Tony RalloBorn: January 26th, 1941, Tunis (French Tunisia)
In 1955, when Tony was fourteen, his father was transferred to another Renault factory, in Metz, North Eastern France. “That was some transition”, Rallo recalls. “From the Mediterranean heat into the freezing winters of Lorraine! I went to school for two more years, but at sixteen, I had had enough… only music interested me. I had jobs in a factory in Thionville and at a hotel. Meanwhile, I played the guitar here and there in bars and cabarets. I was in a jazz band, which mainly performed for the American soldiers stationed in our region – not only in Metz, but also in Luxembourg. Though I earned some welcome money for my parents, I really was the canard noir, the black sheep of the family. After all, I had quit school and I knew exactly what I wanted and even better what I did not want.” Between 1960 and 1963, Tony performed his twenty-eight (!) months of military service. “These were the days of the Algerian War. I was terrified at the prospect of maybe being sent there. Initially, I was part of the parachutists’ corps, but I wanted to get out of it at all cost… I told my commanding officer I was an aspiring musician. Was there a possibility of joining an army band or orchestra? What he did, though, was giving me a job as a wireless operator – which had absolutely nothing to do with music! But at least it meant I was safe!”
While Tony served in the army, his parents had moved once again – this time to Montmorency, a suburb of Paris. Rallo: “I knew nobody in Paris. The only thing I had after two and a half years of army service was an excellent physical condition. Back with my parents, I developed the habit of daily walking all the way from their house to the city-centre of Paris, some fifteen kilometres! Of course, I was looking for a job, but it was not all that easy. One day, early in the morning, I made a stop at a bar in Pierrefitte to drink a cup of cocoa. There, I overheard a conversation of two gentlemen talking about a bar near the Eiffel Tower and how they regretted the guitarist of the band playing there would shortly have to leave due to problems with his residence permit. Boldly, I interrupted them, asking for the details of the cabaret they had been to. Needless to say, I went straight to that café, which was in the Rue de Grenelle… but, not surprisingly, at eleven in the morning, it was closed. After many hours of waiting at the door, the evening fell and finally they opened. Inside, I was received very friendlily by the waiter, who brought me to the nightclub’s singer, a certain Rudo Cardi. It was true, in a couple of days he would need a new guitarist. To check if I was any good, he auditioned me in that evening’s live performance… and, as I had built up vast repertoire knowledge back in Metz, I virtually knew all of the songs he performed. I was hired! That was somewhere late in 1963. I became good friends with Rudo, who, in the summer months of the following year, took me to his native Corsica, where we performed together for two months. It was there that I met my future wife!”
Back in Paris, Rallo found out they had to look for a new job. “The owner of the nightclub had already replaced me with some other musician”, he laughs. “… and thereby saved my life, for who knows, perhaps otherwise I would have played there the rest of my career! Now, I had to look for something else. Michel Mallory, a young singer-songwriter I had met in Corsica who I had become close friends with, asked me to accompany him at an audition he did with arranger Paul Mauriat. Mauriat liked what he heard and Michel got to record an album with him… but I was picked up as well, by André Pascal, a lyricist who worked with Mauriat frequently. He helped me getting a job at the publishing company of Jacques Plante. I had to write out sheet music of all songs which were released under Plante’s aegis. In those days, this sheet music was published and put on sale for the general public. Though it was a laborious job, I was happy to accept, as this secured me an income! Meanwhile, I played the guitar in a cover band called Les Kelton, which included my friend Raymond Donnez as its pianist.”
In 1965, at another publishing company, Tutti, Rallo got to write demo arrangements for rhythm section as well. “These were demos to check if the song was any good”, Rallo explains. “If the answer was yes, a fully-fledged recording with a proper orchestrator was made. One day, I was working on a demo for Claude François, who had taken a friend of his along, a guitarist, to check on my work. For this song, I had even written some string parts… and the guitarist was so impressed by my score, that he took me along to a Parisian recording studio that same evening. There was a huge orchestra, ready to record several songs, and its guitarist, Nini Rosso, asked me to take over his job. I was tested! I sight-read the score in front of me and played along with the orchestra on the spot without further preparation. It was only much later that I found out that this is an ability that is possessed by very few! This was the crucial moment in my music life, because it secured me three or four recording sessions a day as a guitarist for the next seven years or so.”
