French postcard by Publistar, Marseille, no. 927. Photo: Patrick Bertrand.
French postcard by Editions Publistar, Marseille, no. 727 C. Photo: Rolland Carré.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 1079. Photo: Noa.
French postcard by PSG, no. 859. Photo: Gérard Neuvecelle.
The Black Socks
Eddy Mitchell was born as Claude Moine in Paris in 1942. He spent his childhood in Belleville, a working class quarter of the capital. His mother worked in a bank and his father was a mechanic at the RATP (the Paris transport authority).
After several years at the Lycée Turgot he obtained his certificate of studies. Only fourteen, he went to work at Crédit Lyonnais. Later he was a motorcycle courier for an insurance company.
At the end of the 1950s, Claude discovered rock & roll, newly arrived from America. His favourite stars were Bill Haley and Gene Vincent. Young people in Paris, eager to hear the new music, began flocking to the now legendary night club, Le Golf Drouot, opened in 1956.
Claude, who became known as ‘Schmoll’, started a group with a friend, Jean-Pierre Chicheportiche, who recruited two more young musicians. After practice sessions and appearances at the Golf Drouot, they began looking around for a record label. Their first audition was with Barclay. The musical director, Jean Fernandez, was impressed.
Claude took his stage name from the American expatriate tough-guy actor Eddie Constantine. By the end of 1960, his group had become Les Chaussettes Noires (The Black Socks). The name was inspired by a publicity campaign for socks made by Lainières de Roubaix, with whom Eddie Constantine had a promotional contract.
The band found almost instant success. In 1961 Les Chaussettes Noires released six singles and sold two million records, including 800,000 copies of Daniela. He also appeared in the film De quoi tu te mêles Daniela!/Daniela, Criminal Strip-Tease (Max Pécas, 1961) starring Elke Sommer.
This bit part was followed by other appearances with Les Chausettes Noires in films like Les parisiennes (Jacques Poitrenaud, 1962) and Une grosse tête/A Fat Head (Claude de Givray, 1962) starring Eddie Constantine.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 211. Photo: Herman Leonard / Barclay.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 250, offered by Corvisart. Photo: Roland Carré.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 210. Photo: Roland Carré.
The Rhythm Was Frantic
In March 1962, Eddy Mitchell was called up for his military service, during which he nevertheless found time to record new tracks and play at dances with Les Chaussettes Noires. Jean Fernandez had in mind a solo career for Eddy, whose vocal talents he rated highly.
In November 1962, he recorded a four track EP, Mais reviens-moi. When he finished his military service in August 1963, Eddy Mitchell was able to devote himself entirely to a solo career.
In October he went to London to record new material with English musicians (including the very young Jimmy Page). The result was Eddy in London, an album of cover versions of numbers by his rock & roll heroes, Eddie Cochrane, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley.
In 1964, he was back in the London studios again recording a second album, Panorama. The rhythm was frantic. The third solo album, modestly entitled, Toute la ville en parle, Eddy est en ville (The Whole Town Is Talking, Eddy is in Town), came out in 1964. This was the first recording of original material by the singer, who signed lyrics such as Toujours un coin qui me rappelle (Always a Corner Which Reminds Me). Until then he had only sung French adaptations of English lyrics.
After rock & roll, he discovered the soul of James Brown and Otis Redding and changed musical direction. In 1965, his new album, Du rock ‘n’ roll au rhythm & blues (From Rock & Roll to Rhythm & Blues), included titles such as J’avais deux amis (I Had Two Friends) and Si tu n’étais pas mon frère (If You Are Not My Brother). The horn section became more and more prominent, which suited the artist’s stage shows perfectly.
By the mid-sixties, Mitchell was already very different from the other singers of the period, most of whom had climbed on to the yéyé bandwagon. De Londres à Memphis (From London To Memphis) was recorded in 1967, the year Eddy’s dream came true: to record in America, cradle of rock, R&B and country. He came back with a new hit Alice.
Now turned thirty, his career seemed to have taken off for good. Nevertheless, 1968 was the beginning of a lull in his career. Only his hard core fans greeted each new album release with the same old fervour. Meanwhile, Eddy, ever faithful to himself, polished his tranquil rock star persona. None of the six or so albums which he released between 1968 and 1974 sold hugely.
