Michel Pagliaro was born in Montreal in 1948, and by age 11 he was playing the guitar. Only four years later he was playing in his first band, les Stringmen, which evolved into les Bluebirds, and then les Merseys. Along the way, those formative first few years gave him exposure to audiences during street fests, church concerts, and other events around Montreal.
When he was 18, he was asked to join les Chanceliers, one of Quebec’s hottest rising groups, and freshy signed to Citation Records. His on-stage personality and natural vocal talents led him to becoming frontman within a few months of joining. A handful of singles in ’66 and ’67 led to their sole self-titled album, which in turn was followed by another string of singles. Their catalogue included “La generation d’aujourd’hui,” “Toi jeune fille,” a French version of “White Christmas,” and “Le p’tit popy,” among others.
But now 20 and feeling creatively stifled, he decided to venture on his own, and released a pair of his own singles through DSP International that were met with more than favourable response on Quebec airwaves. “Comme d’habitude” (the original French song that Paul Anka turned into “My Way”) made its way to #1 on the Quebec charts, and was followed with “Avec la tete,” another chart-topper.
His first album was in the stores before 1968 was up. A collection of covers, including French versions of “Hey Joe,” “Sunny,” and “Spooky,” it was self-titled, thus beginning his claim as having the most albums in history, using just the person’s name as the title. He inked a new deal with Spectrum Records in late ’69 and PAGLIARO (the first one had his full name) was in the stores the following spring, and became Canada’s first international French star, hitting the French pop charts with “J’ai marché pour une nation” “M’Lady”
He released three more French albums, PREMIERE EPOQUE and MICHEL PAGLIARO in 1970, both primarily re-releases, and had chart success with covers of Steam’s “Na Na Na Hey Hey” and the Motown hit “Mickey’s Monkey,” among others, followed by a couple more compilation albums.
But always wanting to break on to the English airwaves, his fortunes changed in 1971 when he was signed to CHUM Records, basically an offshoot of the Toronto radio station that was fulfilling its CanCon requirements to the government. The single “Give Us One More Chance” was followed by the full album, PAGLIARO in ’71. Partially recorded at Abbey Road Studios, critics if nothing else appreciated his attempt at cracking a new market. “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy” in particular was heralded as an authentic Beatlesesque tribute. Some Sing, Some Dance” and the tender “Rainshowers” followed it up the charts, making Pagliaro an instant household name throughout the country.
That same year, he also did an album with Renee Martel, entitled without any imagination as PAGLIARO AND MARTEL. The record not only featured half a dozen duets, but also some tracks by each respective artist, including Pagliaro dusting off his old les Chancilliers hit, “Le p’tit popy.”
Two more French albums followed in ’72, M’LADY on Trans World Records, and after he signed with RCA later that year, PAG. From them came a harder edge with stripped down production. “J’entendends frapper” became the biggest selling single at the time in the history of Quebec music, and even reached #1 in the English speaking Kingston, Ont. market. “Fou de toi” followed it to the top of the Quebec charts.
By now Pagliaro had become Canada’s first artist to receive gold records for recordings in both official languages, and capturing the live concert experience was the double album, LIVE in 1973, recorded in Montreal and Toronto that summer. It eventually became the biggest selling album at the time, reaching double platinum (200,000 units in Canada). Mostly French, it also contained the English singles “Give Us One More Chance,” Rainshowers,” and “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy.”
1974 saw two project come to fruition, ROCKERS, critically acclaimed for his attack at a number of covers of ’50s classics with a harder edge, some in English, some in French, such as “Little Queenie,” “Not Fade Away,” and “It’s All Over Now,” as well as “Miss Ann,” a studio recording of a previously unreleased track until the LIVE album a year earlier. Next up was another album simply called PAGLIARO. While side one was more French covers, side two was his original compositions.
In ’75 his name was thrown in the Juno hat for the first and last time, for that year’s Male Vocalist of the Year, but lost out to Gordon Lightfoot. This is despite the fact he was a regular recipient of just about every Quebec entertainment award to that point, and after for another ten years. In between some more compilation albums, he signed with CBS, culminating in a pair of records that year – the English PAGLIARO 1, with a cover of the top 10 English Canada hit “What The Hell I Got,” “Walking The Dog” and others, and then PAGLIARO – a French rocker that included his take on Little Richard’s “Lucille” and “Louise,” done in English on the previous album and a #1 in Quebec this time around. Following a successful world tour that was highlighted backing up Peter Frampton and headlining his own France tour, he took some time off. During a show in Jonquiere, Quebec, the music came to life when the band played “Emuete dans la prison” (“Riot in Cell Block #9”) as a real life riot exploded outside the venue, when fans got frustrated at not getting into the sold-out show.
After a couple of more compilation albums bombarded the public, he returned with new producer Bob Gallo for TIME RACE for Columbia Records in ’77. The record was a critic’s fave, featuring another mix of originals and covers, including “Dock of The Bay” and “Happy Together,” another two trips up the English charts. Also featured was the title track, done in both languages. But the novelty of a francophone pop star was wearing off in the rest of the country, and Pagliaro retreated out of the limelight to re-assess things.
He released ROCK ‘N ROLL in late ’79, a predominantly French album showcasing his writing talents on most tracks, and one that had him touching base with a more stripped down, punkish sound than before. Still, tracks like “Baton Rouge” and “Spiderwoman” pushed the record into the top 40 nationwide.
He returned to what fans referred to as a more conventional sound with 1981’s BAMBOO, though spiced with a pinch of new wave and with a softer side, with tracks like “L’ennuie cherche un amour”, “Travailler”, and “Romantique.” Following a series of shows that were mostly in Quebec, he moved to France on a self-imposed exile to re-evaluate things. Over the next few years, he worked with some of that country’s hottest rising stars, including Alice Bouvier and Jacques Higelin.
Compilation albums (including at least one self-titled) kept his name on the records until he returned to la belle province in ’87. After signing with the indie Alert Records, he was welcomed back with open arms, when “Les Bombes” and “Dangereux” both became top 10 hits in Quebec. The new album SOUS PEINE D’AMOUR followed the following summer. The lead single “L’espion” also broke the top 10 at home and hit #24 in France. But soon after its release, Pagliaro again disappeared, showing up now and again at festivals or other artists’ projects.
In 1990, Quebec’s first true cross-country rock star was honoured at Festival d’ete du Quebec with a tribute concert that featured a wide array of the province’s top stars, both past and present. As the ’90s continued, albums were being digitized and re-released, les Chancelliers were being rediscovered and old songs were being dusted off for new compilations, including the English GOODBYE RAIN, with five previously unreleased tracks. But aside from the occasional low key appearance, Pagliaro was still nowhere to be found.
But by the beginning of the next decade, he resurfaced, first doing the odd house show around Montreal, then a few outdoor festivals the next summer. In 2002, more sporadic appearances followed, including a nine-night stand at the Casino de Montreal. Later that year he completed a tour that took him across eastern Canada with Les Respectables, touted as one of the hottest bands to come out of Montreal in years.
On May 3, 2008, Michaëlle Jean presented Pagliaro with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards.