raspy, Gallic-targeted soul by no means set the world on fireplace, together with France. The singles I hope to search out embody his covers of r&b greats like Otis Redding (“Don’t Mess with Cupid”), Big Mama Thornton (“Hound Dog”), Larry Williams (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”), and Bob & Earl (“Harlem Shuffle”). But Vigon’s variations by no means topped the charts, in France or elsewhere.

Still, American soul music touched Paris again when James Baldwin and Josephine Baker walked the identical cobblestone streets specified by entrance of this document retailer, means earlier than on-line interconnectivity made it simpler for cultures to bleed onto one another. Such was the energy of the music. I am going in search of Vigon to show that for a shiny, shining second within the Sixties, he truly occurred.

Monster Melodies greets me with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” wafting by means of the air, trying like some musicologist hoarder’s nightmare (full with a dusty disco mirror ball hanging from above). Vinyl albums even beautify the ceiling right here, and the proprietor has carved a barely navigable path by means of cartons of music stacked excessive. Like the window show at Crocodisc proved earlier, traditional black American music continues to be a industrial draw worldwide, particularly amongst obsessive vinyl collectors. Decorating the world are platters that matter by Al Green (I’m Still in Love with You), the Crystals (He’s a Rebel), and Stevie Wonder (Songs within the Key of Life), even platters that maybe didn’t matter as a lot: Split Decision Band by the group of the identical title, and Honey Cone’s Sweet Replies.

But no Vigon. In a distant nook I rifle fruitlessly by means of the tip of music’s alphabet, between the Undisputed Truth and Barry White. I lastly ask the proprietor, who instantly responds in accented English; he accesses his archives on a pc as timeworn as our environment. He’s heard of Vigon, at the very least. But no cube. He says Universal Music France launched a best hits album, The End of Vigon, on compact disc in 2009. Monster Melodies is all out of these. (The title, I study later, is known as for Vigon’s cowl of “The End,” a 1958 hit ballad by Oklahoma-born African American vocalist Earl Grant.) The proprietor suggests Crocodisc.

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