DOGS – 4 OF A KIND, VOL.1 (ENG review)

Deviation Records
DOGS - 4 Of A Kind - vol.1

“Bonsoir, on s’appelle les Dogs et on vient de Rouen en Normandie!” (“Good evening, we are called the Dogs and we come from Rouen in Normandy!”). These were the eternal words of Dominique Laboubée, charismatic leader of the most famous group from Rouen, in the preamble to their concerts. Before getting to the heart of the matter and tackling the long-awaited remastered vinyl reissue, in a limited edition of 500 copies and numbered (!!), of the sulphurous and very fitting Dogs album from 1998, 4 Of A Kind Vol 1, with Dominique Laboubée (guitar-harmonica-vocals), Laurent Ciron (guitar-vocals), Christian Rosset (bass), and Bruno Lefaivre (drums), I wanted in the foreword to bring my personal testimony, with some lived anecdotes, in order to pay tribute to this mythical group, whatever the periods and the line-up, and to their leader Dominique Laboubée, who unfortunately left us on October 9th 2002, during a disastrous tour in the States, hypothetical consecration and supreme fantasy for the members of the group, exaltation which will very quickly turn into a terrible nightmare with a scenario with a dramatic outcome, worthy of a book by Zola. The return to harsh reality will only be more difficult and the awakening of the rock microcosm will be with an irreversible hangover and a bleeding heart.

The Dogs represented and still represent for me many musical memories, but their rock’n’roll, at once wild and sophisticated, brutal and elegant, bestial and refined, went far beyond a simple musical relationship between a band and a smug aficionado of admiration. Dominique Laboubée and his Rouen gang were a real institution, a work of art in themselves, pure feeling and class. In the mid-70s, rock was a daily way of life for the Dogs and contrasted with the obvious lack of musical culture that plagued French teenagers, a little as if a poem by Baudelaire, a snapshot by Doisneau, a painting by Richard Hamilton, a sonata by Vivaldi, a Stradivarius violin, a Steinway piano, a thriller by Stephen King or an avant-garde pop’art work by Andy Warhol, would have gotten lost between Mont-Saint-Aignan and the windy Seine quays and invigorating Rouen.
Undoubtedly, they had something more, a little “je ne sais quoi” that will make the difference (or indifference, alas we are in France!), throughout their impressive career and will carry them to the Pantheon of French rock bands, with their neighbors from Le Havre Little Bob Story, Bijou from Juvisy-sur-Orge, Starshooter from Lyon, La Souris Déglinguée from Paname, without forgetting Ici Paris, Rockin’ Rebels, Benoît Blue(s) Boy, Diesel or Kalfon Rock Chaud or Jean-Pierre Kalfon in solo who was desperately looking for “La Meuf Du 2ème Réverbère A Droite”…

Personally, I have always drawn the parallel (perhaps risky or even erroneous?) between the singularity of the Dogs and their elders Chats Sauvages (Wild Cats) with Dick Rivers, who in the sixties, as good rock’n’twist pioneers, had the same state of mind than the people of Rouen: a certain idea of rock’n’roll and music in general and an immoderate taste for dandyism. The irresistible urge to get off the beaten track and the ambient consensus, by kicking the anthill and jostling the homebody of all stripes. The precious leitmotif to go beyond history, a destiny already written for some who are content with the union minimum, to reverse things, at the risk of being misunderstood or a haughty and uncontrollable group. Remember their epic and undisciplined time at the Golf Drouot, in Paris. Before the Dogs, the “cats of Nice” (the Chats Sauvages, the Wild Cats) had also experienced the same setbacks with Mr. Henri Leproux, Director of the temple on rue Drouot, following a few pranks and especially because of their provincial origins. Rock, played with too much class for the neighborhood and many differences from its contemporaries, is never very appreciated by the system and other established powers… sluggish accordion ritornellos at Chamalières, in front of a Daniele Gilbert in a shamanic trance. I insist, a France as soporific as a symposium by Raymond Barre on the galloping economy in Burkina Faso, or a colloquium by Michel Poniatowski on security in La Courneuve. Indeed, some people, stupid but influential, could make or break the career of a group that does not fit into a certain behavioral and musical formatting. The fury of living and the rage to win, while cultivating one or more differences, are persona non grata in French culture. It’s unfair, immoral enough to vomit up your 4 hours, disgusting enough to unhook your old Winchester, revolting to converge with bayonets on the Bastille, but it’s the sad reality of the infamous and sticky middle of showbiz. Dick Rivers separated from his Cats, meanwhile, will pay him cash for fifty years despite an extraordinary voice! And the Dogs themselves will sometimes be overshadowed by the mainstream media in favor of junk rockers and other acne-prone and pubescent musicians, with a curriculum vitae diametrically opposed to Marlène Schiappa’s IQ.

