Pierre Perpall at the Afromusée

On December 14, 2022, the launch of the collaborative project “Nuits de Montréal” was held at the Afromusée de Montréal.

This was an opportunity, through unique exchanges, to present our interactive map and its associated website, both of which report on nightlife and Black culture in Montreal from the 1950”s to the 1980s.

Our guests of honor, the artists Pierre Perpall and Skipper Dean, took us on a memory journey to revisit these years by sharing many memories and anecdotes.

Black and white photo from 1977 showing the artist Pierre Perpall and his band Bagowa
Perpall and Bagowa, 1977. Pierre Perpall Collections.

The story map project collaboration began when both ARCMTL and the Afromusée realized they had begun online story map projects separately in 2021 and 2022. A decision was made by both organizations to collaborate on a single online story map, which could grow over time to include an increasing number of places important to the development of the arts and culture of diverse Afrodescendant communities both past and present.

This new web-based project as well as its launch event on December 14 was made possible in part thanks to the financial support of the City of Montreal’s Patrimoines montréalais programme.

What follows is an edited transcription of the discussion that took place during the launch event.

About the participants

The discussion was moderated by Virginie Belony, a historian and researcher at ARCMTL.

Louis Rastelli
Louis Rastelli has been director of ARCMTL for ten years now, a non-profit organization founded in 1998 to promote, document and preserve Montreal’s artistic milieu’s heritage. A native Montrealer, he presents musical treasures directly from the ARCMTL archives on the weekly Montreal Sound Ark program on CKUT Radio McGill, 90.3 FM.

Guy Mushagalusa
Guy Mushagalusa Chigoho is the managing director and founder of Afromusée. He is a gallery owner and passionate collector of African art. In 2014, he created Espace Mushagalusa, an art gallery and venue open to diversity. Since then, he has produced and hosted over 75 exhibition projects, shows, literary evenings, conferences and themed workshops.

Pierre Perpall
Born in Montreal to a mixed-race couple, Pierre Perpall’s artistic career spanned more than five decades. His many solo hits include “Ma Lili Hello” first released in 1966. In the 1970s, as singer and dancer, he toured the United States extensively and appeared on stage with all the big names in musical industry. Back in Quebec, he scored a major hit with “We Can Make it” in 1984 and was a key witness the rise and fall of disco in the city.

Today, he is known as the “first artist of color to be crowned a star in Quebec”, and has never stopped performing for his adoring public.


Virginie Belony: Why is this collaboration between the two centers [ARCMTL and the Afromusée] so important?

Louis Rastelli: Precisely, when the pandemic began in 2020, we’d been talking for a long time about putting some kind of interactive map of Montreal’s cultural past online. From my involvement with ARCMTL over the past twenty years, we’ve accumulated many, many archives about nightclubs, concert halls and art galleries. Often, in a dynamic city like this, you can lose track of these places. Sometimes they open, sometimes they close – they’re very popular, important for a few years – then they disappear. So, we had the idea of documenting the cultural milieu, to start looking at this through the lens of important squares and places, and to start talking to the world to get testimonials, memories of musicians, people who were involved in running these places, people who promoted concerts before the internet, etc., etc., etc.

The whole world had quite a different way of functioning in the 60s and 70s and 80s. So, we were lucky to get some funding to start a project of interviewing people, finding places, finding photos, documents, flyers, ads. We are very happy to have found Guy at the beginning of this year! We discovered the Afromusée website had a similar project on display listing important places from the past in the present.

Guy Mushagalusa: Many thanks, Virginie, many thanks Louis. So, I’m the director here of the Afromusée.  The Afromusée is a museum, I’d say, unlike any other, it’s a museum of society.

In other words, a museum that focuses on the human experience. It’s a museum that’s also based on human relationships and relations to collective identity. And that identity cannot be complete if part of that community is ignored, marginalized, or simply pushed aside.

What we noticed, let’s say at the level of collective identity, was that communities of African descent, i.e. the black community, were very very very marginalized, almost invisible and non-existent, at the level of collective identity. Even when you’re abroad, when you hear a Canadian or a Quebecer mentioned, you immediately think of a white person, whereas that’s not exactly the identity of Quebecers or Canadians, let alone Montrealers. So here we’re not really in the grievance business, but rather in the education business. And it was a really great idea to make this map showing how people of African descent have occupied the territory throughout history.