As a session musician, Rallo got to work with many of the most sought-after record arrangers of the 1960s, including Michel Magne, Michel Colombier, François Rauber, Christian Chevalier, Raymond Lefèvre, and Franck Pourcel. In 1968, Rallo was part of Guitars Unlimited, a formation of jazz guitarists which made the album ‘Nuages - manoir de mes rêves’ based on the original recordings of the legendary Django Reinhardt. In this same period, Rallo followed private courses with composer André Hodeir for two years (1966-’67) with the ambition of working as an arranger himself.
Rallo: “The main thing I wanted to learn from Hodeir was the classical style of writing music – and harmony! Remember, during my youth, I had never known anything else than just entertainment music. Hodeir was an alluring teacher for several reasons, one of those being that he was an expert of classical as well as jazz music. It dawned to me quite early that jazz would never be my main interest, but the introduction to it was useful. While I thoroughly studied Théodore Dubois’ standard work on harmony, Hodeir gave me composing assignments, encouraging me to be creative and do the unusual. Thanks to Hodeir, genuinely a grand monsieur, I acquired the ability to write arrangements without harmonic mistakes. This requires a certain amount of perfectionism! Apart from all this, the recording studio was some sort of school, as well… in a way, it was my conservatory! Working with great arrangers and conductors taught me important lessons. Some of them, such as Michel Magne and Bernard Gérard, started asking me to write orchestrations; especially Gérard was such a great guy. He was too modest and too intelligent to tell me how he wanted me to tackle certain problems… instead, he simply encouraged me to make my own choices.”
Gradually, Rallo was given more and more arranging assignments besides his studio musician’s work. In 1970, he co-arranged Luis Mariano’s musical comedy ‘La caravelle d’or’, whilst he wrote the orchestrations to the works of several film composers, such as François de Roubaix and Roland Vincent. In co-operation with Charles Dumont, Rallo composed the music to ‘Les aventures de Michel Vaillant’, a TV series (1967). In the early 1970s, he wrote arrangements which were recorded by Raymond Lefèvre and Franck Pourcel, including an unusual arrangement of ‘Love Story’, which included an Indian sitar, for Pourcel’s orchestra. In 1971, he decided to stop accepting commissions as a studio musician once and for all, instead focusing fully on arranging.
In the first half of the 1970s, Tony Rallo arranged for the likes of Daniel Guichard, including his success ‘Mon vieux’ (1974), and Marcel Amont, but it was his connection with Dalida (1933-1987) which propelled him to the top of the music business. He was responsible for the musical arrangements to her biggest 1970s hits, ‘Gigi l’amoroso’ (1974), ‘J’attendrai’ (1976), and ‘Salma ya salama’ (1977). Rallo: “As luck would have it, Léo Missir, one of the main producers of record label Barclay, trusted me with a song his wife, Patricia Carli, had written for Dalida. Because that turned out quite nicely, Dalida’s brother and impresario, Orlando, called upon me again. With ‘Gigi l’amoroso’, which was more of an Italian opera than a pop song, I won his confidence once and for all, proving that I had the ability to write arrangements in Italian style. Then came ‘J’attendrai’, which was originally an Italian song from the 1930s. I re-arranged it completely in disco style with a jazz bigband – an unusual cocktail, but Orlando liked what he heard and Dalida’s disco version of ‘J’attendrai’ became one of the biggest hits in her entire career. One year later, we recorded ‘Salma ya salama’, a song in Arab which was another chart climber.”
In the meantime, Rallo, who had accompanied Johnny Hallyday on stage as a guitarist in his first Palais des Sports concert series (1967), became the guitarist in the band accompanying French superstar Charles Aznavour in a world tour bringing him to as far away as Japan and the USA. He had been recommended to Aznavour by session arranger Claude Denjean. Not much after, in 1972, Aznavour asked Rallo to conduct a TV concert. Rallo: “Charles knew that I had begun working as a studio arranger myself. At one point, he needed a replacement conductor for some television programme – and he asked me. Of course, I lacked all formal education to be a conductor, but I had seen the best of France’s arrangers at work in the studio, including the geniuses Lefèvre, Pourcel, and Rauber – so I knew what was expected of a conductor of entertainment music. Charles was so happy with the way I handled the orchestra, that he entrusted me with several more of his TV performances. In 1974, I conducted the orchestra which accompanied Aznavour for two long months in the Olympia Concert Hall in Paris. At his request, I re-arranged all of his most popular songs. Charles always wanted new arrangements, both to surprise his audiences and because he derived personal artistic satisfaction from it. Unfortunately, I had to discontinue my work for Charles in 1974, when I was handed the opportunity to conduct a weekly TV show with a comprehensive orchestra and host Jacques Martin, ‘Taratata’. For two seasons, my orchestra accompanied many national and international stars from various genres. The highlight for me personally was the performance with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, who was so impressed by the score I had written for him that, after the show, he wanted to keep it as a souvenir with my autograph on it!”
