I was fortunate enough to be able to meet and interview former Anthem singer of the Edmonton Oilers for the past 30 years, Mr. Paul Lorieau. Before the interview that follows I would just like to personally thank Mr. Lorieau on behalf of myself and the team at Oilonwhyte.com for his time, and say that I truly consider it a privilege to be able to bring this to you, the reader.
I recorded the interview so there would be very little ad-libbing, however some of our conversation happened off-mic, and therefore some of this is from memory. I will do my best to keep that portion as close to the conversation as possible.
I met Paul at his home in Edmonton on Monday afternoon and sat down in his living room for a one-on-one conversation. Here’s how that conversation went…
Realoilfan: I have read a little bit about you on-line, I don’t know if you are aware, but you have a page on Wikipedia with a brief history about yourself. So…how did the whole thing start with the Oilers?
Paul Lorieau: Well…at the time I had just returned in September from an audition trip in New York City, and I had a big decision to make. I was told that if I moved down there, that I would probably have a successful career in Opera. But, I had two children and to move down there with no job… I had to make the decision. So when I came home it was made like a kid glove… it fit. I got back and one of my colleagues said that the Oilers were looking for an Anthem Singer. So… I thought well, why not? I could give that a whirl and see what happens.
Realoilfan: This was a connection you had with the team?
Paul Lorieau: No it was a colleague at work.
Realoilfan: Oh…ok, what is it that you did for a living?
Paul Lorieau: I was an Optician. I had my own company. So… I thought that nothing ventured nothing gained (as far as Anthem singing goes) so when I called, the secretary asked what I was calling about, I said that I was applying for the Anthem position that you have open. And she said “well, we’ve filled that we just had our auditions, where were you?” So… I said thank-you very much, and thank-goodness that she had the presence of mind to ask me to bring them a demo tape and leave it at the office for future reference. If she hadn’t of said that that would’ve been it. But, I did make the tape and I dropped it off a day later, on the Wednesday morning before 9:00 and by the time I had got to the office at 10:00, Bill Tuele the P.R. guy at the time had called twice. So, I returned his call to find out what he was after because they had already hired somebody. He says (Tuele) “do you want to sing?” I says well of course I want to sing, but you hired a young lady. He said “that’s not my question, can you start tomorrow night? We’re playing in Calgary.” So I asked well…what about this young lady? And he said “well, that’s our problem.” I don’t know what happened to her, and then we proceeded. That’s how it came about.
Realoilfan: So how was that first game for you then? In the Battle of Alberta, what year was that?
Paul Lorieau: 1981 and it was an exhibition game too.
Realoilfan: So…it was full on into the Battle of Alberta already.
Paul Lorieau: Definitely!
Realoilfan: Were you nervous?
Paul Lorieau: Oh God..I’m still nervous, can you believe it? My first game, I was accompanied by my sister Marcelle at the organ! I was always accompanied in those earlier years, and being accustomed to working repertoire with her, I was less nervous with her there than I would have been with the Oiler organist playing! It was difficult that first night and took time to adjust myself to the conditions. There is a time delay for both the organist and myself. It requires a lot of focus to shut down the high volume of the sound system, so we don’t play musical tag during the performance.
Realoilfan: That surprises me.
Paul Lorieau: I need a lot of alone time and recollection time so that you’re focused on what you do. And that’s what I do. I’m a fan after I’ve done all my work.
Realoilfan: I never would’ve guessed, you seem so calm, cool, and collected on the ice…
Paul Lorieau: Once you get started you’re ok, but until you get there, you know…you get the butterflies, shot breath, you do little breathing exercises to keep the pressure down.
Realoilfan: Is it the same when you sing at the Legislature?
Paul Lorieau: It’s not as bad there. There is television coverage, but it’s not like they are in your face.
Realoilfan: That’s right, they do have a camera basically right there when you’re doing it. (at Oilers games)
Paul Lorieau: In fact I had a burn-out, I forget what year it was. God…it was panic, I went to step out on the carpet to sing and I was breathing so hard that I could not control myself. I had to tell the guys to phone upstairs and tell them to play a tape, because there is no way I can handle this. It was wicked, so I went and got some help and got treated. That was about the time that Gretzky came out in public about his fear of flying. So we worked our way through it, but it took quite a while. It was so bad that I would cut a word in two to breathe.
Realoilfan: So then I’m surprised that you interested in singing opera in front of crowds, since you had this kind of fear…stage fright I guess you could call it.
Paul Lorieau: Well…the fire inside was greater than the fire outside (chuckles).
Realoilfan: And we’re (Oilers Fans) happy to say that we’re glad that it was. So, now that you are not singing for the Oilers and I guess you are still singing for the Legislature…is there any other singing that you do? Maybe for fun?
