"You got to love it, and I do. That's why I'm still in it. I guess probably I'll die doing it."
Even as Gerry Courville prepares to perform his final gig as Château Montebello's longtime resident lounge singer, he is not thinking of retirement.
"I know it sounds funny to say it. But some people are just born to do something and they know. I know I was born to do this," said Courville.
Played for Harper, Bush, Calderon
The Fairmont hotel in Montebello, Que., first hired Courville in 1997. He never imagined his residency at the resort about an hour east of Ottawa and Gatineau would span 20 years.
"Actually I didn't," said Courville. "I got in with a band that was really hot and they didn't let us go."
"We kept the party going," he laughs.
Among the highlights was playing for three world leaders at the Three Amigos Summit in 2007: then U.S. President George W. Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper hosted the summit meeting at the Montebello resort complex.
"Met them all. They were very friendly," he said. "I met President Bush when he landed with his helicopter. Little knick-knacks here and there, a lot of memorabilia — he gave me stuff from his helicopter. They're people like everybody else. They want to have a good time."
The son of a policeman originally from Toronto, Courville's family moved to eastern Ontario when he was still a young boy. Courville studied singing and percussion as a teenager, eventually recording songs in Nashville, Philadelphia and California.
But it's his lounge act and a four-decade-long career spent entertaining audiences in eastern Ontario, the Outaouais, Montreal, the Laurentians and upstate New York that defines Courville.
Hotel moving away from live music at bar
On Saturday night, the Seigneurie Bar at Château Montebello will say goodbye to the drumming lounge singer.
In late 2014, Evergrande, a Chinese real estate group, purchased the Fairmont Le Château Montebello in west Quebec.
Fairmont Hotels continues to manage the resort complex, and at the time of the purchase the director of the historic 1930s log hotel said operations would continue as usual for the hotel's 350 employees.
However, earlier this year, hotel managers told Courville they weren't renewing his annual contract.
Jennifer Wilson, a spokesperson for the resort, said "fine-tuning" of the atmosphere within the bar, which underwent a major renovation a year ago, is continuing. Wilson said the restaurant will get a new name, and a new, jazz-lounge atmosphere.
"The vibe of the restaurant is going to change and we wanted to go with something different," said Wilson.
She said the resort does not plan to program live music at the new bar.
'It's time to move on'
As Courville prepares to sing his swan song, he insists he has no hard feelings toward the hotel that gave him two decades of work.
"I think it's time to move on and begin again," he said. "It's been a great run."
But that doesn't mean leaving won't be hard.
"I have emotions in here. There's a lot of memories. My wife passed [almost three] years ago, so everywhere I look in here I see my wife at a party. So, I have sentimental feelings toward the place."
Though he has lined up some gigs at a jazz lounge in west Quebec, and continues to write his own songs, ultimately the Hawkesbury, Ont., resident wants to find a new, lasting residency somewhere and continue performing live.
'I've had to be a juke box to survive'
Though his first passion is with the rhythm and blues and Motown music of the 60s and 70s, Courville says he likes to play to the tastes of the audience.
"I can sing anything because, over the years, I've had to be a juke box to survive. I've had to play country, rock and roll, jazz. You name it, I've done it."
With Courville seated at the drums, he and guitarist Pete Paquette move through decades of music in a typical 45-minute-long set. An Eddy Holman R&B ballad from 1969, Hey There Lonely Girl, warms up the crowd. Then, it's on to My Girl, and then a soulful version of Michael Jackson's 1982 hit Billie Jean, to Van Morrison classics, and then Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman.
"It's very hard. I don't want to kid anybody, but when you love it, you do it with passion," he said. "I was born to sing."