Formed in Montreal at the tail end of the 1960s, Offenbach was formed around keyboardist and singer Gerry Boulet’s vision of blending French music with operatic rock. The original lineup also consisted of his brother Denis on drums, guitarist Johnny Gravel, Will Lamothe on bass, and Pierre Harel on vocals and keyboards.
They went through some name changes over the first year or so, trying on Les Gants Blancs, Grandpa & Company, Offenbach Pop Opera, and Offenbach Soap Opera. But nothing stuck, so they reduced the title to simply Offenbach while continuing to play around the greater Montreal area.
They were eventually noticed by reps at Barclary Records, who released their debut album, SOAP OPERA, in 1971, recorded at Studio Six in Montreal. Predominantly written in French, a pair of songs were cut in English to try and appease a wider audience, but neither “Bulldozer” or “High….But Low” was even released as a single. Soon after its release, Denis Boulet left the group and was replaced behind the drumkit by Roger Belval.
They followed it up with ST-CHRONE DE NIANT a year later, an album that was recorded during a Mass For The Dead (a Catholic tradition) at St Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal a year earlier. Their first single came in the form of “Caline de doux blues” from their third album, and their second in ’73 – BULLDOZER, which was also the soundtrack to an independent film that year of the same name. Along with the title track (reworked from the first album) and “Hey Boss,” it featured many French tracks that would later become live favourites during the band’s shows over the years, including “Magie Rouge,” “Solange Tabarnac,” and the single “Caline de Doux Blues.”
Following a tour of France, they decided to relocate there, but without Halel, who opted to stay in Canada. They stayed for two years touring predominantly throughout Europe, and upon their return released TABARNAC in ’75, a concert/film of the band’s travels over the last couple of years. Among other gems, it featured the single “Quebec Rock” as a sort of home-coming anthm, as well as “Wezo” (Balvel’s nickname), and “Dimanche Blues.” As well as returning to Europe for live dates, they continued to tour throughout Quebec and the Ottawa Valley, making stops along the east coast and were a featured performer in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.
After their first ‘best of’ album called LE GRAND SUCCES finished off 1975, they returned the following summer with NEVER TOO TENDER. Securing a distribution deal with A&M, they made a concerted effort to break into the mainstream English market, recording the album in Montreal and Toronto’s Phase One, solely in English with new producer George Semkiw. Primarily written by Boulet and Harel, it featured a pair of singles that did relatively well outside their main clique – the title track and “High Down.” The band’s first cross-Canada tour ensued, keeping them on the road for the better part of the next year.
But they reverted back to the francophone roots with their self-titled 1977 release, which followed a lineup shuffle that saw Jean Millaire come in on guitars, while Norman Kerr replaced Lamonthe on bass. Soon after, Pierre Lavoie replaced Belval on drums. Lamothe and Belval wound up playing alongside Pierre Harel again for awhile in Corbach, which attempted to cash in on the Offenbach name, as well as his previous group, Corbeau. But little push from the label meant “Chu’un Rocker” (Reelin’ and Rockin’) failed to make a dent in the charts, and following the touring season the next spring, Robert Harrison (ex of Dillinger replaced Lavoie on drums and Millaire took his guitar on left.
Breen LeBoeuf (ex of Motherlode) was the new bassist by the time TRAVERSION was on the store shelves in ’78. But the problem was it wasn’t leaving the store. EN FUSION, released in 1979 and featuring the Vic Vogel Big Band, captured them live during a show in Montreal and some of their biggest crowd pleasers, including “Ma Patrie Est à Terre” and “Promenade Sur Mars,” as well as the previously unreleased “Teddy Le Chat.” The album also won the 1980 Félix Award for Rock Album of The Year. They also received two more Félix awards that year – for Group of The Year and for Show of The Year, the latter honoring a concert earlier that year in which they became the first Québécois band ever to headline at the Montreal Forum.
They tried another kick at the English cat the next year, with the release of ROCK BOTTOM. A harder edge was fuelled by edgey guitars from newcomer John McGale in the single “Ride Ride Ride,” the lead-off “Strange Time,” and a remake of the R&B classic “Georgia On My Mind.”
COUP DE FOUDRE followed in 1981, and although “Le Bar Salon Des Deux Toxons” b/w “Palace Des Glaces” fared well on French market radio, things were going pretty slow for the band, and they toured more sporadically and went into the studios even less over the next few years. During this time, Harrison left the band and was replaced by new drummer Pat Martel.
TONNE DE BRICK in ’83 and ROCK O RAMA two years later fulfilled the band’s obligations to label Kebec-Disc, despite singles being released without any real push from management. But citing creative differences, by the summer of ’85 the band folded so Broulet could concentrate on to a solo career, shortly after another concert flick was released, À FOND D’TRAIN, documenting a successful tour with Plume Latraverse. But before the year was up, Kebec-Disc released the live album, LE DERNIER SHOW, recorded two years earlier at the Montreal Forum and also used as the backdrop to the concert film, “Marci.”
McGale went on to form McGale’s Navy, then the equally short-lived The Buzz Band with LeBoeuf and former Aprile Wine drummer Jerry Mercer (also ex of Mashmakhan and D’Arcy). McGale released a solo album and worked with the likes of Julie Masse and Dan Bigras.Mercer went back to AW when they reformed in the early ’90s, with LeBoeuf joining him a few years later after a couple of solo projects and touring with Celine Dion.
After a long battle with cancer, Gerry Boulet died on July 16, 1990, after two solo albums and less than a year after the Offenbach greatest hits collection C’ETAIT PLUS QU’UNE AVENTURE 1972 À 1985 was released.
In 1996, Gravel, LeBoeuf and McGale reunited for an Offenbach tour, enlisting the services of singer Martin Deschamps (a recent winner of Quebecs “L’Empire des Futures Stars” reality TV show), drummer Bob Saint-Laurent, and Bernard Quessy on piano. They toured for a couple of years, giving push to a greatest hits compilation in ’99 entitled LES 20 PLUS GRANDS SUCCES, then a second volume in that series three years later. Two more ‘best of’s’ appeared that decade – NATURE in 2005, acoustic renderings of their classic hits as well as the new song “L’Amour est Cruel.” The lyrics were written by Deschamps, based on Gravel’s music from back in the ’80s. The definitive collection entitled L’ULTIME OFFENBACH followed in 2007.