As a result of his recording successes with Dalida, Rallo became one of France’s most sought-after studio arrangers. In the remainder of the 1970s, he worked with the likes of Leny Escudero, Mireille Mathieu, Les Alumettes, Franck Olivier, Jean-Claude Massoulier, Line Renaud, and Adamo, whilst he also wrote the orchestrations to hit records including ‘Glory alléluia’ for Les Poppys (1974), ‘Ces bottes sont faites pour marcher’ for Caroline Verdi, and ‘You know I love you – Tu sais je t’aime’ for Malaysian superstar Shake (Sheikh Abdullah Ahmad); the last-mentioned song sold nearly a million copies worldwide. Though his arranging work did not leave him much time for composing, Rallo wrote songs which were recorded by the likes of Jean-Claude Pascal, Sacha Distel, Isabelle Aubret, Marie Myriam, Annie Cordy, and Johnny Hallyday. His main hit as a songwriter, apart from the Eurovision success ‘Un, deux, trois’ for Cathérine Ferry (1976), is ‘Il a neigé sur yesterday’ for Marie Lafôret in 1977.
Meanwhile, Rallo also became one of the protagonists of French disco, working on studio albums with ephemeral names such as Pacific Blue, Tany Welck, and Janet Manchester. In 1978, an LP he recorded with Dutch singer Theo Vaness, ‘Back to music’, entered the American charts. For these disco releases, Rallo often chose to use a pseudonym, Tony Lexter or Anthony Lester. “Like all of my colleagues”, Rallo explains, “I experienced the problem that disco music with a French name on the label would not sell domestically. With a pseudonym, the chances of good sales were much higher in France. My friend and colleague Raymond Donnez became Don Ray, whilst I chose Anthony Lester.”
Following the success of ‘Back to music’, Rallo was invited by British producer Alec R. Costandinos to record a disco album in London with some of the best English and American session musicians. This release, ‘Burnin’ alive’ (1979), entirely composed by Rallo himself, was a major club success in the United Kingdom and America. Much later, in 2002, the Chemical Brothers, an English dance formation, recorded an orchestral version of the title track of Rallo’s album under a new title, ‘Come with us’. Rallo: “The funniest thing of all of this is that the album ‘Burnin’ alive’ sold well abroad, whilst there was no interest in France… perhaps again because my proper name was on it this time. The Chemical Brothers’ cover version, however, was a number one hit in France!”
In the 1980s, the music industry changed profoundly, as nearly all big studio orchestras were replaced by electronic devices. How did Rallo cope with this development? “Unconsciously, I sensed there was a revolution coming… already by 1974. In the Aznavour concert in Olympia, I included a synthesizer in my orchestra. Somehow, I felt I was on the right track, mixing the orchestral elements with synths, and I sensed the audiences liked the sound of this novel instrument. In the early 1980s, when the computer appeared on the horizon, I bought myself an Atari and studied its possibilities meticulously. Before long, I wrote my arrangements on this computer. For some years, I took it to the recording studio for sessions until I had had enough of that and decided to build a studio of my own underneath my own house, where I have recorded virtually all projects I have been engaged in since. Sadly, many of my arranging colleagues who thrived in the 1960s and 1970s, failed to adapt to this new era of music and disappeared from the scene altogether.”
