Saturday 4 April 1981


The following article is an overview of the career of French bass guitarist, songwriter, and arranger Joël Rocher. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Rocher, conducted by Bas Tukker in Paris, May 2011. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Joël Rocher's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2011

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Joël Rocher
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: October 7th, 1947, Rugles, Upper Normandy (France)
Nationality: French


Joël Rocher co-arranged and conducted 'C'est peut-être pas l'Amérique', the song with which Jean-Claude Pascal represented Luxembourg in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. It was to remain Joël Rocher’s only Eurovision involvement.


Joël Rocher was born in a small village in Normandy, but his parents moved to Mantes-la-Jolie, a town in the vicinity of Paris, in the mid-1950s. His father was a bricklayer. From a very young age, Joël was fascinated by music and he taught himself to play the guitar when he was fifteen. His ambition was to be a musician and he decided to take private courses in solfège and harmony (1963-65). 

“In fact, I wanted to enrol on courses in the local conservatoire in Yvelines in 1964, but they told me I first had to study three years of solfège before I could do anything else," Rocher recalls. "I did not like that method of working at all; after all, I was already 17. I was just looking for a minimum of theory which would allow me to work independently as a musician and as a songwriter; being an autodidact at heart, I decided that the conservatoire was not for me and stuck to those private courses. I loved all kinds of music, ranging from Sinatra to The Beatles. But my first love was the French chanson. The most important thing was that I wanted to make a career in the music business – no matter if it was as a singer, as a guitarist, or as a composer.” 

Rocher (to the left) on stage with Les Cancre 

In 1965, he had his first taste of success, when he won the Echo Cup in the Châtelet Festival in Belgium with his first amateur band, Les Cancre.

With a burning ambition to succeed in music, young Joël settled in Paris and tried to make a living doing all kinds of different little jobs. Slowly but gradually, he became known as an able bass guitarist in the club circuit. During the summer seasons of 1969 to 1971, he played in the luxurious resorts of Club-Méditerranée in Southern France, entertaining the tourists. In 1972, he met Sophie Makhno, who was an esteemed producer (for CBS, later working independently), songwriter, and vocalist, mainly known for her literary chansons and her production work for Barbara. Rocher played the bass in Makhno’s band when she performed as a support act for Georges Brassens in the Bobino Music Hall in Paris. 

“Meeting Sophie was important, because she gave me a lot of responsibility. Thanks to her, I got to play in studio sessions. Being invited to do session work is a priceless form of recognition for a musician! Moreover, she commissioned me to compose songs, to work as a backing singer, and, somewhat later, to do some production work. It was a pleasant time, working with Sophie and her ‘inner circle’. There were some interesting people there, such as Colin Verdier, a young singer, and Bernard Gérard and Benoît Kaufman, both of whom were very good composers and arrangers. Especially Bernard Gérard always encouraged me to compose and was very enthusiastic about my work. We had long conversations about music and, as he had so much experience, he taught me a lot. He also helped me finding artists to interpret my songs.”

Rocher with Sophie Makhno, working on a song (c. 1979)

Sophie Makhno recorded several of Rocher’s compositions herself, including ‘Cherche un coin tranquille’ (1973), ‘On boucle la valise’ (1975), and ‘Chanson sirop’ (1977). With Makhno, he co-composed the beautiful ‘Il y a quelque chose dans l’air’ for Colin Verdier in 1973. Other artists Rocher wrote for in the 1970s include Michel Piccoli, Village, Emmanuelle Marcellin, and Marie-France Anglade. In the mid-1970s, he also recorded two singles as a solo artist, ‘Faut faire avec’ and ‘Pouce’. With Bernard Gérard, he composed a song which was included in the soundtrack of the movie picture Ce cher Victor (1975).

