Champ Champagne dies at 69
Songwriter best known for Galloping Gourment theme
December 30, 1998

By Charles Enman
From Ottawa Citizen

One of the most accomplished and versatile musicians of this corner of the country died on New Year’s Eve.  Champ Champagne – a pianist, organist, double bass player, and prolific composer and arranger – was 69.

Mr. Champagne was born into a world of music.  His father, Paul Champagne of Ottawa, played the organ in local movie houses.  His mother, Jeanne Champagne, was a piano teacher.

Mr. Champagne never needed formal lessons as a child.  He could serviceably7 play virtually any instrument by ear.  At 19, still too young to drink, he began working as a pianist and bass player at the old Gatineau Club in Aylmer, playing with Harry Thompson and His Orchestra.

Over the next three years, he sharpened his skills with other bands, including those of Jimmie Lytle, Ken Campbell and Harry Pozy.

In the 1950s, he founded the Canadian Jazz Quartet, followed by the Ottawa Saxophone Quartet.  Both were given heavy play on CBC Radio and were considered premier Canadian jazz groups.
For many years, he led a jazz trio, a small swing orchestra, and a big band.  Along the way, he played with many famous musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Oliver Jones, and Chuck Mangione.
He was also well known as a teacher and for many years ran Quebec’s first Yamaha Music Store, in Hull.
"As a musician, everything he did was effortless and natural," recalled drummer Glenn Robb, who played with Mr. Champagne for 30 years.

"He was also a good mentor to young musicians – but he demanded the best, and could give you hell if you weren’t giving him what he wanted."

Mr. Champagne served 10 years as the first music director of CJOH (tv).

It was his music that serenaded the puppets on the Uncle Chichimus Show.  He wrote the theme music for chef Graham Kerr’s Galloping Gourment show, which was distributed around the world.

"Champ was perhaps the most versatile musician I ever met," said Les Lye, who worked with Mr. Champagne for many years at CJOH.  "It was all as natural as breathing for him."

He also had a sense of humour, Mr. Lye recalls.  On one occasion, he was providing musical background for a televised exercise program.  As a sweating staffer demonstrated a hip exercise, Mr. Champagne found just the appropriate tune – Cheek to Cheek.

Few people know that Mr. Champagne, in his 20s, was a semi-pro pitcher for the Hull-Volant Softball Team.

In 1987, Mr. Champagne suffered a stroke that robbed him of fluent speech and of his ability to play the piano.  Though his performing days were mostly over, he went on to write books on music theory, including The Real Chord Changes and Substitutions, in which he shared tricks of the trade learned in 40 years of performing.

Mr. Champagne had a second stroke three years ago that seemed to begin a gradual period of decline.
"But he was fine on Christmas Eve," Glenn Robb recalls. "He was giggling and laughing…his cheerfulness never quite left him."

On Dec. 30, Mr. Champagne simply went to bed and never woke up.

"He had a beautiful last Christmas, and we’re grateful for that," said his daughter Lyn of Gatineau.

"He was my inspiration – so sensitive, compassionate, generous, and slow to find fault in others.  He led a full life and I’m proud he was my father."

Mr. Champagne also leaves a son, Marc Champagne.

The Serge Legault Funeral Home in Hull is in charge of arrangements.  Visiting for family and close friends will be on Wednesday afternoon from 2-5 and 7-9.
A funeral mass will be held on Friday at a church still to be determined.

Those who wish may make donations to the Aphasia Centre of Ottawa-Carleton.