Trying to summarise Salvador’s career can feel like a bit of a wild goose chase. It spans over six decades! It is built on a thousand songs, littered with hits, classics and cult tracks, as well as bitter failures and less inspired pieces. Not to mention an incredible comeback at the beginning of the 2000s with the hit Chambre Avec Vue and its hit “Jardin d’Hiver”.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Young Henri was born in Guyana, raised in the West Indies and was brought up in Paris. He was an auto-didact and started singing, playing the guitar and piano, as well as writing. He was soon noticed and played guitar for several stars before joining the prestigious group Ray Ventura Et Ses Collégiens in early 1940. He was barely twenty years old and took part in the recording of several 78s with them. To protect themselves from occupied France, the group went into exile in South America for five years. It was during this period that the young Salvador became emancipated and caught people’s eye – as much for his talents as a musician and singer as for his ability to entertain. His Popeye imitation was a triumph. After the liberation, he left the group to stand on his own two feet. The first records under his own name were released in 1948. Success didn’t take long and he had several hits, playing to full houses every night. His songs were bought by other artists, then covered by other artists, and finally commissioned by other artists!
This chronological selection will allow you to listen to Henri Salvador’s very first recordings from 1943 with Ray Ventura Et Ses Collégiens, as well as a jam with South American jazz musicians and Salvador on guitar. His future hit “Maladie d’Amour” is here in an early version from 1946 with Ray Ventura’s band. From the same year you’ll hear several excerpts from concerts with Ventura, including the famous “Popeye”, but also the first songs performed by Salvador: “Le premier rendez-vous” and “C’est la première fois”.
From “Clopin Clopant” in 1948, he was a singing solo artist, though it took a few months for his label Polydor to let him create his own songs. In the meantime there were many covers: “Le Petit Souper Aux Chandelles”, “Le Portrait De Tante Caroline”, “Parce Que Ça Me Donne Du Courage” and “Mon Ange”.
A radio programme called Pirouettes welcomed him in 1949 to broadcast a concert. This is where the great versions of “Ai Que Sodades Da Amelia”, “Re-Bonjour” and “Tout Ça” come from. That same year, for the first time, another group of artists (Les Compagnons De La Chanson) performed one of Salvador’s compositions, “Un Dimanche”. At this time Salvador was beginning to move away from folk songs and to immerse himself in his roots and in his recent trip to South America. He sang a series of sunny songs with percussive rhythms: “Ma Doudou”, “Ela Diz Que Tem”, “Qui Sait...Qui Sait...Qui Sait!”, “Les Maris, les Papas, et les Chats”, “Que Si Que No” and “Ti Paule”.
1950 was when things really started to take off. On one side he was beginning to play the music he loved, jazz, and on the other he met Boris Vian who was to influence him considerably and give birth to a great songwriting duo (together they wrote about a hundred songs). “C’est Le Be-Bop” was their first collaboration, followed by “La Vie Grise”, a tipsy ballad. Salvador also sang Ferré (“Saint-Germain-Des-Prés”) and tried crooning (“Quand Je Me Souviens” and “Le Marchand De Sable”). His upbeat songs started to make an impression on the public, beginning with “Un Clin d'Œil” and then the huge success of “Une Chanson Douce – Le Loup, la Biche et le Chevalier”. He finished off the year with some other sweet songs (“Bon À Rien”, “Monsieur Le Bon Dieu”) as well as a song written for Tino Rossi.
In 1951, Salvador covered “Jezt Es Ist Still”, which would go on to inspire Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” years later. He amazed listeners with “Le Téléphone”. Children continue to be lulled to sleep by “Doucement, doucement”. Suzy Solidor sang “La Foule”, which he had written with his partner Bernard Michel. In 1952, recording techniques improved and Salvador took advantage of this to add some lively brass instruments (“Ma Petite Jacqueline”) and imitate bird whistles (“L’Abeille et le Papillon”). He devoted a 78 to his Creole roots (“Gade Boug’La” and “Haïti”) and another to a very unexpected collaboration with the poet André Maurois (“Les Oiseaux et les Rêves” and “La Mort Passe”). The legend was on the move...