Throughout the 1970s, Joël Rocher was also a much sought-after musician for stage shows and concerts. As a bass player, he accompanied successful soloists such as C. Jerôme, François Valéry, Elisa, Jean-Pierre Savelli, Nicoletta, Patachou, and Michel Jonasz. In the late 1970s, he met one of the most important musical friends of his life, the blind pianist Pierre Tibéri (1947-2000). 

“Pierre was in the accompanying bands of Nicoletta and Michel Jonasz with me. He was an excellent pianist and a very good composer too. We became the best of friends and started composing together. ‘In Love With Music’ from 1979 was one of the first songs the two of us co-wrote. It was released as a single record with Pierre singing it. From the end of the 1970s onwards, we often met up in the studio to arrange and co-produce records for various artists. In 1977, we worked together for months, performing during the summer season in the Monte Carlo Sporting Club. Pierre was from the Lyon region and if he had not lived so far off, we would have worked together on even more projects. It is such a pity he died so young. I still miss him every day!”

At work in the studio with Pierre Tibéri (c. 1988)

In the 1980s, Rocher got the opportunity to work on more ambitious studio projects than in the decade before, “Professionally, in the late 1970s, I had practically always been with Sophie Makhno and her friends only; this small ‘inner circle’ which I spoke about earlier. I am convinced that my appearance as a conductor in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest was the key moment in my career. From that moment onwards, I was invited for all kinds of different things which I would never have been asked to do otherwise. Ambitious studio projects with big orchestras and expensive background vocalists. Why? Because, thanks to Eurovision, all of a sudden many more people in the recording business knew my name. Besides, I had now proved to the outside world that I was a capable arranger. I had more or less taught myself how to write good arrangements using the method of trial and error in the years before. Driven on by my ambition to succeed, I was always eager to try new things - and arranging was one.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Joël Rocher worked as a composer, arranger, and producer for various French singers such as Charles Dumont, Cécile Keller, François Deblaye, Sylvain Caruso, Bernard Menez, and Sam Lorie. For Patrick Topaloff, he arranged several singles as well as the album ‘Les fables de La Fontaine’ (1982). In 1987, Rocher produced an album with children’s songs all composed by Pierre Tibéri called ‘Père-Noël Vidéo’. 

In the Parisian recording studios, Rocher met the highly influential Belgian producer and music editor Jean Kluger, who gave him the opportunity to work in Brussels as a producer with a host of different artists, including Sandy Davis, Janu, and Nicky Baker. Flemish legend crooner Will Tura recorded Rocher’s composition ‘If You’re Alone Tonight’ with lyrics in Dutch under the new title ‘Als het hart niet meer zingt’ (1987) as well as his arrangement of the American traditional ‘Amen’ (2003). Still in Brussels, Rocher was co-producer of the Ellington tribute album ‘Tango à la Duke’ (2006) by Argentinean piano virtuoso Gustavo Beytelmann.

Rocher (far right) on stage with the Golden Gate Quartet during a TV performance in Switzerland, (1994)

In spite of his time-consuming activities in the recording studio, Rocher has never ceased working as an instrumentalist on stage. In 1982, he was a member of the combo which accompanied the TV sketch show Chantez-le moi. From the late 1980s onwards, he has been the bass guitarist in the band which accompanies the legendary American gospel group The Golden Gate Quartet. 

“It all started with a phone call from a friend… a musician and a member of the Golden Gate Quartet accompanying band. It must have been in 1986 or thereabouts. Their bass guitar player had fallen ill and they had to leave for a concert somewhere in the south of France within 1 hour and 15 minutes! He wondered if I wanted to help them out as a replacement. I agreed and was rushed to the Gare d’Austerlitz by taxi. I had to learn my parts on the way to the gig. Some time afterwards, their bass player, who was already quite old and could not cope anymore with the demanding touring schedule, left the group once and for all and in that way I became a regular band member. Working with the Golden Gate Quartet is a privilege. They are such professional, polite, and pleasant guys! From the moment they saw I did my job well, I was accepted as a member of the Golden Gate ‘family’. Together, we always do our utmost to give a great performance.”

