Les Champions


Des jeunes talentueux …
In the summer 1961 the R & R music was at the highest in France. The rock scene was migrating towards South and settled down in the Riviera. The first gathering lace was Juan Les Pins with its summer rock festival. Every band playing Rock and Roll has come: Les Fantômes, les Chats Sauvages, Danny Boy & les Pénitents, and less known bands as les Satellittes, or les Starlets.

While les Fantômes played at Le Tabarin with their singer Jean Claude Chane, Les Satellites played not far from them in another night club. Les satellites were: Claude Ciari on lead guitar, Dan Kauffman on Bass. Eddie Barclay making holidays as usual in the neighbourhood in Saint Tropez has got in contact with them as well as with Jean Claude Chane, les Fantômes’s singer.

When summer is over, all the guys moved back in Paris and as agreed get in contact with E.Barclay. In the meantime Les satellites have hired a new drummer, Willy Lewis who just left Les Chats Sauvages. Willy came with a guitarist Alain santamaria, with whom he used to play in le Zimmer a big pub near the Paris townhall. Les Fantômes have just signed a record contract with Vogue records, but their singer J.CL, Chane, strongly encouraged by his mother was eager to get a contract with Barclay records.

E. Barclay signed Les Satellites and proposed Jean Claude Chane to join them. The first decision is to change the band’s named they turned into Willy Lewis & ses Champions with jean Claude Chane!

The line up was Benoît Dan Kauffman, 15 years old on bass, his father is a conductor, and has pushed his son to learn playing guitar. He was then the bandleader. Claude Ciari, 18 years old was lead guitar, playing for years too. His roots were chet atkins and the country music. Alain Santamaria was 18 years old too. He started playing accordion when he was 10 years old, then when 15 years old he moved to guitar, we were in1 958, after the summer holidays he spent in Italy. His parents owned a small company in the clothing industry, in the Sentier district in the heart of Paris. Alain played his first gig in 1959 on the 14th of July, the day when France is celebrating the revolution and the nation. The first gig with a drummer and an accordion was a good start. Alain ‘s neighbour, a Caribbean conductor, who used to play the weekends in the Paris area, proposed him to join his band. After a six month experience, Alain went to the musicians meeting point Porte Saint Martin, in les grands boulevards district and joined a big and well known band Achille Pellegrini In Achille’s band he got known to Willy Lewis the young and ambitious drummer

Back to the end of October 1961, the new named Champions entered the Barclay recording studio. They cut rock classics in French: Jailhouse rock, his latest flame, dynamite and j’aime le twist. In November they started their first tour which went in Marseille at the famous Alcazar. At the top of the bill were the strong popular Chaussettes Noires and the young and attractive Gillian Hills. Then in December they appeared to the famous Rock festival at Palais des sports in Paris, where the top of the bill was Vince Taylor & his playboys, but they could not even sing since the young public was so excited that have put in pieces all the seats !

At the start of 1962 Les Champions cut their second vocal record with Bye bye love , hello Mary Lou….Willy Lewis the ambitious and egocentric drummer was then replaced by Yvon Ouazana, who was 19 years old, he had a solid experience , and liked to listen to Dave Brubeck and Max Roach.

Les Champions recorded some more French cover with jean Claude chane like Speedy Gonzales, good luck charm, Venus in Blue Jeans, let’s dance. Unfortunately the sale did not follow this important production of records. Les champions were considered as a solid band, and were sometimes replacing some fellows like Les Pirates when they faced difficulties in cutting some tracks.

Their big luck came in October 1962, when Gene Vincent came as top of the bill for two weeks at theatre de l’etoile, near the famous Champs Elysées In Paris. Gene came without his band (Sounds incorporated). A contest was organised at L’étoile, where most of the French bands came in order to get the contract for backing Gene Vincent. When it was les Champions’s turn , Claude Ciari started with a powerful cover of “say mama”, playing the same chorus as Johnny Meeks. Gene was not long to make up his mind. They were the winner.

It was just like a rebirth for those gifted young fellows, they opened the show with 3 or 4 instrumental pieces and then backed Gene. The A & R Barclay’s man, Leo Missir has got the idea to have them as instrumental band. By mid November they cut four tracks, Poupée brisée, Loin, Barcarole, rupture à cinq temps. The record is released in January 1963, and was immediately named favourite record of the week in the big daily radio show Salut les Copains. Poupée brisée made a big hit within one week it sold more than 100 000 copies.

To get popular at that time you had to be programmed at the famous Olympia Theatre or to be the favourite piece in Salut Les Copains. In February they back some of the best French pop singer: Mouloudji and Guy Beart at theatre de l’Européen in the Clichy district. They made the Olympia in March sharing the bill with Sylvie Vartan. The TV show age tendre & tête de bois whose disc jockey is Albert Raisner selected them as the best band.