We thought it was a revolutionary idea until I met Louis, who actually had exactly the same idea, and had his team. We said to ourselves: what are we doing now to pool our resources together? What are we doing to pool our shared intelligence together? What are we doing to pool our networks together? And that’s what we’re thinking about today. We told ourselves this map could represent these [important] places.

But the places are in fact a key to the stories, the big stories as well as the small ones. The aim is to show how these communities are an integral part of the collective identity of Montreal, Quebec and Canada. But also, how they have occupied the territory, how they have contributed to what we are today. And there are many examples. I said there are small examples in quotation marks, but also great examples, significant examples like Pierre Perpall who is here. People who have occupied territories, but who have also left their mark on the imagination, who have made people dream, who have made people sing, who have made people dance, and so all this is linked to this history.

Pierre Perpall Poster, c. 1967, Pierre Perpall Collections.

Louis Rastelli: Speaking of which, I think L’Afromusée deserves its place on that map. L’Afromusée, I think, is part of this long tradition of putting time and sweat and work into creating a place – and a place that already barely a year since you’ve been open here – the number of exhibitions of artists, musicians and other community organizations that have been able to take advantage of this place, it’s very important… And when we start adding stories and exploring the stories behind these places, we’re always going to consider these people who may not have been pop stars or rock stars, but who really, really put in the hard work to provide us with these places, so that our culture and all the city’s cultures can make themselves known and know each other too. So, I congratulate your effort (Guy Mushagalusa Chigoho) to be an active part of this tradition of providing venues in Montreal, and long live the Afromusée! 

Virginie Belony: Now we’ll talk with Pierre Perpall. Can you explain to us how a young man born of the union of a Québécoise woman (if I’m not mistaken, your mother [is Québécoise]), and that of a a black American [man], your father… how does it…How did you become interested in music? 

Pierre Perpall: The explanation is that my father was a sideman, a saxophonist who at the time was called a big band sideman. He worked in the United States with Duke Ellington’s Big Band. After that, he was with Lionel Hampton’s big band. He arrived in Montreal in 1944-1945 and decided to stop traveling, and only met my mother because he was working at El Morocco with a band that was there, and then he decided to stop making music and stop traveling. 

My mother had seen him play the saxophone there and they began a quiet union. Of course, my father, who was in the music business, used to tell me about the places in Montreal at that time: the Esquire Show BarRockhead’s Paradise, where my friend Skipper Dean used to sing. 

The Harlem Paradise, there was the Black Bottom. So, he slowly introduced me to his cabarets when I was about thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Even though he didn’t make music anymore, music was still in his blood. And that’s when I realized that those places, on television, in the newspapers, you didn’t hear about… On television, you didn’t see that. On the radio, very little black music was played, and in the newspapers too, you didn’t hear about it unless there was a scandal! 

We saw mixed groups, black artists singing with a white orchestra, but interracial groups slowly but surely opened the door. For sure, the Esquire Show Bar was a big springboard. 

And Rockhead’s Paradise and Harlem Paradise, which opened the door to mixing nationalities, if you like, musically, as much as mentally, it’s then that you started to see a lot of […] interracial bands. There weren’t many at the time. My father was black and my mother was white. But it’s not as open as if today, there have been a lot of black singers too, who are suited to marrying white women. And also black female singers who married white men. The door opened quietly but surely. Today it’s nice to see that the door is really, really open compared to before.

It made the musical bloom we know today, because, listening to today’s music, we see so much musical diversity that was influenced by the black music of the time… In those days, which helped us, there weren’t as many TV stations and the Internet. So, people went out six days a week. There were so many cabarets in Montreal that it gave people a chance to walk around and accept, through the bond of music, to come together. Over time, all this gradually came together. 

Virginie Belony: It’s great because you’ve also touched on a number of places that are already on our map or that we’re planning to add to our map. And that’s why you’re a living heritage [an] example of all this musical evolution, but also in terms of what it’s like to be black in Montreal, or, in any case, a mixed-race person. But I wanted to – just to situate us a little in time – [can you] tell us a little bit about how there was this quote-unquote black music, and this traditional white music. Put us in Montreal’s time frame.