Like the Rolling Stones’ first DECCA albums, or Dr. Feelgood’s “Down By The Jetty”, the Dogs’ first PHILIPS vinyls, “Different” from 1979 and “Walking Shadows” from 1980, sounded very 60’s, very garage -rock, with for the first opus this superb cover signed Jean-Baptiste Mondino, of an exemplary sobriety, and for the second, Dominique’s vertiginous Rickenbacker.
I adored their self-confidence and their possible arrogance did not bother me at all. In my humble opinion, like Bijou with the identical approach, to listen to the Dogs and attend one of their concerts, you had to first deserve it. It was absolutely not rock for all audiences and you had to enjoy a state of mind at all costs to cash in to the depths of your boiling viscera such a debauchery of energy and feeling. It was the ‘sine qua non’ condition to emerge unscathed from their concerts and not to end up on a hospital bed in absolute emergency, with a vital prognosis, or in a mental health establishment, subjugated and fascinated, like Bernadette Soubirous who once claimed to have witnessed several apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto in Lourdes. The Sovereign Pontiff having however categorically refused to beatify and then to canonize the die-hard fans of the Dogs, Dominique’s riffs having apparently strayed between Rouen and the Vatican.

Dominique Laboubée, with his conquering and chivalrous allure, with his wounded golden eagle gaze, his frilled shirts, his pointed boots and the worn leather of his three-quarter length jacket, represented for me a kind of accursed poet, the worthy descendant of Arthur Rimbaud, Mallarmé or Paul Verlaine. One of the last romantics. The music of the Dogs oozed a certain refinement, while touching the intoxication of the depths to meet sirens and to lose control and the celestial vault of the big, the very big. The Dogs were disturbing, menacing, and I liked that feeling madly. These dogs weren’t the type to bring back the mess or go to bed in the kennel for a bone. They had a sound straight out of a work by Orson Welles, a sound so special never heard in France, a sound coming from a luxuriant and unexplored forest, like the cradle of humanity in South Africa or the caves of Patagonia . With albums like “Too Much Class For The Neighborhood” (Epic) from 1982, still considered today by many specialists and observers as one of the best French rock albums of all time, with the famous shots by Bruno Le Trividic, which set the tone and practically the tempo of this opus, or even “Legendary Lovers” the following year, the formidable epic of the Dogs being launched at full speed and at the time.

Very presumptuous or a little credulous, like a young idiot with nothing in his head, I thought that nothing and no one could stop this beautiful war machine, dedicated body and soul to rock’n’roll. The hardest and purest rock’n’roll, in the noblest sense of the word, that goes without saying. Alas, the sarcasm of life will prove me wrong a few years later… What a slap! What osmosis! What cohesion! Our mutts from Rouen were driven, fangs sharp, like a rugby front row before scrumbling into the cauldron of Eden Park in Auckland, and tickling their brow bones with the All Blacks, just to redo their free makeup, without the need for Rimel. Dominique Laboubée as a charismatic leader, excellent songwriter, incredible melodist and outstanding guitarist, Antoine Masy-Périer (Tony Truant) as a crazy and demonic elf on the rhythm guitar and as a supercharged showman and an unshakeable rhythm with surgical precision with Hugues Urvoy de Portzamparc on bass and Mimi Gross on drums. Despite this undeniable talent, the sales of their records remained very average compared to groups like Telephone, Indochine and others, which, like good opportunists, jumped on the bandwagon while benefiting from considerable media coverage, totally undeserved and arbitrary. compared to The Dogs or Little Bob Story, who had gotten their hands dirty, experienced difficulties that even Cain would not have wished on his brother Abel, played in inhospitable and austere places where even trains do not stopped, to tirelessly preach the good word of unbridled rock’n’roll.