It was time to release un 25cm LP with a nice dedication written by Gene Vincent. The sale would reach the 100 000 copies; the tracks were riders in the sky, teenage idol, some self penned tracks like le train(C.Ciari), l’infini au soleil ( D.Kauffman), and lavender blue specially dedicated to Gene Vincent.

In April came out their thir record with let’s turkey trot,T shirt composed by the A &R man Leo Missir, Galaxie (Léo petit aka W.Stanray) and Colorado (R.Lefevre, one of the most famous conductor).

The summer season saw them tour with the Europe I , biggest French Radio station, the package featured Danyel Gerard, one of the then Rock singer. He was so delighted with his backing Champions, that he hired them for his next recording session. (sugar shack, America).

In autumn it was time to release a fourth Ep dedicated to the big radio station (Europe 1 and RTL) and with one of the best French instrumentals “rendez vous au Golf Drouot ” penned by Claude Ciari. The sales were good enough to have them cut a new Ep by year’s end, with cruel sea, avec des si composed by D. Gérard, Martian hop and If I had a hammer. This was the last record featuring Claude Ciari on lead. Claude was leaning more to country and Chet Atkins style ballades and left the band to try his chance alone. He was signed by the competition: Pathe Marconi and made a big hit with a cover of La playa, the classical guitar piece.

In spring 1964 the Merseybeat has reached paris and Les champions turned to a vocal band, Jean Louis Licart, former lead guitar with Les Pirates replaced Claude Ciari, for a while. During the summer season Tony Harvey former lead with the Playboys came for Jean Louis Licart, and André Cecarelli, former Chats Sauvages’ drummer for Yvon Ouazana. This new line up made the RTL tour from the north to the south French coasts.

In September, Alain Santamaria has to join the army and it the end of this top instruemental french band.

Claude Ciari left France in 1967 for Japan where he married and became a famous guitarist and entertainer on various TV shows. Dan Kauffman followed his father’s exemple and became a conductor and settled down in Switzerland. Yvon Ouazana made jingles for advertisment and married one of Les Gam’s girls singing band who made some hits in the early sixties.(french cover of Lollipop).

Andre Cecarelli is now one of the most famous jazz drummer in France, Willy Lewis runs a US style restaurant close to Les Champs Elysees in Paris, and Alain Santamaria is living in a quiet province town , Gien, where he is teaching music and playing week end gigs.



ALAIN SANTAMARIA a bien voulu répondre à nos questions et satisfaire votre curiosité
 Qui a trouvé le nom du groupe ? 

EDDIE BARCLAY a trouvé le nom.

 Te souviens-tu du GOLF DROUOT ? 

Oui, nous y sommes passé pour la première fois en 61, avec Jean Claude CHANE. Puis, nous avons fait la tournée du GOLF en 62 avec Henri LEPROUX. Henri nous a d’ailleurs beaucoup aidé, il nous a introduit notamment à S.L.C.

 Quels étaient tes musiciens préférés ? 


 Comment considérais-tu les groupes concurrents ? 

LES FANTOMES étaient bien, ils avaient deux excellents musiciens DEAN NOTTON, le soliste et CHARLES BENAROSCH, le batteur, LES SUNLIGHTS étaient aussi très bons, de même que LES LIONCEAUX. Bien sûr il ne faut pas oublier LES FOUR DREAMERS, qui étaient des requins de studio, et LES FINGERS. Il y avait aussi LES KREWKATS de DICK RIVERS.

 Quel est ton meilleur souvenir ? 

Le THÉATRE DE L’ÉTOILE avec GENE VINCENT, après vient la fameuse soirée de la NATION où il y avait une foule monstre.

 Ton plus grand regret ? 

Le départ à l’armée qui cassa le groupe. Le service durait 16 mois, j’ai fait mon service de novembre 64 à février 66.

 Ton morceau préféré ? 


 Te souviens-tu de l’émission AGE TENDRE ET TETE DE BOIS 

? Oui, nous avons gagné la coupe AGE TENDRE avec T SHIRT, contre LES PLAYBOYS qui ont joué SUR UN MARCHE PERSAN.

 Combien de temps a duré l’enregistrement de l’Album PAN DANS LE MILLE ? 

Deux jours;

 Tous les titres enregistrés par LES CHAMPIONS ont-ils été publiés ? 

Non, il y a encore des inédits.

 Que sont devenus LES CHAMPIONS ? 

CLAUDE CIARI a fait carrière solo, puis il s’est séparé de sa femme et est parti pour le Japon en 67, je crois. Il a bien réussi là bas, il est propriétaire de plusieurs Discothèques, il est animateur à la télévision japonaise, c’est un peu le Jacques Martin du Japon.

DAN KAUFFMAN est chef d’orchestre en Suisse.

YVON OUAZANA fait de la musique pour la publicité et des Jingles. Il s’est marié avec MICHÈLE la chanteuse des GAM’S.

ANDRE CECCARELLI est un des meilleurs batteurs de Jazz. Il a formé son fils qui est aussi un excellent batteur.