Pierre Perpall: … I remember back in 1956, Little Richard had a lot of hits on record. Pat Boone was remaking these songs as white as Tutti Frutti, which was a big hit because white radio stations in the U.S. didn’t play Little Richard, it was the black radio stations that Little Richard played… But it’s an evolution that’s been slowly gaining acceptance in Quebec. 

Pierre Perpall: Of course, if you’re in Quebec and you want to pass, you have to adapt to Quebec, because you’re black, you sing in English, you’re in Quebec: you have to sing in French. My manager made me understand that. Go with the flow, adapt. I started doing French versions of my songs so I could get on Quebec TV. 

Because, for a black guy on Quebec TV, if you weren’t an international star, you didn’t get on. If you were Ray Charles or Oscar Peterson, you’d pass. But if you weren’t famous and you were black in Quebec, [signing] in English, forget it! You didn’t pass! I made a record in French, then I started knocking on doors, then at some point, I was on a TV show and that opened the door, then there were other blacks who could sing in French in Quebec to give us a place. Because I know I was an influence for other singers who came after, like Boule Noire came after, Georges Thurston, Normand Brathwaite, who came the year after television and is still on TV today. But the secret [is] that they’ve adapted to becoming Québécois. We’re in Quebec, you live in Quebec, you adapt to being Quebecois, then you have to do it to me too. And they’ve made a craft in French throughout their careers… 

Newspaper article on Pierre Perpall, 1968, Pierre Perpall Collection

Then it’s — I’m still surprised, I’ve managed to make a living from my profession for 60 years. But I think the secret was to adapt and [to] continue to be respectful of the public. Over the years, I’ve continued to give them what they wanted in English and in French. But when I do shows, I can do them 50% in French, 50% in English, no problem. But if I’m on French TV, I must be respectful and sing in French… 

Virginie Belony: If I understand correctly, does that mean that if there were barriers set up around an artist like you, who were of mixed-race origin, but seen here as black; the barriers might have come from people in the music industry, but not so much from the public, who were much more open? 

Pierre Perpall: The public had no problem; it’s the industry, the media. It happened quietly [to the point] that today I see there’s plenty of diversity on TV. But back then, it was the industry, it was okay [to be black and exist in this space], but [you had to] keep your place, whereas today, it’s very — I’m referring to the sixties here. Me, in my sense, because I’ve been in music since the 1960s or what I think the barrier is really, really, really broken, so that there’s less racism and the door opened with the movie Woodstock. Because Woodstock was “peace and love.” It was the new generation of 15-, 16-, 18-year-olds. They didn’t want to be like their racist parents, it was “peace and love,” black, white, we don’t want war. So, that opened the door to the new generation of young people who were 15, 16, 17 years old who, today, could be 50, 60, 70 years old, who are the parents of our children who were raised with less racism. 

We have to love each other and help each other to make the world a better place. But it’s true that before 1960, when Sammy Davis Jr married a white woman in the United States, it wasn’t a easy… But Woodstock, for me, really opened the door, because I felt it myself, that after Woodstock, when I walked down the street with a white woman, I had fewer problems than before. Because before, when I’d walk down the street with a white girl, I’d hear people say things like: “it’s unfortunate, she’s going out with the black guy.” Ouch! I heard that two or three times. It hurts to be told that when you’re 14, 15, 16. I’d walk into a restaurant and hear “it’s really unfortunate, that girl’s going out with the black guy.” It hurts. Today, you don’t hear that anymore, but back then, that’s the way it was. That’s how life was. 

Virginie Belony: You are taking all of this very positively, you have a very historical view of things, of these developments. I’d like to go back quickly to a few places that were important to you when you were at the very beginning of your career, before you started a career, but also in its early stages. 

We’ve already talked about the Esquire Show Bar, but there were other important places too. Can you tell us a little about the atmosphere in Montreal at the time, around these places? 

Pierre Perpall: The first place – I was too young for the Esquire Show Bar – in the years 1965-1966, but there was a place in Montreal called 217 which was a dance hall for young people from thirteen to eighteen and then at 217, there were the same artists who went to Rockhead’s in Harlem or to the Esquire Show Bar who did shows there. So, I went dancing when I was 13-14. That’s when I realized that there were blacks, whites, Chinese, all races of young people, and they danced together. There was a black artist on stage, but they were Motown artists, before they were famous. I remember I went to a show, and it was Stevie Wonder on harmonica before he was famous. 

