A chance meeting with producer Ken Lean launched Katty Line – somewhat reluctantly – onto the French yé-yé scene. She is rated among French femme pop fans for a slew of top releases, particularly N’hésite pas quand l’amour t’appelle, her take on The Supremes’ Back in my arms again. However, thanks to Adriano Celentano, she would find greater success over the border in Italy at the end of the decade – until a horrific car accident cut short her career.
Katty Line was born Catherine Boloban on 13 March 1947 in Sucy-en-Brie in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris. One of four sisters, she learned to play the piano and took dance classes as a child.
Her singing career was a matter of being in the right place at the right time – having simply gone for a drink with a friend who worked in the music industry. It was to prove an evening that would change her life. Among the friend’s colleagues was Ken Lean, a Swiss-born producer who had worked with singers such as Evy and Hugues Aufray and who has been compared to Phil Spector.
Catherine and Lean were instantly attracted to each other. As artistic director at the Barclay record label, Lean saw a career for the young blonde. Among his chat-up lines was the offer of a chance to cut a record – an idea that didn’t appeal to her at all.
Eventually, however, Lean persuaded her into the studio and had her provide back-up vocals for pop group Les Dauphins on their song Petite fille, in 1965.
Now that she was no longer a studio virgin, Lean quickly set about creating a career for his by-now girlfriend. Taking complete control of her image and her sound, he gave her the stage name Katty Line – as it sounded similar to his own professional moniker (his real name was René Porchet). Lean was a fan of Motown and intended to have his latest signing cut a version of The Supremes’ Baby love. However, Annie Philippe beat her to it, so he opted to have Katty record a take on the Detroit trio’s Back in my arms again instead.
The result was the terrific N’hésite pas quand l’amour t’appelle, which was issued as the lead track of her debut EP in the autumn of 1965. With the equally good Mort Shuman-penned Si je sors avec toi le samedi soir also included on the release, the EP is highly prized among fans of Gallic girl pop.
For the follow up, Lean had French lyrics written for German singer Marion’s hit Er ist wieder da, making it Puisque tu dors, j’ose te dire. The EP also featured a take on US teen star Bernadette Peters’ And the trouble with me is you, retitled Non tu n’as rien compris, plus two original compositions, Noël Deschamps’ Je cherche un petit homme and Gérard Hugé and Claude Righi’s Je n’attends plus que toi.
Katty Line is somewhat dismissive of some of her material from this period. She has since said that she would have preferred a greater say in what she recorded. Plus, unhappy with the way her voice sounded, she also invested in some singing lessons.
A change of label
She switched to the Disc AZ label for the release of Les garçons, a take on Graham Bonney’s Super girl, in June 1966. The original Ma jeune vie proved the other highlight of the release.
The André Salvet and Claude Carrère composition Les mots croisés became Katty Line’s final release of the year. The EP was of a consistently high standard, thanks to the mournful ballad Dis-lui bien que je pense à lui and Katty’s take on Nancy Sinatra’s How does that grab you, darlin’, Ne fais pas la tête.
Television appearances at home and in Spain helped to promote the release, and features in magazines Salut les copains and Mademoiselle âge tendre raised Katty’s profile further.
The follow up, issued in May 1967, continues to divide fans. Some appreciate her change of direction, while others argue that it signified the end of her ‘golden era’. All four songs on the EP were original compositions, and Larry Gréco and Gilles Thibaut’s Mon cœur n’a pas dormi proved the most popular track. The title song, C’est en quoi, however, is a piece of nonsense that is perhaps best overlooked.
Katty married Ken Lean in 1968 and took time out from her recording career to work as a secretary in Johnny Hallyday’s office.
By this time, Lean had set up his own independent record label, LGL. Still very much at the helm of Katty’s career, he took the singer with him to the label. The PR department gave her relaunch their best shot – inventing a Yugoslav background for the singer and claiming that Hallyday himself had encouraged her back into the recording studio. The resultant Igor, Natacha, penned by Manfred Mann’s Mike d’Abo, proved popular. For many fans, however, Un petit peu d’amour was the true gem of the EP. (The song was a take on Los Bravos’ Bring a little lovin’, though it remains better known in a version by The Easybeats.)
During a trip to the Midem festival in Cannes in early 1969, Katty met Italian singer Adriano Celentano. With her career proving a bit hit or miss at home, she was persuaded to join his Clan label. After just one further French release – the appropriately titled ballad Sans un adieu (il ne faut pas pleurer), credited simply to Katty, rather than to Katty Line – the singer headed off to live in Milan, taking Ken Lean with her.
To relaunch her career in Italy, she took part in the 1969 Festivalbar contest, performing La rivale, a song that became her first Italian 45. (Again, the flip, Tu vinci sempre, a version of The Doors’ Touch me, has proved the more popular side.)
The single Vent’ anni followed early the following year.
Katty didn’t speak Italian initially and had to learn the words of her songs phonetically. However, with her short skirts and good looks she quickly became popular in her adopted homeland. Appearances in the TV show Stasera con Adriano Celentano and several short films, plus stadium tours as part of Celentano’s Clan, helped Italy take her to its heart. Finally, she had achieved the success that had eluded her in France.
However, the singer caused a stir performing the single In direzione del sole – her entry to the 1970 Cantagiro contest – when she lifted her arms, as though towards the sun, revealing part of her breast. Even the Vatican became embroiled the furore surrounding the performance.
La rivoluzione delle donne was issued as a single in 1971.
Her career came to an abrupt end, however, when she and Lean were involved in a car crash with an oncoming lorry on a mountain road at the end of the year. Lean was killed outright in the accident and Katty was severely hurt and her face disfigured.
After coming out of a week-long coma, she spent the next 18 months in a hospital bed. Extensive cosmetic surgery helped the singer to regain her appearance.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that Katty Line felt comfortable enough to venture back into the recording studio again. She cut the disco-styled single Adriano – an ode to her Italian mentor – and embarked on a six-month tour of Italy that also took in numerous television appearances.
However, without Ken Lean by her side, her heart wasn’t really in it, and she soon retired from the music industry.