With the Golden Gate Quartet, Joël Rocher has extensively toured France, Germany, as well as many other European countries, performing in concerts and festivals. In the Western African state of Benin, Rocher and the quartet took part in the unique ‘Gospel et Racines’ (Gospel and Roots) Music Festival. In 2010, he wrote most of the arrangements for the gospel group’s highly acclaimed new album ‘Incredible’. A couple of years before Sophie Makhno’s passing away, Rocher arranged and co-produced her penultimate studio album, ‘Je m’en fou d’avoir vieilli’ (2003). Nowadays, apart from his work with the Golden Gate Quartet, Joël Rocher still works as a session musician occasionally.

In Paris’ Bois de Vincennes, May 2011


In 1961, French crooner Jean-Claude Pascal was crowned the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in Cannes with the delightful jazz piece ‘Nous les amoureux’. On the 20th anniversary of his victory, in 1981, the now 53-year-old decided to have another go and represent Luxembourg for a second time. The festival was held in Dublin and Pascal sang ‘C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique’, composed by Sophie Makhno and Jean-Claude Petit with lyrics by Sophie Makhno and Jean-Claude Pascal himself. There was to be no first place for Pascal this time around, as the international juries put him in 11th place. Joël Rocher was the conductor of this Luxembourg entry, his only involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest.

“’C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique’ was not composed especially for the contest and not even with Jean-Claude Pascal in mind,” Rocher recalls. The writing process turned into a very complicated affair. After Sophie Makhno had written the choruses, she found herself unable to compose the rest of the song. That is when she called on me for help and, together, we finished it. Sophie, however, was not entirely satisfied with the result. That's why she asked Jean-Claude Petit to have a look at it, which he did. In the end, Sophie chose to use Petit’s version to the song and not mine."

"I do not know exactly what happened next. One way or another, the demo recording found its way to the offices of the French branch of RTL in Paris. As it turned out, many people there instantly liked it. Marie-Christine Villaume, who worked there, managed to convince RTL Luxembourg that it was a suitable choice for the Eurovision Song Contest. It was offered to Jean-Claude Pascal, who was already in his fifties, but a sincere artist and still an interesting personality. For a song with meaningful lyrics such as ‘C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique, he was the ideal interpreter. No, nobody had second thoughts about competing in Eurovision which this song; I mean, literary lyrics are a part of French chanson tradition with famous interpreters such as Juliette Gréco, Jacques Brel, and Isabelle Aubret.”

Pierre Tibéri

Co-composer Jean-Claude Petit was once of France’s most sought-after arrangers and conductors, yet the studio arrangement was written by Joël Rocher and Pierre Tibéri and Petit did not come along to Dublin to conduct the orchestra. Why was that? 

“Being perfectly honest,” Rocher confesses, “under normal circumstances Jean-Claude Petit would have taken care of the arrangement and of course have conducted the orchestra in Ireland as well. The reality was, however, that he was an extremely busy man. He conducted the orchestra which accompanied all artists in the TV broadcast of Stars, a huge weekly show programme hosted by Michel Drucker. For each of those programmes, there were 10 or 15 songs. Jean-Claude always penned all the arrangements to those pieces of music himself! In short, he really did not have time to record the song and there was no way he could leave Paris for an entire week to conduct the Eurovision orchestra."

"As a result, Sophie asked me to write a suitable arrangement. I had already got some ideas about what to write, but I decided to work together with my friend Pierre Tibéri once more. Pierre did not find it easy to find solutions for this song, which, harmonically, is rather monotonous. It is fair to say that the majority of the final result was my work. For the B side of the single recording, we picked ‘Car tu es la musique’, which was Sophie’s translation of Pierre’s song ‘In Love With Music’ from two years earlier.”