JEAN CLAUDE CHANE continue à chanter.

WILLY LEWIS tient un restaurant du côté de la place WAGRAM.

Moi même, je suis à GIEN où j’anime une école de musique, joue les week ends avec un orchestre soit en trio soit à 6. Ma partenaire est Claudine VALADIER à l’accordéon et Jo NOVES qui a joué avec Norman MAINE.

 Combien de batteurs ont joué avec LES CHAMPIONS ? 


 Après LES CHAMPIONS, tu as continué à jouer ? 

Oui, j’ai fait les derniers disques des PLAYERS chez CBS avec LUCY, LES INDIENS de Pascal DANEL, c’était en 65, j’ai remplacé PERETTI. Nous avons fait une tournée de 8 jours avec NANCY HOLLOWAY et HAROLD KAY. Puis en septembre 66, j’ai joué avec POLNAREFF avec DAN. Puis au milieu de la tournée, malgré l’insistance de POLNAREFF et de son manager j’ai arrêté. J’étais fatigué de la vie de tournée et du monde du Showbizz. J’ai regagné GIEN, je me suis marié et nous avons deux enfants.

 Un souhait ? 

Oui, refaire une soirée avec LES CHAMPIONS.

Merci ALAIN pour tous ces souvenirs.

Discographie (60)

  1. (Pas de titre) (Bel Air EP 221 132 (1961))
    La comparsita / Blue star / Galoping twist / Tempête sur Hawai.
    Avec Willy LEWIS à la batterie
  2. (Pas de titre) (Bel Air EP 221 113 (1961))
    Hallali twist / Sur un marché persan (persian market) / Qu’est-ce que tu parles / Teardrop.
    Avec Willy LEWIS à la batterie
  3. (Pas de titre) (Bel Air 221 177)
    T’shirt / Colorado / Turkey trot / Galaxie.
  4. (Pas de titre) (Bel Air 221 192)
    La longue marche / 1647 mètres grandes ondes / 1293 mètres grandes ondes / Rendez-vous au Golf Drouot.
  5. (Pas de titre) (Bel Air 221 202)
    Cruel sea / Avec des si / Martian Hop / If I had a hammer.
  6. (Pas de titre) (Bel Air 517 732)
    Poupée brisée / Loin / Barcarolle / Rupture à cinq temps.

Discographie (CD)

  1. Vol 1 (Magic Records 517 732 (1995))
    Sa grande passion / Rock du bagne / Dynamite / J’aime le twist / Bye bye mon amour / Ne me dis pas non / Ya ya twist / Ne plus me passer du twist / Petit Gonzalès / Pardonne-moi / Le coup du charme / Mon cœur n’a plus que toi / Ma mélodie / J’aime, j’aime / Si j’avais un bateau / C’est toujours la même histoire / Vénus en Blue-Jeans / Fire / Let’s dance / Tous les deux / Poupée brisée / Loin / Barcarolle / Rupture à cinq temps / L’idole des Jeunes (Teenage idol) / Les cavaliers du ciel (Riders in the sky).
  2. Vol 2 (Magic Records 517 742 (1995))
    T’ Shirt / Colorado / Let’s Turkey trot (pas du dindon) / Galaxie / La longue marche / 1647 mètres GO / 1293 mètres GO / Rendez-vous au Golf-Drouot / Cruel sea / Avec des Si / Martian Hop / If I had a hammer / Les revenants / Cette sacrée fille / Toi l’orgueilleux / Tu n’as jamais le temps / Des femmes comme ça / Si tu m’avais dit / Je comprends bien / Pourtant je t’aime / Les mercenaires / Lavender blue / L’infini au soleil / Le train.
  3. Vol 3 (Magic Records 176 872 (1997))
    L’infini zéro / Le train / Tempête sur Hawaï (+) / Blue star (+) / Le Marsupilami / Galloping twist (+) / Les yeux noirs (+) / Poupée brisée / Barcarolle / Le Marsupilami / Poupée brisée / Marie-Marika / Le roi créole / Il eut fallu / Telle que tu es / Comme l’eau qui coule / Tous les deux / Qui aurait dit ça / Il eût fallu.
    (+) avec Willy Lewis à la batterie.
  4. Complete 60’s instrumental (Magic Records 3930343 (2003))
    Poupée Brisée / Idole des Jeunes / Rupture à Cinq temps / Barcarolle / Loin / Riders in the Sky (Les cavaliers du ciel) / les Mercenaires / Lavender Blue / L’Infini au Soleil / Le Train / T’ Shirt / Colorado / Let’s Turkey trot (pas du dindon) / Galaxie / la Longue Marche / 1647 mètres GO / 1293 mètres GO / Rendez-vous au Golf-Drouot / Cruel Sea / Avec des Si / Martian Hop / If I had a Hammer / Tempête sur Hawaï / Blue Star / Le Marsupilami / Galloping Twist / Les Yeux Noirs / Le Marsupilami (altern.)
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