I didn’t take that into account until three or four years later [when I said to myself] “ayes, that’s who I saw there!” One week, I’d seen Mary Wells the same way, the singer who did “My Guy.” The year after that, she did “My Guy.” It was like a Chitlin’ Circuit. … 

That’s why we sometimes went to Harlem Paradise. There was a good orchestra that wasn’t well known, but they were good bands that you saw everywhere, and that attracted a whole diversity of audiences who could go and see them sing, whether black, white or Chinese, because it really opened the door. When I started going to Rockheads to see the orchestras there, I was so surprised to see all the nationalities in the audience mixing together and no racial problems. Then, when we looked at television, it was the opposite. You saw things happening in the States that weren’t happening here. Here, there was no direct racism, but you had to “stand your ground.” It’s not that there was any [type of racism or you weren’t] hurt, but, I didn’t get promoted for the job as fast as the white guy. The white guy got promoted after two years, but the black guy didn’t get promoted, he just stayed there. So it wasn’t like direct racism, but it was like: “Hold your place.”

Poster for Pierre Perpall and the Bethovens, 1967, Pierre Perpall Collection


Virginie Belony: This reminds me: you’re bilingual, but what was it like in those different places, in terms of language, were there places that were more marked by a French-speaking population in terms of clientele, and other places where it was more English-speaking? 

Was it that, just [like] there was a nice mix of ethnicities, there was also a mix of linguistic backgrounds? Especially since we’re here in Montreal. Or was that not an issue at all? 

Pierre Perpall: No, it wasn’t an issue. I’d been at an English school for two years, in an English neighborhood. After that, I went to a French school. For the rest of my life, I didn’t have any problems on that score. It could happen from time to time that someone would say “parle le français” or “speak English,” but that always happened. But it wasn’t blatant, especially with young people. Because the young people were more open-minded than their parents, who were still prejudiced. So, I didn’t have any problems there. 

Virginie Belony: […] So, during the 1970s, you did several tours in the United States. You went on stage with a lot of the big names from that era. Would you like to tell us a little about that? 

Pierre Perpall: Okay! What happened was: like any artist, you have a hit record. Then, after three or four years, it fades. Of course, I started singing in the yéyé, gogo and R&B era. At a certain point, in the 1970s, R&B and yéyé, as it was called at the time, were less popular. At that point, I started making music in cabarets without performing as a musician. At some point, I left for the United States. In the United States, the door was the most open. I started working in Florida, and after that I worked in Boston and New York. I could see that there was work to be done. But it’s harder because there are so many orchestras in the U.S. that the fees weren’t the same. But I learned a lot from the experience. 

From left to right: James Brown, André Perpall and Pierre Perpall. c. 1970, Pierre Perpall Collections.

The way Americans worked [enabled me to learn] how to be a musician, guitarist, pianist; I learned to comprise and by chance, in 1976, disco arrived in Montreal and that’s when the record companies called me back. … it gave another blow to my career on the dance music disco side which lasted until 1985. But it was the bad with the good: [my] career was down in the 1970s, but instead of stopping, I started traveling. That’s when I discovered that a musician who says he doesn’t make money, who doesn’t work, isn’t true.

If you’re willing to travel, there’s work everywhere […] I understood that even if the fees weren’t big, you could work anywhere in the world, if you were willing to travel. Because that opened doors for me in the U.S. […] I was master of ceremonies at the Newport, the Newport is a cabaret, which had one artist a week, because one week there was B. B. King, one week R. B. Greaves, one week the Temptations, Little Richards [etc.] I was lucky enough to be master of ceremonies with my orchestra, and I presented the guest artist every week, so that was a lot of experience for me, having learned to work with all these big names. It’s something I don’t regret doing! 

Virginie Belony: Now, tell us a bit about this comeback. You did talk [briefly] about disco and what it was like to finally have disco here in Montreal…

Pierre Perpall: The disco years were a bit like the go-go years, the yéyé years, the 1960s. All the record companies signed all the artists, all the artists, all the artists! We were making records, even Louis [Rastelli] can tell you about those days! Everybody was doing disco. What helped me was that I became known for dancing in the 1960s with the influence of James Brown – because everyone wanted James Brown – the record companies called me up and said, “Look, he used to dance. It would be good if he did a disco record, because he dances, and that’s exactly what’s fashionable right now.” It gave me a chance to make records in English at the time, because it was the only springboard that came along between 1976 and 1985, when a Quebec, French or English artist could make an English record that was released worldwide. But then there was Freddy Jamais, who released records worldwide from Montreal. 