Paul Lorieau: Not for fun. It’s all work. I sang last night in Whitecourt, today with the legislature, tomorrow I am singing at the Shaw Conference Center.
Realoilfan: So…you have a repertoire of stuff?
Paul Lorieau: No…nope, basically they want the Anthems.
Realoilfan: What were you doing up in Whitecourt?
Paul Lorieau: I don’t know if it was a play-off game, but the Minister for Senior Citizens is from Whitecourt, and he invited me to come and sing for their opening game. That’s how I got there.
Realoilfan: Please don’t take this wrong way, but is it a lucrative thing? Like…do you make a good living at it, because you’re only on the ice for a couple of minutes right?
Paul Lorieau: No…I’m happy with what I get paid!
Realoilfan: have you ever recorded anything, and gone that route?
Paul Lorieau: No…well I shouldn’t say that, yes I have. But more in the religious music. Otherwise no, because it’s a lot of work, and this is Edmonton. If it was New York City…that’s another story. So I was happy to have the Oilers as a soap box. To have the talent and not use it, I don’t know what I would’ve done.
Realoilfan: What are your future plans? Do you intend to keep doing what you’re doing now or …
Paul Lorieau: Yep, as long as the voice will hold up I’m happy with that. There’s not too much stress because that’s all I am doing. Yeah…I’m happy with that.
Realoilfan: I grew up in other parts of Canada and only arrived in Alberta in 1996. So I missed all of the Stanley Cup runs accept for the one in 2006. Was there a favorite moment for you, maybe not one game specifically or one Cup specifically, but is there maybe, a favorite “time” of the organization that you enjoyed most?
Paul Lorieau: Well… the thirty years I was there, 2006 to me stands out. Because we weren’t even supposed to be there. And at the end of the day, we were a period away from being winners. Every game was just an unbelievable event. Of course the first winning of the cup, that’s when I started. It’s not like I had been with the club for five or six years prior to that… then of course the next year after it was like old hat.
Realoilfan: Did you get to know the players real well?
Paul Lorieau: To a degree, but not that close, because their pocket books are a whole lot different than mine. At the Arena talk with them if they were sitting out, or in the press box, and a lot of the General Managers particularly the visitors from out of town. Bob Gainey from the Montreal Canadiens invited me to come to Montreal to sing. The year we had the first outdoor game the Heritage Classic. So…I went and sang at the Bell Centre.
Realoilfan: Nice! How was that?
Paul Lorieau: That was pretty super! They have a great sound system there!
Realoilfan: So, have you been to many of the other NHL Rinks?
Paul Lorieau: Not really, I was invited in the fall of 2006 to the league opener for the American Hockey League in Connecticut. For the Monarchs, I can’t remember the city (Manchester), and that’s about it. I’ve been to other places for other events, but not specifically for Hockey.
Realoilfan: Do you get a lot of media attention based on your career, and if so how is that experience for you?
Paul Lorieau: I’ve enjoyed it. I am a quiet person, I’m reserved and more of an introvert. I don’t know that I come off that way, but I know that I am an introvert.
Realoilfan: You’ve got the big voice that makes you seem different than that.
Paul Lorieau: (Laughs) that’s a lot of work and a lot studies!
Realoilfan: So did you take music in school then?
Paul Lorieau: Nope, I had a private tutor from Italy that had come to Edmonton back in 1967 I believe it was.
Realoilfan: How did that come about?
Paul Lorieau: It was fate, just like coming home and the Oilers job was on the line. Because without the Teacher, I had a voice but nowhere near what I’ve got today. Because it had to be developed.
Realoilfan: Did you get a life-time season seat at the Arena for your service?
Paul Lorieau: Yep, I got a life-time pass for up in the press box. But I have only been to one game since I have retired. It’s called a grieving process.
Realoilfan: Which game did you go to?
Paul Lorieau: The 25th of February with Phoenix. My Grandson celebrated his 8th birthday so… we brought him there.
Realoilfan: Could you take him down to meet a player? Do you get that kind of access still?
Paul Lorieau: Somewhat but it’s difficult after a game. And I don’t push myself in. I prefer the background.
Realoilfan: Have you ever sang at an Eskimos game? (Edmonton’s Canadian Football Team)
Paul Lorieau: mmhmm, yeah. But I don’t do that anymore, as I ask for too much money. (laughs) And I never got paid for the last time I sang for them…(laughs more)
Realoilfan: So… you sing some of the Anthem in French when the Montreal and Ottawa are here. Is that just a tradition thing, is that a, you’re honoring the bi-lingual nature of Canada thing, or is it because the teams ask you to do it when they come here? How does that work?
