Leo Petit, the man who was the Guitares du Diable’s spirit, became a musician by accident and also by passion. This is according to Leo what summarised the best his musical life.
When he was a little boy, 5 years old, Leo had got health problems. He was then sent to a sanatorium near the Channel in the north West Coast. His family lived in the region of Lille. In this hospital dull life, Leo began to listen to music, just to escape this boring place. Before being sick Leo used to play drums in his father’s cafe, where there was a ballroom for the weekend gigs. The musicians who came by liked this little boy so eager to learn music and they taught the basics of drums. This is how he got this sense of rhythm. He had got the right tempo.
Then came 1939 and the Second World War. His father was drafted in the firemen in Paris. The family settled down in the south suburbs in Anthony. This was the chance for Leo to enter a New World, he heard Django Reinhardt playing guitar. Leo had now one goal to learn playing guitar. First he found a job in the gardens and spared money to buy his first so desired guitar. It was a Selmer. Then he looked for a teacher and met Andre Lecerf, who was going to teach him the basic accords of guitar and how to tune it.
When Leo was 18 years old, he has gathered some experience playing with Andre Lecerf ‘s band, so that he joined another band led by Yves Toligni. It’s a band in the jazz style. They used to move in the jazz circles, where they get acquainted with jazzmen like Roy Davis, a sax player, Harry cooper, a trumpet player, Godet, a violoncellist, and Harry Perret. Their meeting place was the Hot club de France.
Some time later Leo was playing with an accordion player, they were the house band of le Donjon de Vincennes, when Tony Murena, a famous jazz accordion player came by. He proposed Leo to join his band. One evening during their set Django Reinhardt and Gus Viseur, a well-established accordion player came in and listened to them. Django stepped up on the stage and jammed with them, playing with Leo ‘s guitar, getting fabulous sounds of it. The magic touch of Django definitely convinced Leo that he had got a very good guitar.
When their set was over they used to end the night at the hot club de France, where he got known with Gerardot, a very skilled and versatile guitarist. They also had the chance to meet with American musicians like Eddie Lang. The Jazz circuit in Paris included also the Green, where Leo met musicians like Marcel Fabre, a well known bass player, Eddie Barclay, a pianist, who would become famous in the fifties and sixties, and Green, the club owner and former Count Basie guitarist, as well as Aime Barelli who was already conducting the resident band at Le Bœuf sur le Toit, an hot place near the Champs Elysees. Aime was impressed by Leo’s ability to play guitar and hired him and Marcel Fabre. This was a big change, as Leo still remembers, we moved into another world, the professional one. Our fellow musicians there were people with a wide musical experience like Andre Fourtan on drums, Bob Castella, on piano, who later would back till his very end the world famous singer Yves Montand. In such a band Leo made huge progress, every afternoon supported by Bob Andre and Marcel he rehearsed, learnt and gathered a lot of know how.
In 1943 Leo came for the first time in a recording studio, making a session for Lucienne Delille, Aimé Barelli’s wife and a then top singer.
Then the turning point in Leo’s life is the yer 1950, when Leo met Arlette, his future wife. They married and Arlette insisted that Leo stays in the musical business, and then learn to read music. This
In 1951 Leo joined the Jacques Denjean band they toured three month long in Norway, a very interesting experience. In the spring of 1952, Leo joined the band playing in a club named Gilles & Urfer, two Swiss guys, who opened this club in the Opera district. The place would turn its name in tete de l’art, where he played with Robert Valentino, a pianist. Leo stayed there 5 years, paying with Jacques Brel, Micheline Dax, Poiret et Serrault who all were at the start of a big career. From time to time in played in the Olympia resident band, who had got the chance to back all the big singers visiting Paris. It recalled Leo the years with Aime Barelli, when they played the weekends at le Sporting in Monaco, backing such names as Ella Fitzerald, Tony Martin, Eddie Fisher and Edith Piaf.
In 1956 Leo is know a well-considered guitar player and made up his mind to step in the session world. Since most of the conductor knew and liked him, he became a high in demand guitarist. Arlette would manage his very tight schedule, because you could not refuse the proposals made by such big names.
When in 1959 the R & R reached Paris, Leo has got the idea that he should move into this style. J. Wolfson, the Vogue label-managing director asked him to make a session with a young guy they just signed. They needed a modern style guitarist. Leo came with his Fender, he was the only one in Paris to play a fender and to get this “shadows” sound. This session would make history in the French music, since the young singer was Johnny Hallyday and the song they cut was a French cover of an American song souvenirs souvenirs. The introducing guitar chorus was Leo’s work and 41 years after it is the symbol of the first French guitar chorus in R & R music ! The other backing guys are Martin on drums, Masselier on bass, Apichella on rhythm, all Jazz well known musicians. Souvenirs souvenirs would made the number one in the charts, and became a million sellers. Leo made the following EP and then would stop, since J. Wolfson, a clever manager was also sparing too much. This will lead to the split with Johnny Hallyday who would join Philips.