Pierre Perpall, circa 1970s. Pierre Perpall Collection.

Géraldine Hunt, who has released records worldwide. Lime, France Joly, Kat Mandhu, Gino Soccio, there are so many artists from Montreal who have made English records that have been released worldwide and it opened up a platform for us to be able to perform in all these clubs around the world. Sometimes, we got a call to do a lip-sync at a club in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. The agent who brought us along would pay for the plane for four days, we’d do two discos a night and come back to Montreal. It’s a fashion that lasted and maybe–there was a discotheque network at the time–it’s something that lasted two or three years, but it was crazy! The limousine would pick you up at the airport and then there’d be two or three of us doing the rounds of the discotheques. I thought we’d become stars! It lasted two or three years. It was a pretty fun time! We’d go into the discotheque, do our hit lip-syncs, and the limousine would take us to another discotheque because they had to pay their own way – they’d make us do four days of two discotheques a night, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and we’d come back to Montreal after that. It was a time that gave not only me, but many artists a chance to have a good time all over the world. 

In the end, a Quebec, French, English or Latino artist could make an English record that would be licensed worldwide.

Virginie Belony: I feel obliged to ask you, as I’m a bit younger and completely uneducated, I really want to know: what was Limelight?! What was it like? 

Pierre Perpall: Wow, Limelight was really before Studio 54 in Montreal, it was the discotheque. The man who started Limelight went out and got the biggest lights he could get in a cabaret. Back then, cabarets were a bit like here, with lights everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. 

The visuals hit you immediately. And the fashion, the disco music came through the TV shows. You saw the world dressed in all kinds of colors that were influential for the new generation, who all ended up with lights, dressing like that. 

There too there was a multicultural [atmosphere]. There were all kinds of nationalities […] at the Limelight, Chinese, English, Latino, black, there was a mix; no problem. I can really say that Woodstock started from the curve in 1969-1970, and then got better and better as the music evolved. Music breaks down racial barriers. 

Virginie Belony: Were there any other nightclubs in Montreal at the time that were just as legendary? 

Pierre Perpall: Yes, there was a lot. There was the Horizon, there were lots of discotheques. In Montreal, there were at least thirty discotheques, if not more, but it was Limelight, the number one. There were three floors at the Limelight, then a line-up to get in there. Then, depending on how you were dressed, it was the second floor or the first floor. 

Virginie Belony: But around the same time, you also changed your nom d’artiste. Can you tell us a bit about that? Why and how. 

Pierre Perpall: The reason is simple: Pierre Perpall, for disco, the record companies in the U.S. and England that released my records didn’t [think it] sounded[ed] American enough, so they said “Purple Flash,” and it stuck. But today, if you want my songs, you go on the Internet [and search for] Purple Flash, and you’ll find my hits that I’ve done in all those countries. I own my songs. Thank God! That’s what I say to artists. Own your songs! 

Virginie Belony: When did you first come up with the idea: “Okay, if I want to continue to receive royalties on my titles afterwards…” When did the idea come to your mind that “I have to become the owner of my [work]”? Was this something that happened later in your career or was it something you’d been thinking about from the start? 

Purple Flash Poster, c. 1970, Pierre Perpall Collection

Pierre Perpall: There was an artist, he’d talked to me about it when I was 15, but it hadn’t crossed my mind. I can’t remember who [who said]: “If you ever make records, make sure you own your tapes.” Of course, my first three records, ten of them, I didn’t own my tapes because the companies financed [everything]. 

But when I understood the system, I started paying for all my recordings, and today I own all my recordings. Then I get royalties, always, always. … When I hear artists say “I got screwed by the record company”, they didn’t get screwed, they didn’t go to a lawyer. It’s the same as someone getting married. You go to a notary, a lawyer. Sometimes I hear an artist [say] “I’ve been duped”. No, you haven’t been duped, you haven’t talked to the right people. But when I found out, I asked [to find out] how things worked. I paid for everything, my recordings and I own them. It hurt at the time. But today, it’s a pension fund that’s insured. 