Obviously, an honest and talented group such as the Dogs had relieved French rock of its lack of musical culture and its lack of roots which flirted dangerously with an underlying amateurism and made French rock unsuitable for export, because too impure, too exotic, for our British friends. From now on, French rock with the Dogs or Little Bob Story was no longer a vulgar joke, they had crossed the Channel by swimming or on the raft of the jellyfish and the local groups, from the Pistols to the Clash, via Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe, on the banks of the Thames, were suddenly making amends and genuflecting. The frog leg eaters had invaded the clubs of London, despite Lennon’s famous rhetoric: “French rock is like English wine”. The English rockers had fired first, but the Vikings rockers will make them abdicate. The first time I saw the Dogs in the formation “4 Of A Kind”, with their new guitarist Laurent Ciron, it was during a concert in Le Havre, under a marquee, like in the great rock’n’roll revival of the 70’s, feet in the mud, police dogs and the lukewarm Kronenbourg merchant who runs away with the money before the end of the show, like in a comic strip of “Lucien” by Frank Margerin or like in the song by Renaud “Les Aventures de Gérard Lambert”, because Gérard Lambert should not be inflated when he repairs his moped. There was also my friend Little Bob “Piazza” on the bill (concerts organized in Dieppe, Rouen and Le Havre by the General Council of Seine-Maritime).

The titles were played and replayed, it was now necessary to record them, another pair of sleeves to find a label when one is called the Dogs of Rouen. For now, we will only talk about tapes saved in the cellar of the family stone house on rue Martel in Mont-Saint-Aignan, a house straight out of a work by Edgar Allan Poe, which is full of fascinating secrets and anecdotes. A house in which we go on pilgrimage, like the Gaullists go to Colombey-les-deux-Eglises or like the lovers of calf’s head with gribiche sauce go to the museum of President Jacques Chirac in Sarran (Corrèze). The Mecca of a certain idea of rock’n’roll, witness to the birth of a myth, the first canine stammerings, the first rock barking, a vestige of a glorious past. Because in Rouen there is no squirming, the local pride is the Notre-Dame cathedral, the film by Pierre Granier-Deferre “Adieu Poulet” from 1975, with Lino Ventura and Patrick Dewaere, shot in Rouen, the film by Jean-Pierre Mocky “A Mort l’Arbitre” with Michel Serrault and Eddy Mitchell, also filmed in Rouen, at the Robert-Diochon stadium, home of the famous Red Devils team, and of course the Dogs! Full stop!

During my friendly talks with Dominique, the latter confessed to me that he greatly adored 19th century poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, the writer born in Rouen Gustave Flaubert, the playwright Georges Courteline, cursed poets like Paul Verlaine… Dominique was really passionate about letters and literature. The Dogs had multiple musical influences: Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, MC5, the Flamin’ Groovies, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones period, the Isley Brothers, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Spencer Davis Group, Chocolate Watch Band, Dr Feelgood, Johnny Burnette, Peter Zaremba’s Fleshtones, the Mersey Beat movement in Liverpool… He told me about the arrival of the Cramps in Rouen, of Lux Interior, of Poison Ivy, whom Dominique had rubbed shoulders with, the English tour of the Dogs with Dr Feelgood and Lee Brilleaux, a true gentleman too, who died far too soon, but also the king of Louisiana swamp-blues (Bâton Rouge) Slim Harpo or even John Lee Hooker… Dominique confessed to me that he had a lot of respect for the French bluesmen Benoît Blue Boy and Patrick Verbeke, whom he often met on the road with the Dogs. As he knew that I was friend with Little Bob and fan of LBS (Little Bob Story) a few years before the Dogs, he spoke to me about the legendary little squabble highlighted by the media, between the groups of Rouen and those of Le Havre, between the Dogs and Little Bob Story. Admittedly, there was a rivalry, but the two groups were friends and Dominique also had a great deal of respect for Roberto Piazza, for his integrity, for his extraordinary voice… We then agreed that Normandy, and more particularly the axis between Evreux, Rouen and Le Havre, was a real melting pot for real rock’n’roll, with among others the Dogs, Little Bob Story, Roadrunners, Marc Minelli, City Kids, the Olivensteins, Gilles Tandy, Gene Clarksville, Dominique Comont , Jérôme Soligny, Louise Féron… It was obvious, rock came from Normandy! Was it thanks to the proximity to England? Certainly. Moreover, the only two French groups to be respected across the Channel were undoubtedly the Dogs and Little Bob Story!
I remember that Dominique also liked Bijou, Ici Paris and the Wampas. On the other hand, Noir Désir and Bertrand Cantat were not really his cup of tea, and the Innocents with J.P. Nataf really pissed him off… The antithesis of the communicative madness of the Dogs and their unbridled rock.
He then told me about the difficulties encountered in recording the album “A Million Ways Of Killing Time”, a delicate period when Michel Gross was soon to leave the Dogs, followed by Antoine. Looking back, I sincerely think that Dominique, in great sentimentality, had been saddened, even hurt by the sudden departure of two eminent members of the Dogs, Mimi and Antoine, although he could easily understand their respective reasons. Then he asked me what I thought of the new members of the Dogs since the album “Three Is A Crowd” (on Skydog, label of the late Marc Zermati), Christian Rosset, Bruno Lefaivre and now Laurent Ciron, in a tone falsely worried. I replied to him that I had seen them in concert as a trio at the New-Morning in Paris and that they were great and powerful players. That the Dogs had not lost their souls, nor their original imprint. That the group now had a hellish rhythm with the precision of Swiss clockwork, with Christian and Bruno and that Laurent was an excellent guitarist who had muscled and euphorized their rock. I really liked the Dogs in quartet. In addition, they all had the Dogs spirit and profile, essential qualities when entering the Dogs, as one enters a religion or as one joins the foreign legion. You had to be severely burned, have guts, heart and the essential DNA. Although he suspected in advance of my answer which fused instantly, Dominique then played the reassured guardian of the temple. He had no doubts about the band’s new line-up with a promising future.
Although aware of his immense talent and potential, Dominique was not embittered by the lack of recognition from the mainstream media and part of the French public. He must undoubtedly have been aware that he had missed out on a huge international career, but he retained a certain dignity and an undeniable lucidity. He had the same enthusiasm as at 15 years old, he had kept an incredible mental freshness. Dominique was the antithesis of all these megalomaniac and egocentric rock-stars with oversized egos. His life and his work unfolded naturally, without any calculation. He was inhabited by the true rock’n’roll attitude and did not give a damn whether the fashion was to have a feather in the ass or a piercing in the nose. He never made any concessions. Never!