Leo had been very impressed by this young and powerful guy, with a huge vocal potential. He stayed in contact with him and was asked in December 1961 to back him at the famous festival du rock in the Palais des sports in Paris. Unfortunately Leo has already promised another young star to back him: Richard Anthony. Nevertheless he proposed to back Johnny too, but this later wanted to be exclusively backed by Leo and his friends. Leo felt committed to Richard Anthony and declined. The show was a nightmare, when Leo stepped on the stage with his fellows Maurice Vander, Paul Rover and Jean Garos with Richard Anthony, they were heavy already fighting’s in the audience between the fans of the wild rockers and the others. The set was quickly stopped.
Leo would then back Richard Anthony in many sessions. In 1962 one of Philips A & R man, Jacques Plaît, had noticed the Leo’s warm guitar sound, he had in mind to find competitors to the Shadows. He asked Leo to set up a band for an instrumental session. Leo called his friends Jose Bartel, Gus Val, drums, Peterssen on bass and Maurice Vander on piano. They cut three tracks: Pepe, Bongo Ben, and Calcutta. The n Leo has got an idea, to arrange a valse in a modern rock tune: les amants de saint jean Jacques Plaît is reluctant. They took the opportunity of a break and the absence of J.Plait to cut it. Claude Desjaques, the engineer made a good job and every body gave everything they had.
When Jacques Plaît came back, and listened to record, he was unbelieving, this track was just great. It made it the topside of the EP. Then a question was still pending what would be the band’s name. During the night J.Paît has got an idea, he rang up Leo and proposed les guitares du diable, the devil’s guitars.
From 1962 till 1965 they would cut more than 10 EPS and two LPs, making more than fifty tracks.
Leo has already a good experience, since he regularly recorded for trianon, a subsidiary of the Pathe Marconi label, many records with hits of the months mostly in instrumental cover. He started in the finishing fifties with Charleston like black bottom, followed with souvenirs souvenirs, Apache and finished by the mid sixties with a present Tu peux t’en aller, and non ho l’eta. all those records gathered the same musicians as les guitares du diable, but played in a more casual way and their name was changing from record to record : Leo Petit and his guitars, William Stanray, Leo’s composer name, Joe Doolittle……
But back to les guitares du diable they were selling well, and one day came the request from Cliff Richard, who was coming in Paris and for a tour in France, to hire Les guitares du diable as backing band since the shadows were already booked in England. Leo was very proud but since the band gathered only for record session, and otherwise each musician was always booked for many sessions, he was obliged to decline.
In fact Leo told us that being a session man was a full job and was better paid than playing on stage.
Leo was also busy composing tracks like galaxie who made a hit with Les Champions and Les Guitares, and being covered by another 8 bands! He composed for Lucky Blondo “avec toi, which would also be covered by Sheila. For les guitare s du diable he penned a la lueur des torches, Bach I, covered also by Les Pingouins, the Pack, Nashville, train bleu, enfin les vacances which would be sung by sylvie Vartan, ma melodie he penned with Claude Carrere, another very influent A &R man, and arranged le mouvement perpetuel composed by Paganini. This arrangement would be used for many years as the news introduction theme on the main French TV channel.
Then by 1965 les guitares du diable would stop, their a & R man Jacques Plait has left Philips, their recording company and the new A & r man did not get on well with Leo. They made their last EP with tracks like n’avoue jamais, the French Eurovision song, la nuit, trop tard which were tracks that did not pass to Leo.
Leo kept on his session man career till the eighties, and then joined the houseband of Les folies bergères, the famous typical show place in Paris, where he stayed till the end of the decade.
Les guitares du Diable were one of the most innovative band in France and sold more than a million records, they hit the charts in Italy with j’entends siffler le train (five hundred miles) and loin , in France with percolator, lovers of Saint Jean, mouvement perpetuel and their instrumental cover of Ray Charles’ hit the road Jack.
- (Pas de titre) (PHILIPS 424.271 PE)
Percolator / Leçon de twist / Ya ya twist / Retiens la nuit.
- (Pas de titre) (PHILIPS 424.287 PE)
Madison twist / Ma mélodie / With you / Hopy-dopy !.
- Guitarras Mágicas (PHILIPS P430039E)
Twistin’ USA (1) / Lonely guitar (2) / The fly (3) / Navajo (4).
45 tours sorti en Argentine vers 1963-1964.
(1) et (3) : Les GUITARES du DIABLE.
(2) et (4) : Ladi GEISLER.
- L’intégrale (double CD) (Magic Records 3930041 (2000))
CD 1 : Lover of Saint-Jean / Pepe / Bongo Ben / Calcutta / Fich’le Camp Jack / Danse le Twist avec moi / Twistin USA / The Fly / Percolator / Leçon de Twist / Ya Ya Twist / Retiens la nuit / Brigitte / Laisse jouer la batterie / Le lion est mort ce soir / Sous le ciel écossais / Twist liberté 1 / Mafdison Twist / Ma mélodie / With You / Hopy-Dopy / De Tout mon cœur / J’entends siffler le train / A la lueur des torches / La Java des gens qui s’aiment.
CD 2 : Mouvement perpétuel / Baby John / Loin / L’idole des jeunes / SLC Twist / Les mots des Javas / Hé oui / Sheila / Chariot / Le Pack / Galaxie / Pendant les vacances / Holiday for strings / Nashville / Bach I / les Indomptés / Le Baston / Train Bleu / Enfin les vacances / Slave Merchant / Tico-Tico / Les choses de la maison / La nuit / N’avoue jamais / Trop tard trop tard.