Robert Charlebois is one of the most enduring figures in Quebec rock history and surely has been the most influential during his career which spans five decades. During this time he started as a folk singer, shocked Quebec by turning to an extreme psychedelic rocker, came back to a singer/songwriter credo, and evolved as time went by into an adult pop/rock star. He also acted in a few TV series at the beginning of his career and as a businessman revolutionized the world of Quebec micro-breweries with his company Unibroue (makers of beers La Maudite and La Fin du Monde) in the '90s.
Charlebois took piano lessons during his teens and is self-taught on acoustic guitar. He started his career in folk clubs in the early '60s, while he also explored acting. His first LP won a prize for Best Folk Album in 1965. The young Charlebois was clean-cut, well-spoken, poetic, and followed in the footsteps of French singers Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens. Songs like "La Boulée" and "Demain l'Hiver" appealed to the upper-class students and the intellectual elite.
After the release of his third LP, the singer went on a trip that would change his musical vision radically. In early 1968, he took a trip to California. Experiencing the flower power movement first hand made the cultural and religious yoke he grew up in literally explode. Back in Montréal, he recorded the seminal LP Robert Charlebois Louise Forestier. Screaming, swearing, wearing outrageous costumes, and presenting his own brand of experimental psychedelic rock, he staged L'Osstidcho, a scandalous anti-show. "Lindberg" became a hit in Quebec and in France, quickly followed by "Ordinaire."
In the early '70s, he developed a sound somewhere between his days as an unaccompanied folk singer and his extremes of the late '60s. Robert Charlebois [Aka Fu Man Chu] and Solidaritude are monuments of Quebec rock history. His association with lyricists Mouffe and Réjean Ducharme (an enigmatic Quebec novelist who was once suspected to be none other than Charlebois himself) supplied his best songs of the '70s, including "Avril sur Mars" and "Je Reviendrai à Montréal."
By the end of the decade, he fell into a rut. Meaningful songs in French had little exposure on Quebec airwaves at the time. The 1983 LP Robert Charlebois [Aka J't'Aime Comme un Fou], with lyrics written by Luc Plamondon, brought him back under the spotlight at the cost of choosing middle-of-the-road pop. The reissue of his catalog on CD in 1991-1992 introduced his early work to a younger generation, while the release of Immensément, a strong album of adult pop/rock, turned him into an institution (the album won a Victoire, the equivalent in France of a Grammy award). Still a steam engine on-stage, he continues to perform and records occasionally.
One last note: Charlebois' discography is a mess of eponymous albums, countless reissues under different titles, and cheap "best-of" collections. ~ François Couture