Despite a slim recorded output -- roughly one LP per decade on average -- Laurent Voulzy emerged as one of the most successful and acclaimed composers in contemporary French pop; often working in tandem with longtime collaborator Alain Souchon, his obsessive attention to studio detail was instrumental in shaping the sophisticated melodies and rich arrangements that are the signatures of his work. Born in Paris on December 18, 1945, Voulzy spent much of his childhood in Nogent-sur-Marne, as a child befriending fellow music devotee Christian Vander, later the frontman of the French prog rock group Magma. Voulzy formed his first band at 14, quickly abandoning the drums in favor of guitar.
Beatlemania exerted a profound influence on his musical development, and a 1965 vacation to England proved little more than a record-shopping trip during which he acquired a stack of releases documenting the best of the British Invasion era. In time, Voulzy began composing his own music, and in 1967 he won a local songwriting contest with an original titled "Timide." Military service interrupted his fledgling career, however, and upon returning from duty he enrolled in law school. Law did not prove to his liking, and in 1969 Voulzy assembled Le Poing, a Paris-based rock group that toured extensively but never recorded; their two-year lifespan nevertheless honed his songwriting skills and in 1971 he recorded a demo tape that found its way to RCA. The label extended a contract offer and a year later he issued his debut single, "L'Amour Est un Oiseau" -- the record was not a hit, however, and a similarly grim fate befell its follow-up, 1973's "La Maison à Croquer."
In late 1973 Voulzy began working with Souchon, a similarly frustrated singer/songwriter whose gifts as a lyricist perfectly complemented his new partner's skills as a composer. A year later Souchon and Voulzy issued their debut LP, J'ai 10 Ans, scoring their breakthrough hit with the title cut. A year later, Bidon cemented their new star status, earning widespread critical acclaim as well. While Souchon was the public face of the duo, mounting lengthy tours and co-starring in feature films, Voulzy was portrayed as a recluse and perfectionist locked in the studio for weeks at a time. Souchon's solo career flourished, but only in 1977 did Voulzy resume his solo pursuits with the single "Rockcollection," an exuberant tribute to the pop music of his youth. The single topped the French pop charts, and its 1978 follow-up, "Bubble Star," also proved a chart blockbuster.
After months of fine-tuning, his debut solo LP, Le Coeur Grenadine, finally hit retail in 1979, scoring a pair of number one hits in "Karin Redinger" and the title cut. Despite the album's success, Voulzy steadfastly refused to mount even a brief tour, although in 1980 he joined Souchon during the latter's residency at Paris' legendary Olympia. He closed out the year with another chart-topping single, the Beach Boys homage "Surfin' Jack," and a year later hit paydirt again with "Idéal Simplifié." Voulzy's sophomore solo LP, Bopper en Larmes, followed in late 1981, an uncharacteristically brief four years after its predecessor. In 1983, he even headlined a rare live date in his parents' native French West Indies.
But Voulzy spent the remainder of the decade in the studio, teaming in 1984 with actress Véronique Jeannot for the smash duet "Belle-Ile-en-Mer," a contemporary classic named Best French Song of the 1980s in a 1990 poll of music industry professionals. A year later, he resumed his collaboration with Souchon, decamping to a telephone-free house in Brittany to write the album C'Est Comme Vous Voulez. With 1986's "Les Nuits Sans Kim Wilde," Voulzy returned to the top of the French pop charts, repeating the trick two years later via "Le Soleil Donne." He finally compiled his myriad singles in 1989 as Belle-Ile-en-Mer, although no new material was forthcoming until mid-1992's Caché Derrière, which arrived more than a decade after his previous studio LP, Bopper en Larmes. Buoyed by the hit singles "Carib Islander," "Le Rêve du Pêcheur," and "Le Pouvoir des Fleurs," the album was awarded the SACEM's Grand Prix de la Chanson Française, also claiming Album of the Year honors at the annual Victoire de la Musique awards. The acclaim prompted Voulzy to finally headline his own Paris live dates, and when a three-week residency at the Casino de Paris quickly sold out, he agreed to a December 1993 date at the larger Le Zénith as well. (The Casino de Paris shows later yielded a live album, Voulzy Tour, highlighted by an 18-minute rendition of "Rockcollection.") Voulzy then receded from the limelight yet again, spending the next two years fine-tuning his new home studio on the banks of the River Marne.
After briefly resurfacing via Souchon's Au Ras des Pâquerettes, Voulzy resumed work on his next solo effort, Avril, finally issued in late 2001 after three years of obsessive tinkering -- a melancholy, deeply personal project, its first single, "Une Heroine," proved another major hit, although most striking was the 13-minute finale, "I Want You," a sprawling Beatles tribute recorded as a duet with Souchon. Avril earned the 57-year-old Voulzy a second Victoire de la Musique award for Album of the Year and yielded his longest and most far-ranging tour to date. In 2005 he issued his first greatest-hits compilation, the two-disc Saisons, highlighted by a brand new song, "Là Où Je Vais." Voulzy also agreed to a collaboration with up-and-coming pop chanteuse Nolwenn Leroy, and ended up composing roughly half of her LP Histoires Naturelles. He returned in the summer of 2006 with La Septième Vague, a collection of covers featuring personal favorites including the Doors' "Light My Fire," Etienne Daho's "Duel au Soleil," and Simon & Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," the latter a duet with Souchon. Two years after La Septième Vague, Voulzy returned with 2008’s Recollection, a mish-mash of old songs, party re-written, and re-recorded using up-to-date production techniques. 2011 saw the release of Lys & Love, Voulzy first brand-new material since 2001’s Avril. A collection of medieval pop songs, the album was inspired by his interest in the history of the Middle Ages.~ Jason Ankeny