It’s because of a guy everyone called Fern that Louis Cyr, aka Ludwig Wax, was infected by a virus commonly known as rock’n’roll. “His real name is Pierre Ferland,” says Cyr, about the person who made him want to devote his life to shaking his moneymaker, on his knees, onstage, with a Mexican wrestling mask on his head, night after night. Even if it means ending up alone, like all of his peers. In other words, becoming, one day, the singer for Nombre, and one of Québec’s most flamboyant rock singers – half acrobat, half daredevil.

Drogue, Ludwig WaxFlashback to Québec City in the early ‘90s. “Fern DJ’d at Midnight on Tuesday nights,” says Cyr, “and he’d founded an amazing band called Kaopectak alongside Gourmet Délice [bass player for Secrétaires Volantes, Caféïne and Nombre, founder of Blow the Fuse Records, and now business development director for Bonsound]. They did covers of obscure punk and rock songs. Fern was a very calm dude, but on stage… WOAH! We imagine all kinds of things about rock stars, but Fern was truly the first person I saw get onstage, go into a trance, and return to their normal life after. I said to myself, ‘I want to do that, too.’”

In 1996, “in some basement in Cap-Rouge,” he recorded Fun Bomb!, the only album by Demolition, his first band. I show him the album cover from my end of the videoconference call. “Look inside!” says Cyr. “Do you see who produced the album?” And what I can clearly see is that it was produced by Stéphane Papillon, with whom Cyr recently re-united in Drogue, Québec’s new super-group, the other members of which are guitar hero Jean-Sébastien Chouinard, bassist Fred Fortin, and drummer Pierre Fortin (of Gros Mené and Galaxie).

“At the end of my Cégep, the two bands that made it to the finals of Cégeps en spectacle were Papillon’s band and Jean-Philippe’s [Dynamite Roy, guitarist for Secrétaires Volantes and Nombre, and Drogue’s lyricist]. Papillon sang ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and it was the first time I heard a Stooges song.”

Rock “funabulist,” adolescent on the loose, charismatic, and most likely a bit masochistic, as Ludwig Wax, Cyr became a Québécois Iggy Pop, never hesitating to wrap his microphone cord around his neck, to climb everywhere, to catapult himself into the crowd and to do the snake on the floor, a modus operandi he adopted right from the get-go with Demolition, and which would guide him to the third and ultimate Nombre, Vile et fantastique (2009).

“C’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube ou le crépuscule ? /Un jour je me bats, y’en dix autres où je capitule” (“Is it dawn, is it dawn, is it dawn, is it dawn or is it dusk? /One day I fight, there are 10 other where I capitulate”) he howls on “L’aube ou le crepuscule,” the galvanizing first single from Drogue’s first EP.

“I consider Jean-Philippe Roy to be one of the most important songwriters of the punk rock Francophonie,” says Louis about his longtime friend, whom we could qualify as semi-retired from the rock scene. “In that song, Jean-Philippe is wondering if our feet are inside or outside of our casket. How are we supposed to react to aging? We’re all around 50 years old now.”

What’s Cyr’s attitude with regards to his own age? Let’s start with a list of injuries: Ludwig Wax has “kneecaps typical of someone who too often decided to jump really high and land on their knees like a moron,” he says. He has back problems, also linked to his stunts, and a shoulder that makes him miserable since he dislocated it during a Demolition show in Japan during a G8 Summit in 2000.

“My attitude towards aging?” He gives an unequivocal answer. accompanied by a booming laugh: “I decided join Drogue!” (Editor’s note: The line in French is “J’ai décidé de jouer dans Drogue,” a wordplay best translated as, “I decided to play with drugs.”)

Although Stéphane Papillon and Jean-Sébastien Chouinard tricked him into joining the band – he met them thinking he was only going to collaborate on a single song for Papillon’s solo album – the singer, now that he’s got the bug again, is dying to get onstage and “feel the air moving because of the amps.” As hard to believe as it is, a certain virus (more dangerous than the rock one) has meant that the members of Drogue have never all been together in the same room. That also explains why Cyr is the only band member – disguised as a human billboard(!) – featured in the video for De la poudre aux yeux, a tribute to Guy L’Écuyer’s character in André Forcier’s film Au clair de la lune (1983).

“I want to become one with the music when I’m onstage,” says Cyr. “I want to be stabbed by the sound waves of the drums, guitars, and bass. I know not everyone enjoys loud music, but I do. It makes a lot of musical styles more interesting. Whenever I listen to music or sing, I get to a point where I feel it should be even louder.”

Throughout history, tragedy, heartbreak, and unfathomable loss are experiences that have inspired artists to write songs. While they start from a personal place, when combined with the zeitgeist when they were written, these songs can resonate with generations long after the songwriter is gone – because of the shared feelings evoked by the words and the music.

“I’ll Never Smile Again” is one such song, inducted into both the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) and American Recording Hall of Fame, and a part of our country’s deep well of treasured compositions.

Flash back to the 1930s. The Great Depression lingers. Unemployment is high. Europe edges closer to World War Two. In Toronto, 23-year-old Ruth Lowe writes a “I’ll Never Smile Again.” The sentimental ballad comes to her following not just one, but two huge losses: the death of her father in 1932, followed by the passing of her husband in 1939.

Lowe had a gift for music. After her father died, she supported the family by selling her songs and performing them. This was the start of the golden age of the Big Band era. Lowe climbed aboard. After hearing her sing in Toronto one night, bandleader Ina Ray Hutton invited her to join her all-female orchestra, full-time. Lowe agreed and hit the road.