Virginie Belony: I’d like – because we’re at the Afromusée, we talk a lot about black communities here in Montreal – I’d like to hear you talk a little about this album called La Connexion Noire (1978). […] It was between you and other black artists here in Montreal. Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind it and the atmosphere around this project? 

Pierre Perpall: That happened because black people were really in the hot seat because of disco in Montreal. There was a record company that decided to bring together four black artists who had had success. 

I had a hit, Boule Noire had a hit. Géraldine Hunt had had a hit… The record company decided to call it La Connexion Noire, and they took four of us together to make an album called La Connexion Noire, which is now vintage. If anyone still has albums, keep them, they’re precious! 

Virginie Belony: So, was it something before that, that was rare to see black artists here in Montreal? 

Pierre Perpall: The only black artist I’d seen before me was Flo de Parker. She was the first black singer in Montreal to make a record in French with Jean Pierre Coallier, 1962-1963, and I never heard of Flo de Parker after that. And the first black actor in French – we still speak English everywhere – was Percy Rodriguez! He was the first black man I saw in French. I was 6-7 years old, and then I saw a black man speaking French on television. There weren’t any, it was in English, and then in French there were just white people. You didn’t see any. I was really struck, and after that, I didn’t hear another word about Percy Rodriguez until I saw him on Star Trek. After that, he was a big star in the U.S. in all kinds of Hollywood movies. He passed away today, but his children are still alive and living in Brossard. 


Virginie Belony: This actually brings me to a question. Because, you know, I’m a history student. So anything to do with history is of great interest to me. When do you think, here in Montreal, we stopped making the connection between “black equals anglophone” and people started saying: “black can also mean francophone? Can you tell us where we stand? 

Pierre Perpall: Personally, I think that from Woodstock onwards, things went smoothly because the barrier opened up after that. …We’ve got Skipper Dear with us, but I think you’ve already interviewed him. Do you think he could come and say a few words? 

Guy Mushagalusa: Yes, I was even thinking about him exactly. 


Pierre Perpall: Skipper was with me. We were one of the first two singers to make music that lasted a long time because Skipper Dean with the class he has and his talent has managed to stay in the business as long as I have … The first time I saw him sing, I was really impressed. Then even today I watch him and he’s always respectful of his audience. 

Skipper Dean : I don’t know what to say. Haha. … When I started out, I knew I’d never be a singer. It was the last thing on my mind. My brother Dennis, he was the singer, we all sang and he had a band called the Senators. The way I got started was somebody called me one day and, and, and called the house and said, uh, “can I talk to Skipper Dean?” And I said I could talk. He said, “We’d like you to come and try out with our band.” 

And I said, “No, no, you’re looking for my brother. It’s the singer. No, no, no, no. You’re the singer. No, I’m singing with him! You know, the, the place on the record where we sing with him!” And me and my neighborhood friends knew all the songs. There was no television, only radio, and so we knew all the songs, so everyone could sing along. 

So I didn’t think of myself as a singer. Anyway, he said, “Why don’t you come and give it a try?” I said okay. So I did. I knew all the songs because we sang all the songs in the keys of the records of the time. I didn’t realize that two hours had gone by and they’d stopped. And we said, well, I said, well thank you, that was fun.

And they said, uh, “so you’ll be back next week?” I said, “You want me to come back?” And they said, yes. That’s when it started. Uh, I consider it my first gig. And then I joined a band called, uh… 

Pierre Perpall: What year was that?

Pierre Perall at Cafe du Nord, c. 1967, Pierre Perall Collection

Skipper Dean: 1965. Around here somewhere. And maybe even 1964. I joined a band called The Fascinations. They were first called The Presidents, and we only did high school dances and, you know, Le Manoir,  217. 

Pierre Perpall: Oh, you went to 217? 

Skipper Dean : Oh yes! That’s what I did, and that’s what I did uptown. It was Montreal North… I think for me, what I realized, when I was singing, was, uh, it wasn’t easy to, you know, everybody was trying to sing like [on] the, the record. It wasn’t easy. And after a while, I thought, I can’t try to sound like everyone else, so I’ll just sing what I feel about a song. My approach was, I was worried until they said [here’s] Skipper Dean. Okay. And when they say that it’s all gone, I walk out and, uh, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about the… 

Pierre Perpall: From the audience! 