“Erroneously, Pierre was credited on the record sleeve of the single record of ‘C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique’ as having conducted the studio session; in fact, he could never have done that – after all, he was blind! That is why I conducted this session. Jean-Claude Pascal, who I had never met before, was so satisfied with the way I handled this that he insisted on me as his musical director in the Eurovision Song Contest. I was extremely proud of that, because Jean-Claude was someone of considerable experience. Being hand-picked by him was an honour indeed! If he had not put his trust in me, probably RTL or the publishers would have chosen another conductor – remember that I had very little experience in conducting orchestras, certainly not on stage! I am still very grateful for the opportunity Jean-Claude gave me to be his conductor in Dublin.”

Jean-Claude Pascal on the Eurovision stage in Dublin

“We had a marvellous couple of days in Ireland. It was a pity Pierre Tibéri could not be there; I would really have loved to have him with us. We had an excellent backing group with the brothers Georges and Michel Costa (who also backed up the French entrant Jean Gabilou that year - BT) and three American girls... a bit ironic perhaps, given the title of our song. Jean-Claude Pascal, being every inch the gentleman that he was, did not feel above the other contestants because of his victory in 1961. He was pleasant and good-humoured – a joy to work with!"

"I distinctly remember the moment of the first rehearsals; I was terrified at the prospect of having to conduct this huge orchestra of professional musicians. Fortunately, they played the score perfectly and complimented me for my work. Even the director of the show tapped me on the shoulder afterwards to tell me the string arrangement worked beautifully. "Please don’t you worry," he said. Those Irish – they really did everything they could to make you feel at ease! Another thing that helped me feeling better was my conversation with David Sprinfield, who conducted the French entry and confessed to me that he felt very insecure as well about having to conduct this grand orchestra… so I was not the only one!”

In the live broadcast, few viewers will have lacked to notice that Joël Rocher was quite nervous when he walked to his conductor’s desk to count the orchestra in. “It is true, I was nervous,” Rocher admits. “I was very conscious of the fact that there was this huge television audience of perhaps more than 100 million viewers. It was scary and unique at the same time. I mean, no musician in Europe will ever have a bigger audience than that! That also was one of the reasons why I have always defended Eurovision, when other musicians were speaking badly the event. I think it is most unprofessional to show such disrespect for this enormous number of viewers glued to their TV set. They cannot be all wrong, after all!”

The Luxembourg delegation went home with 41 points and an 11th place on the scoreboard. “You will understand that Jean-Claude Pascal was disappointed," Rocher concludes. "I do not know if he ever believed he could win it again, but any competitor in any competition wants to do well. As an artist, you always hope the audience will appreciate your work. For my own career, this festival in Dublin really was the key moment. Thanks to Eurovision, all of a sudden many more people in the recording business knew my name and all kinds of interesting new recording projects came my way!”

Rocher trying to cheer up Jean-Claude Pascal after the voting (Dublin, 1981)


Guitarist and music teacher Hubert Rondepierre has known Joël Rocher since the early 1980s, “I met Joël Rocher during recordings sessions thanks to my guitar teacher Thierry Picandet. With his friendly character, Joël made me feel at ease from the very beginning. He is completely natural and very polite, something which can also be recognised in his way of play and in his music. His qualities: naturalness and effectiveness. It is in part due to him that I am still working in the world of music!” (2011)


Country – Luxembourg
Song title – “C'est peut-être pas l'Amérique”
Rendition – Jean-Claude Pascal
Lyrics – Sophie Makhno / Jean-Claude Villeminot
Composition – Sophie Makhno / Jean-Claude Petit
Studio arrangement – Pierre Tibéri / Joël Rocher
(studio orchestra conducted by Joël Rocher)
Live orchestration – Pierre Tibéri / Joël Rocher
Conductor – Joël Rocher
Score – 11th place (41 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Joël Rocher in Paris, May 2011
  • Thanks to Hubert Rondepierre for his additional comments
  • Photos courtesy of Joël Rocher and Ferry van der Zant

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