In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, Tony Rallo wrote orchestrations for the likes of Marie Myriam, Annie Cordy, Sophie & Magaly, Nicole Croisille, and Alan Kaupp. In 1981, he wrote all arrangements to François Valery’s album ‘Dream in blue’ as well as to Linda de Suza’s chart success ‘Toi mon amour caché’. He also supervised one of the last recordings of Tino Rossi. Moreover, Rallo arranged the official French hymns for the 1982 FIFA World Cup and 1983 Five Nations Rugby Tournament, whilst, in 1989, he was responsible for recording ‘Liban libre’ with Guy Béart. He continued writing the orchestrations for Dalida until her tragic demise in 1987. Rallo comments: “Shortly after her death, her brother Orlando telephoned me, telling me about an old radio recording in which she performed Charles Aznavour’s ‘La Mamma’. It had been preserved on a Revox cassette and he wondered if I had any ideas about working it up to something which was worth releasing. With my computer, I managed to separate her voice from the original instrumentation. Instead, I wrote an oriental arrangement to ‘La Mamma’. When it became a success, Charles Aznavour, always the gentleman, was the first to congratulate me on this!”
Apart from his work for pop artists, Tony Rallo composed the music to several TV productions for children, such as ‘Salut les Mickey’ (1983), ‘Chip & Charlie’ (1992), and ‘Les contes du chat perché (1994). Moreover, in the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote radio jingles and music for advertisements, whilst he arranged the soundtracks of Roland Vincent to the TV film ‘En haut des marches’ (1983) and Jean-Marie Sénia’s movie ‘Si t’as besoin de rien, fais-moi signe’ (1986). More recently, he penned the arrangements to the French-Italian film production ‘Corto Maltese, la cour secrète des arcanes’ (2002).
In the new century, Rallo wrote arrangements for Israeli pop star Sarit Hadad as well as for Chantal Goya and Michel Orso, whilst he composed several songs for Isabelle Aubret. In 2003, he took part in a reunion of his 1960s jazz formation Guitars Unlimited, recording an album in London produced by Chris Rea. In 2010, with Jean-Jacques Debout, he co-composed the soundtrack to the movie ‘Gigola’. Two years later, Rallo was responsible for the arrangements to Debout’s musical comedy ‘Bourlingueur des étoiles’ (2012). He has also continued being involved in composing for TV films and advertisements.
Tony Rallo in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1976, Rallo co-composed the extremely catchy up-tempo ‘Un, deux, trois’ with Jean-Paul Cara, a young singer-songwriter who later wrote several more Eurovision entries, including the winning ‘L’oiseau et l’enfant’ (Marie Myriam: 1977). Performed by Cathérine Ferry, ‘Un, deux, trois’ won the French pre-selection in Paris and came close to winning the Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague as well, finishing second behind Brotherhood of Man (United Kingdom). Tony Rallo wrote the arrangement to ‘Un, deux, trois’ and also conducted the song in the international Eurovision final. Was it Rallo’s personal ambition to take part in the Eurovision Song Contest?
Rallo: “Not at all. The initial idea was Jean-Paul Cara’s. He wanted to submit a song to the French Eurovision committee and wanted it to bear the title ‘Un, deux, trois’, a clever idea. When he turned to me, he had already managed to write a part of the music. He wondered if I could work up his sketch; Jean-Paul is not a professional musician and he needed some guidance. Though we had never worked together before, he was probably advised by someone else to turn to me. These were the days when I was extremely sought-after as an arranger. For Jean-Paul, to have the same person finish the composition of his song and arrange it right away was an interesting option. I was known for being very fast both as a composer and an arranger – and it was no different with this song. We made a demo recording with a girl who was a backing singer in the Parisian recording studio and submitted it to the SACEM, the French association of songwriters and music publishers, as was usual in those days. To our delight, the song was admitted to the pre-selection here in France.”
With ‘Un, deux, trois’ being due to be performed on nationwide television, Cara and Rallo were in need of a singer – and they had to find someone fast. For Rallo, this was an opportunity to reward a friend in the business: “In those days, I extensively worked with Léo Missir, a producer at the Barclay record company. Thanks to him, a lot of arranging work, including Daniel Guichard’s repertoire, was coming my way. I felt it would be right to ask him first if there was an artiste he wanted to promote and who was perhaps suitable to embark on our Eurovision project. He invited me over to the Barclay studios, where an attractive young blond girl was waiting for us: Cathérine Ferry. She did not have a record deal – nothing. She turned out to be the girlfriend of Daniel Balavoine, one of Léo’s protégés, but who, at that time, was desperately unsuccessful. When Cathérine sang the song with a pianist accompanying her, I immediately realized she was exactly the kind of girl we needed. Formidable!. Shortly after, we recorded ‘Un, deux, trois’ with Cathérine. Léo Missir asked me for another favour: to include Daniel Balavoine and his brother in the group of backing singers accompanying Cathérine. Moreover, for the B side of the single release of ‘Un, deux, trois’, one of Daniel’s compositions was used. To be honest, I had never heard of Balavoine before.”