In 1974, Barclay re-released some of the old Chaussette Noires numbers. Unexpectedly, sales of these records rocketed. The defunct band’s leader had the idea of starting it up again. Mitchell refused outright. His solo career quickly took off again with the release of Rocking in Nashville, which went to the Number 1 in the French album charts, where it stayed for several weeks. He returned to the States to record Made in U.S.A. The album was a golden disc in France. Eddy continued recording albums at the rate of one a year.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, offered by Corvisart, Epinal, no. 1118. Photo: Anders.
French postcard by PSG, offered by Corvisart, Epinal, no. 1233. Photo: Barclay.
French postcard by Editions Lyna, Paris, no. 2013. Photo: Casanova - Formidable.
French postcard by Universal Collections, 2003, a limited edition for L'Encyclopédie de la Chanson Française.
Cinema, Music and Television
The new decade began well for Eddy Mitchell. His professionalism was admired by everybody. In 1980 ‘Monsieur Eddy’, as he was now known, celebrated twenty years in the music business with Happy Birthday. The album sold 500.000 copies, thanks to the hit number which has become his signature tune, Couleur menthe à l’eau (Color mint in the water).
After a two year break, he returned to L’Olympia, where he recorded a triple live album. But, at the beginning of the eighties, it was the cinema which seemed to interest him most. Film director Bertrand Tavernier gave him a real chance to prove himself as an actor in Coup de torchon/Clean Slate (Bertrand Tavernier, 1981) starring Philippe Noiret. After watching the dailies Mitchell reportedly thought he was so bad that he insisted to do some of his scenes once again. But no one agreed, and the success of the film led to several more role offers.
In 1982, his love for cinema led him to host and produce, La dernière séance (The last session), a programme entirely devoted to American films from the 1950s on the French television channel, FR3. He hosted this TV show till 1997.
After withdrawing Barclay’s distribution rights, Mitchell signed a contract with RCA in 1983. The first two albums released on this label were respectively a compilation and a collection of previously unreleased recordings.
He appeared in more films, including Attention une femme peut en cacher une autre/My Other Husband (Georges Lautner, 1983) starring Miou-Miou and the thriller A mort l’arbitre/Kill the Referee (Jean-Pierre Mocky, 1984) with Michel Serrault.
In 1984 an album of new material was released: Racines. One of the most accomplished of all his albums, Racines received the Académie Charles Cros award. Again in the nostalgic vein, it included Nashville ou Belleville and Comme quand j’étais môme(As when I was a kid).
From then on he divided his professional life between the cinema, music and television. The variety of activities seemed to suit him perfectly. His films included I Love You (Marco Ferreri, 1986), 'Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986) starring real-life jazz legend Dexter Gordon, and Bis ans Ende der Welt/Until the End of the World (Wim Wenders, 1991) starring William Hurt.
Passing from one to the other, Eddy Mitchell was as at ease in front of the cameras as he was in front of the microphone. He gradually turned into a crooner with the warm, ample voice of a rock singer. After writing P’tit Claude, a collection of short stories about the Belleville quarter of Paris where he grew up, Mitchell acted in the comedy Le bonheur est dans le pré/The happiness is in the meadow (Etienne Chatiliez, 1995), a huge box office success for which he was awarded a César.
He then embarked on a series of recording sessions in Memphis, Nashville and Paris. He kept appearing in films such as the thriller Un printemps à Paris/A Winter in Paris (Jacques Bral, 2006) and Bambou (Didier Bourdon, 2009).
In 2008, he appeared for the first time on a theatre stage with actress Cécile de France in the play Le temps des cerises (Cherry season), for a run of 100 performances at the Théâtre de la Madeleine, in Paris. In 2009, he announced on a TV show that his 2010 tour would be his last, since he wanted to be 'polite to my public', and also so that he could spend more time on his film work and TV production company.
Eddy Michell continues his film career on full speed. Recently he starred as a father suffering from a neurodegenerative disease in Grand depart/Great start (Nicolas Mercier, 2013), in the comedy drama Les petits princes/Little princes (Vianney Lebasque, 2013) and Salaud, on t'aime/Bastard, we love you (Claude Lelouch, 2014) opposite that other French rock & roll legend, Johnny Hallyday.
Les Chaussettes Noires play Je t'aime trop (I Love Too Much) in a Scopitone clip. Source: JoaoScatarino (YouTube).
Eddy Mitchell sings Sur La Route De Memphis (On the Way To Memphis)(1976). Source: Azargoth (YouTube).
French trailer for Coup de torchon/Clean Slate (1981). Source: WorleyClarence (YouTube).
French trailer for A mort l’arbitre/Kill the Referee (1984). Source: Ibena65 (YouTube).
Sources: Radio France International (French), Laurent Buissez (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.