Morse Code Transmission

albums w/ jackets & lyrics
One of Quebec’s most experimental psychadelic rock bands, Morse Code Transmission was formed in the late 1960s by Montreal natives guitarist Michel Vallee and drummer Raymond Roy. Then going by the name of Les Maitres (The Masters), they released a string of unsuccessful singles in English before the turn of the decade, though they also incorporated French songs into roughly half their live sets.

With Christian Simard on vocals and keyboards, and guitarist Jocelyn Julien, they became a hot commodity on the Quebec bar circuit and after signing a deal with RCA Records, and on the label’s insistence, changed their name. They also dropped the original French material they’d written from their playlist, and began work with producer/songwriter Bill Meisener.

They released their self-titled debut album in the summer of ’71, and although the single, “Oh Lord” b/w “Fire Sign” went nowhere, it was complimented by other heavy organ vibes and slick guitar solos in songs like “It’s Never Easy To Do,” “Souvenirs of Our Days,” and “Freedom Train” still meant decent album sales. Although heavy on the organ and deep on bass, the music was diverse – from the grungy “Never Easy To Do” to the Beatlesesque “Today I’m Alive,” cello solo compliments of Peter Schenkman, and a full strings accompaniment to Al Cherney’s fiddle in “Hunting and Laughing.”

By the time they were in the studios recording a follow-up, Berny Tapin had replaced Julien on guitars, and MORSE CODE TRANSMISSION II was released in ’72. Simard was once again the chief writer, and more crunchy vocals and a pounding backbeat served up the only single, “Cold Society” b/w “Satan’s Song.” It failed to make a dent in the charts, but other cuts like the lead-off “Funk Alley,” “Soul Odyssey,” and “Sky Ride” were indicative of the more all-encompassing sound the band was trying to achieve. Unfortunately, it didn’t necessarily equate to great record sales, or radio play. A double album with only nine songs, part of the problem was three of the songs were over eight minutes long.

Still, they did some shows around central Canada for a few of months, and made a couple of stops Stateside before being dropped from the RCA’s roster. They decided to take some time off to re-evaluate where they were going, and how they were getting there, signing a new deal with Capitol.

Reverting back to their roots, and with new guitarist Daniel LeMay and new producer Pierre Tessier, they released LA MARCHE DES HOMMES in 1975. They shortened their name to Morse Code, and the music was a French rock opus that still incorporated a similar sound to the likes of Iron Butterfly, Argent, and Steppenwolf. The lead single was the flute and bongos inspired musical, “Cocktail,” which failed to make the top 40 anywhere. But being in French, the band’s marketability was limited anyway, although “Le Pays D’or” and “Le Ceremonie Da Minuit,” were also released as singles, but also failed to make an impression on the charts.

They continued on the French road for the next couple of albums, but neither single, “Nuage” b/w “L’Eau Tonne” from 1976’s PROCREATION, or its follow-up album a year later, JE SUIS LE TEMPS, made any headway. They decided to take some time off when Capitol released the compilation of the French material, LES GRAND SUCCES in ’78. One more single surfaced later that year, but by the time “Prends Ton Temps” b/w “Demain Tout Va Changer” was ignored by radio, the band was all but officially dead.

Scoring a new deal with Aquarius Records, Vallee and LeMay resurrected the band with a new round-out cast of drummer Yves Boisvert and Marc Leach on keyboards. With producer Ed Stasium, they tried to jump on the keyboard-oriented glam metal bandwagon with CODE BREAKER in 1983. But radio wasn’t terribly interested, and no singles were released. The new version of the band played some shows around the Montreal area, but quickly disappeared again.

Beginning in the 1990s, one by one, the band’s entire catalogue was remastered and re-released through various indie labels in Canada, the US, throughout Europe, and in Japan, although none of them contained any bonus material. Vallee and LeMay reformed with various lineups now and again right up to the early ’90s for various one-off shows and festivals, but nothing more ever came of it.

  • With notes from Serge Aubry, Richard Gillen, Pierre Tessier, Tony Vickers