Skipper Dean: [Yes] The audience. And the clothes! Back then, we used to go to Saint-Laurent and Sainte- Catherine. There were little stores there, but they had the flashiest clothes. But you could get an outfit for $10. And for another $5, you could buy shoes on the street. That’s how we started the band… 

Pierre Perpall: What’s the place you remember most? What made the biggest impression on you? 

Skipper Dean : Uh, I’d say the Harlem Paradise. Harlem Paradise. The place where I started. […] because that’s where I really started working in the dance halls. And from there, we worked at the Café de l’Est, we worked, uh, at the Café du Nord. We were, it was the Chitlin’ Circuit for us, you know… And the audience. They were always very, very nice to me and our bands. That’s all there is to it. 

Pierre Perpall: Music breaks down barriers.

Louis Rastelli: That’s really great. You know, we’re definitely going to put Harlem Paradise on the map here. 

Pierre Perpall: What I liked about it is no longer the case today: back then, you could see the band up close, and all the Montreal musicians could enjoy their talent and the way they played that guitar lick and that drum pass and all that…. We can’t have that anymore! It’s a bit sad for the new generation […] they see the big concerts from afar, they can’t bring out the energy of the musician up close. 

It’s so sad. So sad. And that, as you said, 300 clubs in Montreal. Six or seven days a week. So imagine when everyone got to see the bands up close and personal. Yes. How many good musicians were born of that energy? 

Skipper Dean : The 217 was like that.

Pierre Perpall: Exactly.

Skipper Dean: 
All the dance halls were right here. This is the stage. They [the musicians] were right there. 

Pierre Perpall: Yes. I remember watching Little Richard. He was playing the piano. I was there the week after BB King. You’re close like that. All those big names. It was incredible. Yeah, me, Billy. Billy, you remember Billy Stewart? So close you could feel the energy! 

Pierre Perall performing, c. 1970, Pierre Perpall Collection

It’s true. Talent is great today, but you can’t get that magic. 

Skipper Dean: No. And at the Esquire, the stage was inside the bar. So you had a horseshoe bar and you could, you know, the exception of the waiters, you could just, almost be on stage. 

Pierre Perpall: Yes, but those were the days, as they say, those were the days, as they say! 

Skipper Dean: Yes. And in those days, all the bands went to see the [shows], when they weren’t working, they were in the audience. They were in the audience. You know, that includes us! They were in the audience. 

Louis Rastelli: If there are any questions or anything else, we can…

Question from the audience: How can we, as artists, keep the real spirit we have…

Pierre Perpall: Are you a musician? Do you work in enough places and do you see a lot of musicians? 

Pierre Perpall: Right… The more musicians you see playing live, the more the energy keeps rolling and the harder it works [inside you]. But what we find here in Montreal today is that there isn’t enough music for, for a young musician to break through. I don’t know if you understand what I mean. There aren’t enough places, like in our day, there were so many places where you could go out every night and see a different band. 

The energy was the guys helping each other. [We’d say] Hey, go see this guy. Go see this guy. … 

Skipper Dean: …And uh, you have to remember that once you start performing, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about them [the audience]. Okay? So leave your ego-you know what ego is, right? Leave it in the dressing room, go out and be yourself! Go out and make friends. That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t care what day I’ve had. Once they say “Skippepr Dean,” I go out and I say, “Hey, I’m glad to see you and me,” and I mean it and I sing what I feel and, uh, you know. I listen to everybody, but I grew up loving soul. But I also love Johnny Mathis. Frank Sinatra, you know, and I, I’ve learned that, uh, if I’m gonna sing a song, I’m not Johnny Mathis. So I go out, I can sound something like that. 

Skipper Dean (singing): “Chances are cuz I wear a silly grin. The moment you come into view”, I don’t, you know [intonations with voice] “Chances are cuz I wear a silly grin the moment you come interview”. It wasn’t my field, it was his [Johnny Mathis’]. I have to interpret it. You interpret your music and prove it to people, but you don’t make a big deal out of it. 

Give yourself permission to be yourself, that’s the secret! 

Pierre Perpall setting up for a show, c. 1968, Pierre Perpall Collection

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