After a gig one evening in Chicago, the songwriter had a blind date with song man Harold Cohen. The pair fell in love and soon married. After only one year of matrimony, tragedy struck Lowe for the second time when Cohen unexpectedly passed away.

“Losing the two men she loved in her life, in such a short time, inspired the song,” says Lowe’s son Tom Sandler. “My mom was so heartbroken. She said to my aunt, ‘I’ll never smile again without him,’ and the next day she sits down and quickly writes this haunting song.”

Lowe shared the song with Toronto bandleader Percy Faith. He loved it. With the songwriter’s permission, Faith arranged and recorded a 78 RPM single with his orchestra. Faith first broadcast the song in 1939 to CBC listeners on his regular program Music By Faith.

But Lowe knew she had a hit on her hands beyond Canada. The ambitious songwriter shared the recording and sheet music with bandleader Tommy Dorsey, through his guitar player – who happened to be dating one of Lowe’s girlfriends at the time. The bandleader listened to “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and like Faith, was moved.

Ruth Lowe, First Billboard Chart, I'll Never Smile AgainDorsey arranged a new version of the song with his band, and then brought it to Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers to record. The sentimental song ended up launching Sinatra’s career; it was not only the crooner’s first No.1 Billboard hit, but the first No. 1 record on Billboard’s modern chart, staying atop it for 12 weeks, in 1941.

“With the war raging in Europe, there was a lot of heartbreak going on, and more to come,” says Sandler. “All these women were losing their loves and their husbands to war and then here comes a story of a woman losing her man. The song resonated. I call it a flashpoint in music history: Dorsey, my mom, Sinatra, the war… everything came together. It went through the roof on the charts!”

Like all great songs, more than a half-century later, “I’ll Never Smile Again” still stands the test of time. The composition inspired Frank Davies to create the CSHF. And through the decades, “I’ll Never Smile Again” has been covered by Fats Waller, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Big Joe Williams, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Eddie Arnold, The Platters, Carl Perkins, Cleo Laine, Barry Manilow, and Michael Bublé, among others.

On film, the song has been heard in Good Morning, Vietnam and The Color of Money, and on TV’s The Fugitive, McHale’s Navy, Leave it to Beaver, and the Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, and Lawrence Welk shows.

An impressive legacy for a song written out of heartbreak, by a 23-year-old widow from Toronto.

To learn more about Ruth Lowe’s legacy in song, read the book Until I Smile at You, written by Sandler and Peter Jennings, published in 2020, or visit

Sports analogies are songwriter/producer Rob Wells’ go-to when explaining his preference for co-writing music rather than going it alone. “When you co-write, it’s like how you discover the game of tennis,” says Wells. You start out alone, hitting a ball against a wall. Eventually, “you get to know how that ball’s going to come back,” he adds. Once you start playing with someone else, “you have no way of knowing how it’s going to come back at you. Whether it’s going to go left, right, up, down, or into the net,” he concludes.

Wells has earned three SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards:

* “All About Me,” performed by Matt Dusk, in 2006
* “Comme Avant,” performed by Marie-Mai, in 2011
* “Un coup sur mon cœur,” performed by Marc Dupré, in 2013

Speaking from his home in Pickering, ON, where he’s quarantined with his five-kid family, Wells expounds further. “The moment that I started co-writing with other people, and lots of different people,” he offers, “I began to really find the true joy in songwriting and production.”

That joy has been accompanied by several armloads of awards and accolades, including three SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards, several multi-Platinum, Platinum and Gold sales certifications, and a discography that includes stellar work with a cavalcade of international and Canadian superstars in a rainbow of styles, from Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Corey Hart, and Randy Bachman, to The Backstreet Boys, Serena Ryder, and Selena Gomez.

For nascent songwriters, Wells again resorts to sports. He likens the songwriter’s process to that of a body-builder. “You head to the gym and on Day One you’re lifting two-pound weights, and it feels really ridiculous and stupid, but after half-an-hour you find that, ‘Wow, my arms are actually getting a little bit sore.’” You increase the weights over time until, “after a couple of years, you’re bench pressing 250 pounds. It’s a slow process, there’s no way to get from A to B really fast.”

You work on that first song, as he says, “coming up with a melody, coming up with chords, coming up with simple lyrics, and then not dwelling on that song but moving on [to] write another. Finish that in a day, then move on to another one, and another. After a year you’re going to look back and you’ll say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how horrible those are, but look at what I’m doing now!’” Then the quality of your work increases exponentially once you start collaborating with others. If you work like Wells, the “wows” keep on coming.

“The quality of your work increases exponentially once you start collaborating with others”

Inevitably, you’ll want to extend your control of the song to producing it yourself. “When I first got started,” says Wells, “I would write songs and the artist would choose the producer. Quite often. I was very disappointed with the results I got back. It’s not an ego thing. It’s just that, for me, music is just so emotional and so communicative. For me, holding the reins of production, I’m able to emotionally communicate what the song is supposed to be.”

But even with his producer hat on, Wells always puts the song first. “I don’t think about production until the song is done,” he says. “Once I have the song written, I focus on the chorus first. The chorus, for me, is the most important part of the whole production, and I try to make it as big as possible, using as minimal instrumentation as possible. That way you can create this great-sounding chorus without being over-produced, and then work backward and start to strip away for your pre-chorus, really strip away for your verse, and really strip away for your intro.

“If you do it the other way,” says Wells, “where you start with the intro, then add more instruments for the verse, and then more for the pre-chorus, by the time you get to the chorus you’ve got this crazy, massive amount of sound going on, and it’s totally over-produced.”

Wells has teaching gigs at the Harris Institute and Lakefield College School, but novice producers and songwriters can learn more from him directly via his series of YouTube tutorials (like the first one, embedded in this story).