A singer/songwriter in the tradition of Jacques Brel and Leonard Cohen, Richard Desjardins spent two-thirds of his career as an unknown and ignored musician, first with his group Abbittibbi and later as a solo artist. In 1990, his second album, Tu M'Aimes-Tu, propelled him to the forefront of intelligent French chanson. His activism for Quebec's independence and in defense of the poor and abused gave him the aura of a controversial figure.
Desjardins was born 1948 in Rouyn-Noranda, a mining town in North-Western Quebec (a region called Abitibi). The son of proletarians, he saw how the big mining and wood companies carelessly exploit the resources of a region, often with the agreement of the governments. This environmental consciousness along with the problems of the working class would fuel his lyrics and his social commitment throughout his career.
Desjardins formed a group of country-rock/art rock called Abbittibbi with friends Claude Vendette (saxophone), Francis Grandmont (bass), and Rémy Perron (guitar). Throughout the 1970s up to 1982 when it first disbanded, the group toured the clubs of Quebec to little avail. They self-released an LP, Boomtown Café, in the late '70s, but the big break they were waiting for never materialized.
The singer/pianist found his bread and butter in film music and even co-directed films with Robert Monderie (Comme des Chiens en Pacage, 1977; Mouche à Feu, 1983). All the while he kept writing songs and knocking at doors of record labels. Rough-edged, not good-looking at all, with a slightly nasal voice, committed lyrics and a colorful vernacular language, he embodied the exact opposite of what they were looking for. Yet, he kept playing small clubs to dedicated audiences and self-released his first solo album in 1988. The album sold poorly but found sympathetic ears in community and college radio stations. Filmmaker Pierre Falardeau, another rough-edged Quebec activist, hired him to write the music for his movie Le Party (1989). Desjardins had a small role and performed with the reunited Abbittibbi for the occasion. Now introduced to a larger audience, he self-released Tu M'Aimes-Tu the following year. This time critical acclaim came quickly and the album yielded two hits, the title track and "Quand J'Aime une Fois J'Aime Pour Toujours," later covered by many artists. A series of concerts in Montreal and France established him as a unique entertainer and powerful songwriter. He was 42 years old.
In 1994, Desjardins reformed Abbittibbi to record a set of new songs, released as Chaude Était la Nuit. A long tour followed and Desjardins/Abbittibbi Live documented the singer's rock repertoire. He came back to his solo career for the 1998 Boom Boom. For ten years he had been choosing his best songs among a repertoire accumulated over two decades, but now, having to write new material it became obvious the spark was not as bright. He shortly announced his semi-retirement, but still performs solo concerts occasionally, mostly for social causes.