Jean-Jacques Perrey, French composer and electronic music pioneer, died Friday at his home in Switzerland following a bout with lung cancer. He was 87. His daughter, Patricia Leroy, confirmed the musician’s death to Rolling Stone.
“As the owner of indie label Oglio Records, I have had the pleasure of encountering hundreds of artists but I rarely have the opportunity to work with legends,” Oglio Records owner Carl Caprioglio, a friend of Perrey’s who released his 2006 album The Happy Electropop Music Machine, tells Rolling Stone. “Jean-Jacques Perrey is a legend and I am thankful I had the chance to help share his beautiful and uplifting music with the world. My heart goes out to his daughter Patricia, his recent musical collaborator Dana Countryman and to all of his many fans worldwide.”
Perrey’s career in music started in the Fifties when he left medical school to craft musique concrete compositions. During this period, Perrey became among the first European artists to embrace electronic instruments, first with the electronic keyboard the Ondioline and, years later, the Moog synthesizer.
After moving to the United States in the early Sixties, Perrey linked up with composer and John Cage protégé Gershon Kingsley in 1965 to form the innovative electronic music duo Perrey and Kinsley. The duo recorded two influential albums together, 1966’s The In Sound From the Way Out and 1967’s Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music From Way Out.
“For those who don’t realize it, Jean-Jacques first started recording electronic music in 1952, long before the Moog synthesizer was first made for sale in 1967,” Perrey’s frequent collaborator Dana Countryman wrote in a tribute to “the pioneer of popular electronic music.” “Relocating from Paris to New York City, JJ actually owned and recorded with the second Moog ever produced, and with his musical partner Gershon Kingsley, they released their first Moog album – almost two years before Wendy Carlos released her first Moog album. Jean-Jacques was truly the pioneer of popular electronic music.”
As a solo artist over the ensuing decades, Perrey and his Moog recorded dozens of electronic music LPs, including 1970’s Moog Indigo, and collaborated with artists like David Chazem, Luke Vibert and Countryman, who also penned Perrey’s 2010 biography The Amazing Life and Music of Electronic Pop Music Pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey.
“JJ loved his fans, and he would light up the stage with his bigger-than-life smile, and good-time Moog music,” Countryman wrote in his tribute to Perrey. “From my place next to him onstage, I would often notice many smiles on the faces in the audience, returning his beaming smile back to him. His music, and his personality just DID that to people.”
Perrey’s music also had a lasting impact in hip-hop as the composer’s catalog became a source of sampling for artists like Gang Starr, who used Perrey’s 1970 track “E.V.A.” on the Brooklyn duo’s “Just to Get a Rep.” Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest and the Beatles – who included a snippet of “Baroque Hoedown” in “Helter Skelter” – also sampled Perrey’s work.
The title and cover of the Beastie Boys’ 1996 instrumental LP The In Sound From the Way Out was inspired by the 1966 Perrey and Kingsley album of the same name.
Perrey’s music also featured prominently at Disneyland and Disney World, as Perrey and Kingsley’s “Baroque Hoedown” soundtracked Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade for decades; it wasn’t until Perrey himself visited the amusement park years after its first usage that he realized Disney had been utilizing the song.
“His music was visionary,” former Disneyland musical director Don Dorsey, who selected the song for the parade, told the OC Register. “‘Baroque Hoedown’ is only one tune from his catalog, but brought happiness to millions and millions of people all around the world through Disney’s parade.” The Main Street Electrical Parade, and “Baroque Hoedown,” remains a mainstay at Disney theme parks.
“If he were here today, there is nothing that Jean-Jacques would like more than to think that his fans were playing his crazy, funny, catchy Moog music right now – and smiling, instead of being sad. His motto and creed in almost every interview that he gave, was ‘Keep smiling, and be happy!’ He was the master of happiness,” Countryman wrote. “Thank you, Jean-Jacques for all the happiness you created in your lifetime – music that will live on for generations to come.”