Paul Lorieau: No it’s a tradition ok, and when we go to Montreal we are treated that way as well. They sing a bi-lingual anthem. I’ll tell you a little story, I that it was the first year…there’s a lot of rednecks in this Province (chuckles). I didn’t follow the Oilers that much as to what they were doing with Anthem singing. But, Quebec City came one Wednesday night, and I sang a bi-lingual Anthem. I had my wife with me and the kids had a babysitter at home. The Babysitter phones me, and says she’s just had a death threat, and was wondering when I would be home. I talked to Bill Tuele about this (P.R. Guy for the Oilers at the time), he said to sit tight. The NHL had their own security, so they sent somebody over to watch the house 24 hours a day. They tagged the lines and what not (tapped the phone), and nothing happened but I was concerned. They (the NHL / Oilers) wanted to know if I wanted to move to a hotel. That would’ve disturbed the kids and I didn’t want to do that, and so I said (to the NHL) if you’ve got the security that can come and do the job…then that’s the way we’ll go. And they watched it because on the Saturday night Montreal was coming in. So…Saturday I come waling in (to the Arena) and there were a bunch of plain clothed people around. And, I could tell by the way the nodded their heads at me that I know what they are. I was worried that someone might give me one of these (makes a rifle shot gesture).
Realoilfan: Are you from a French part of Canada originally?
Paul Lorieau: No, I’m from Legal just north of Edmonton. You go back a few years you see, Morinville, St. Albert, Legal, and Vimy, that was totally French. I was six years old and couldn’t speak English. That’s how much French was there, Beaumont was the same way. But there’s still a big presence in Alberta.
Realoilfan: Did you actually work for the Oilers or did you work for Northlands? (company that owns & runs Rexall Place)
Paul Lorieau: No, I worked for the Oilers.
Realoilfan: Forgive me for sounding silly…did you have an office? Did you go to the Head Office on a regular basis and do your thing there? Or did you just show up for the one thing and that’s it?
Paul Lorieau: That’s it. And, as I said, I’m not the type to push myself, this is what speaks for me (points to vocal chords) and I don’t need the other to satisfy my ego. I don’t have an ego in that sense.
Realoilfan: I was just wondering if there was more to it, like maybe there was paperwork you had to do or preparation or things of that nature. Maybe you had other duties to perform for the Oilers other than just singing. Like, for all I know you could be Music Director, and line-up intermission entertainment.
Paul Lorieau: Sometimes I wanted that too for the quality of the people they brought in to sing in my place once in a while. And I thought I should’ve been asked to be in on that. But that was not the case.
Realoilfan: So who handles that? The P.R. people?
Paul Lorieau: Now it’s Don Metz. And since Don came over, pretty well I would answer to Don Metz. Rather than Bill Tuele. So that was the structure, but I didn’t have too much to do with them, and I saw no reason why I should open that door and make waves in that sense. I didn’t need that. What I was doing is what I wanted to do.
Realoilfan: So you are a pretty content individual, just a happy guy doing what he loves to do.
Paul Lorieau: The voice is being used and that’s my big concern. If it hadn’t been, like I say…I don’t know what I would’ve done. Well…something would’ve come along, just like this came along.
At this point Paul and I started to discuss some of the photos in his home. The first game he ever sang at signed by his boss Bill Tuele. There was the large portrait that the Oilers presented Paul at center ice at his retirement ceremony. And one where he had sang for the Pope when the Pope did a cross Canada tour! There was also one of him singing in the Alberta Legislative Assembly up in the balcony.
We did carry on the discussion after the above and there is more to the story, but I think this is a good place to end this article. I will say this about the experience at Rexall Place since Mr. Lorieau has retired. And I made sure to tell him this as well, I do not find the experience the same without him singing the Anthems. My wife and I would ensure that we were in our seats in time to here Paul sing for every game. Now, we don’t really care if we are or not. This is not a knock on the current singer, it’s just not the same feel to the game.
The fact that the Oilers have also added Cheer Leaders in my mind takes away from the traditional Hockey Game experience, and somehow cheapens the whole thing. Hockey is a game of traditions. It is ingrained into every Canadian in some form or another. And to lose some of what make the experience of an Oilers game to “new age” type of thinking, in my mind, sucks. When I made this feeling known to Paul, he didn’t want to comment on it accept to say that he understood where I was coming from. And it felt to me, like he might feel similarly.
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed reading this piece. And let me know if you would like more of these kind of articles. And I will try to get some more interviews for the future.
GO Oilers GO!
Follow OilOnWhyte on Twitter:
Jeff – @OilOnWhyte
Samson – @threwittki
Ian – @ibleedoil
Tags: Paul Lorieau