In that year’s French pre-selection, which consisted of several shows, Rallo also arranged and conducted ‘Aimer quelqu’un heureux’ for Caroline Verdi, but Cathérine Ferry effectively swept away all of her competitors and won the right to represent France in the international Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague. “Jean-Paul Cara and I were really surprised that our song won in France”, Rallo recalls. “Let me speak for myself: I had not foreseen its true hit potential. Of course, it was extremely commercial, but Cathérine was the real asset – for this song, she was the ideal vocalist. Unfortunately, in The Hague, she was more nervous than back in Paris. I remember I had to calm her down right before the TV performance. She was terrified! I told her: “Whatever you do on stage, keep looking me in the eyes – do not ever lose sight of me.” The orchestra was in front of the artists’ stage and I was with my back to the audience, facing Cathérine. Her rendition was quite all right, but not as confident as in the selection show back home… but what could you expect? She was a hairdresser without any podium experience! The fact that she was Daniel Balavoine’s girlfriend was the only reason she had been picked up by Léo Missir.”
What about Tony Rallo himself: was he nervous at all? “I have never suffered of stage fright – perhaps in the ‘Taratata’ TV show I conducted at that time, but only in the minutes before the lights went on and the show started. From the moment I climbed the stage, all worries subsided. In the case of Eurovision, there was no reason whatsoever for me personally to feel nervous. For ‘Taratata’, I had to conduct about a dozen pieces per broadcast, with many different tempi to remember. ‘Un, deux, trois’, on the other hand, was the only song I conducted in that Eurovision final – a song, moreover, I had composed and arranged myself. It was easy! What was more, during the rehearsals I quickly found out that the orchestra musicians were top-notch and, generally speaking, the Dutch organisation of the festival was fantastic. Nothing could go wrong. Nevertheless, I realized it was an important moment in my career – for, at that time, quite contrary to nowadays, the Eurovision Song Contest was an important manifestation. I looked the part, that night, wearing a striking dark red outfit… it was haut couture, bought at the Lanvin Fashion House in Paris!”
What were Rallo’s emotions after finishing second behind the UK’s Brotherhood of Man? “Being up front with the British during the entire voting procedure, we were slightly disappointed to lose out against them in the end. ‘Save your kisses for me’ was a good song too… a light song, like ours – that was the style which sold well in those years! Of course, we were happy with the hit success of ‘Un, deux, trois’ in so many different European countries. For Daniel Balavoine, who was trying so hard to make a career in music, it was slightly painful to see his girlfriend rising to stardom all of a sudden. In the end, however, Daniel became a successful recording artist, while Cathérine faded away, unable to top the success of that one Eurovision hit. With ‘Un, deux, trois’, her career was launched beautifully, but, understandably, she did not want to continue recording songs in that style for the rest of her life… and perhaps that is what audiences expected of her.”
Although Rallo did not make a second appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest as a composer, arranger, or conductor, there are two footnotes to add to his festival record. In 1981, he arranged ‘Moi je dis stop’ for Julie Bataille, the French cover version of ‘Making your mind up’, with which UK’s Bucks Fizz had won that year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Five years later, in 1986, Rallo again submitted a composition to the French selection committee, with lyrics by the renowned Eddy Marnay: ‘Tout commence et recommence’. The song was rejected by the selection committee, all the more incredible when realizing the interpreter was none other than… Céline Dion, the Canadian songstress who was to win the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland two years later with ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’ and then went on to worldwide stardom in the 1990s.
“I must be the only producer in the world”, Rallo chuckles, “who has a Céline Dion recording on the shelf which has never been released! The project was Eddy Marnay’s brainchild. He had the lyrics ready and wanted me to compose and arrange the music to it. He came up with Céline Dion… we recorded the demo down here in my home studio. It was a gentle ballad. I cannot begin to understand why our recording was rejected by French television. I have often thought about passing it onto Michel Drucker (famous French TV host of music programmes, BT), who could then surprise Céline with it during his show… she has no doubt forgotten about the song altogether. So far, I have not done that, though – the demo is still here on the shelf.”
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