Quebec’s capital of rock’n’roll

BRUCE WALLACE October 7 1985

Quebec’s capital of rock’n’roll

BRUCE WALLACE October 7 1985

Quebec’s capital of rock’n’roll


It looks like a typical small-town tavern. But The Commons bar in Morin Heights, Que., 70 km northwest of Montreal, with its old pool table, warped wooden floors and cheap, $500-a-night bar bands, has hosted many of the top stars of the rock’n’roll music industry. Morin Heights, a picture-postcard town of 1,480 residents, carved out of the Laurentian ski hills, is also the site of Le

Studio, one of the world’s most prestigious and productive recording studios. The technical wizardry of Le Studio and its owner, Montreal-born André Perry, have attracted such stars as David Bowie, the Bee Gees, Chicago, Bryan Adams and Sting. And after a recording session the artists and members of their entourages often unwind at The Commons, the only bar in town. Said Trevor Leslie, co-owner of the bar: “Part of the allure of Le Studio is that nobody in town bothers the rock stars. In my bar they have to line up for the pool table like everyone else.”

Le Studio, which opened in 1974, has produced a dazzling array of best-selling albums on its 48-track recording console and its products have won 72 gold and platinum records. But what

gives the $6-million complex added attraction is the beauty of its secluded location. Set on the wooded edge of the Morin Heights town boundary, Le Studio is accessible only by a dirt road leading off the two-lane highway that bisects the town. Called Perry Road, the wide oiled-dirt drive leads through dense maple forest to a 300-acre estate with a private lake. With its oiled wood

exterior and sloping roof, Le Studio is a larger version of the cottages and ski chalets that dot the surrounding landscape. But inside, its wall-to-wall broadloom, splashing fountain and modern furniture suggest instead the cool efficiency of a corporate office.

Unlike the dark, celj-like atmosphere of most recording facilities, Le Studio offers its clients a magnificent view overlooking Perry’s privately owned Lake Kateri. Artists often follow a recording session with a swim or paddleboat ride before retiring to Perry’s lakeside, Jacuzzi-equipped six-room guesthouse nearby. The dazzling scenery coupled with state-of-the-art recording technology have enabled Perry to charge his clients about $2,500 a day for Le Studio’s services. Still, the facili-

ty is costly to run—its electrical bill alone exceeds $50,000 annually.

In order to keep up with changing trends in rock, Perry recently spent $3 million to upgrade his video facilities. Now, Perry and six video technicians edit videotape, design computer graphics and shoot dance sequences and dramatic scenes for videos and documentaries on a 37-foot-by-30-foot shooting stage. All videos can be synchronized to sound produced in Le Studio’s recording facilities—the first in Canada to be outfitted with digital equipment, the purest and most up-to-date technology available. Said Ted Blackman, a Montreal radio executive who has known Perry for almost 20 years: “André simply spends every cent he earns on new equipment. He is determined to have the Taj Mahal of the recording industry.”

Le Studio’s impressive array of hardware has brought new wealth to the town. Perry claims that its presence generates more than $1 million in local business each year. For 25 years Owen LeGallee has owned and operated Mickey’s, a clothing store and coffee shop on the town’s main street, where he also answers the police and fire department telephones at night. Said LeGallee: “Money is no object for that crowd. They all pay with big bills. They dump a fair amount of money here.” Still, locals rarely get full-time specialized work. To build its 28-member staff—which includes computer graphics artists and a sound-recording engineer—Le Studio has had to import most of them from cities such as Montreal.

For their part, residents of Morin Heights barely notice the stars who pass through. Morin Heights is a town of mixed French and English families; the oldest tombstone in the village cemetery dates back to 1883. Most of the local people have never lived elsewhere, and they earn their living largely from the seasonal work at the nearby ski hills or in private cottage construction; they are used to seeing outsiders come and go.

The local indifference allows normally besieged personalities to move easily through the town. Some, like Sting, formerly of The Police, even ski on nearby hills in winter. Said Leslie: “We have gotten used to hearing British accents in here. Nobody is especially impressed by rock stars.” Usually only visitors to the town seek autographs. Said Police Chief Ernest Woods, one of Morin Heights’ two policemen: “It is easy to spot the out-of-towners who come here

to gawk at rock stars. We just chase them away pretty quickly.”

Perry was fascinated by the music industry and its stars from childhood. A Grade 6 drop-out who travelled to the United States with a jazz band when he was 14, Perry has been involved in the technical side of the recording industry since 1962 when he built his first studio in the basement of a friend’s suburban Montreal home. By 1970 he had established himself as a leading producer in the Quebec music scene and had changed his clientele from such locally known artists as Jean Pierre Ferland and Robert Charlebois to international stars. Indeed, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famous “bed-in” at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969, it was Perry who supervised the hotel room recording of their protest single Give Peace A Chance.

In 1974 Perry and Yael Brandeis, his partner in business and private life, opened Le Studio at their Laurentian cottage. One of their first clients—or “guests” as Perry prefers to call them —was British rocker Cat Stevens, who recorded two of his more obscure albums, Numbers and Izitso, in Morin Heights. A year later the Bee Gees recorded the sound track album for the film Saturday Night Fever. That album soared to sales of more than 30 million copies and secured Le Studio’s inter-

national reputation in the industry.

Since he first opened his business, Perry has tried to integrate himself and his business into the community. In 1980 Le Studio even took a quarter-page ad in the town’s 125th anniversary commemorative album—an act calculated to demonstrate its community spirit. And almost every Sunday afternoon both Perry and Brandeis ride their horses down Village Street, the town’s main artery.

Still, some local people do not accept Perry as a native. “I call them the Montreal discotheque crowd,” said one Morin Heights contractor, who preferred to remain anonymous because he occasionally does work at Le Studio.

“They demand that you get the work done immediately, but you can’t start making noise until 2 p.m. because you’ll wake them up.” Ronald Fyfe, owner of a local restaurant, Melanie’s, has also experienced a small degree of rejection by Le Studio’s famous faces. Two years ago his restaurant served dinner to the rock band Asia every Tuesday

night while they recorded their hit album, Alpha. Recalled Fyfe: “They promised to mail us a copy of the album when it finally came out but we never got it.” Still, Fyfe told Maclean's that he enjoyed having the band’s business. “None of them ate meat and we had to make them special meals,” he recalled. “But on their last visit the road manager left us a $100 tip on a $200 meal.”

Indeed, lavish generosity has become part of the local folklore—as has the rock’n’roll visitors’ lack of preparation for the Laurentians’ vigorous climate. Said storekeeper Let Gallee: “I can’t count I the number of times g that a car has pulled up i outside our store in the “ middle of winter and some foreign rock stars have gotten out wearing nothing but tennis shoes on their feet.” But, he added, “when they need looking after, when they need winter boots and scarves, Perry sends them to

— BRUCE WALLACE in Morin Heights