When I traveled to Rouen, between the quays of the Seine at Place St Marc, when a little breeze engulfed my ears noticeably, I seemed to hear certain immortal classics of the Dogs like “Too Much Class…”, “Little Johnny Jet” or “If You Don’t Want Me No More”… Am I crazy or is it that good city of Rouen which is haunted by its rock’n’roll past? But it’s a certainty, every time I go back, there are always strange manifestations, even supernatural phenomena… I see shadows and I hear riffs. But it’s true that legends never die and they will always shine brightly. So all hopes remain intact. Even the most unrealistic, even the most eccentric, even the most improbable. Be that as it may, you never come out unscathed when you have shared the passion of the Dogs and Dominique Laboubée. Thanks to Laurent Ciron for getting involved in this vinyl reissue of “4 Of A Kind”, with fireworks like “Dreadful Times”, “Dead Girls Don’t Talk”, “Back On The Horse”, or even the cover of “I’m Bad” by Kim Fowley, which will produce, among other things, the soundtrack to George Lucas’ 1973 film “American Graffiti”.

What an incredible story between Laurent Ciron and the Dogs! Indeed, a fan of the first hour of Rouen, one day in October 1995, he picked up his phone to call Dominique in the house of Mont-Saint-Aignan and offered his services as a second guitarist. The rest, we know. Without a doubt, he brought an extraordinarily breathtaking cachet to the group and “4 Of A Kind” bears the stamp of Laurent Ciron. Congratulations and thank you to the young label Deviation Records (in Annecy) and to the daunting work of enthusiasts like Phil Margueron, Éric Parent or Bruno Labati, who after releasing Jean-Pierre Kalfon’s last and sublime album “Méfistofélange” (reviewed HERE and HERE ), resuscitates this major Dogs album by giving it a second life. While waiting for the volume 2 of “4 Of A Kind”, plus bonuses in French like “Jenny Jane” or “La Belle Saison”…

Since that disastrous day in October 2002, the musical landscape, without Dominique, is no longer quite as it was before. Never again will we hear his voice start a concert with: “Bonsoir, on s’appelle les Dogs et on vient de Rouen en Normandie!” (“Good evening, we are called the Dogs and we come from Rouen in Normandy!”). No, never again. Dominique was a good guy, an authentic esthete. His soul flitted on winding and unknown roads. Rock’n’roll exists. I personally met him one summer evening in Rouen, as Robert Johnson met the Devil at the crossroads. Fortunately, there is still this vinyl reissue to perpetuate the legend and keep the little flame burning. Where you are, Dominique, don’t catch cold, because I’ve been told that up there, the nights are rather cool. You are not forgotten here. ESSENTIAL album…!!!!


PARIS-MOVE, May 2nd 2023