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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Forgotten but not gone: Bizarro pop song auteur Lou Christie, a refresher *

* (restored)
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‘While Lou Christie’s shrieking falsetto was among the most distinctive voices in all of pop music, he was also one of the first solo performers of the rock era to compose his own material, generating some of the biggest and most memorable hits of the mid-1960s. In the early 60s, he made the acquaintance of producer and arranger Jack Nitzsche, who helped sculpt the odd, distinctive sonics of Christie’s songs, and Twyla Herbert, a classically trained musician and self-proclaimed mystic some 20 years his senior; they became songwriting partners. In 1966, he scored his biggest hit — the lush, chart-topping “Lightnin’ Strikes.” Christie’s next hit, 1966’s “Rhapsody in the Rain,” was notorious for being among the more sexually explicit efforts of the period. After brief stays with Colpix and Columbia, he next moved to the Buddah label, scoring one last Top Ten hit in 1969 with “I’m Gonna Make You Mine.” Drug problems plagued Christie during the early ’70s, and after getting clean at a London rehab clinic, he dropped out of music, working variously as a ranch hand, offshore oil driller, and carnival barker.’ — allmusic

‘Lou has shared the stage with many of the greats of Rock ‘n’ Roll including The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Diamond, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard. Elton John, John Lennon, Madonna are among the music legends upon whom Lou has had an effect. Elton John played piano for LOU during LOU’S ‘London Period’ in the early 70’s and recorded LOU’S song, SHE SOLD ME MAGIC. John Lennon repeatedly pointed out in his interviews that “LOU CHRISTIE was one of my influences”. And, Madonna thanked LOU in the liner notes of her ten million selling Immaculate Collection LP. Over the past decade, Lou has led the resurgence of Rock ‘n’ Roll heroes performing through out the world. LOU’S fans recognize his distinctive vocal and writing performances in major motion pictures. Many distinguished directors are also fans. Films that feature Lou’s songs include Barry Levinson’s -RAINMAN, Whit Stillman’s – BARCELONA and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, Tony Bill’s – A HOME OF OUR OWN, Richard Linklatter’s – BEFORE SUNRISE, John Hughes – DUTCH, Michael de Avila’s – BURNZY’S LAST CALL, and Oliver Stone’s TV mini series – WILD PALMS.’ — TLCB

‘One singer/songwriter who is due a major scale rediscovery by hard core serious pop fans is Lou Christie. He made records that combined the polar opposites of bubblegum pop and a Scott Walker-esque grandeur. I can’t think of anyone else in 1965 (not even Brian Wilson or the Beatles) who made singles and album cuts that were so ahead of the game, were so inventive and packed so much into just 3 minutes as Christie did with a series jaw droppingly brilliant singles. This is a weird and wonderful, complex artist with a soaring multi-octave vocal talent.’ — Morrissey

 

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Further

Lou Christie Official Website
Lou Christie: Lightning is Still Striking
Lou Christie International Fan Club Home Page
Lou Christie Discography
Lou Christie Interview

 

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Interview

 

Q – Lou, you were asked about the Rock artists of today and you said “They are so much more aware. I mean there are so many turkeys out there who are not so dumb. No one is as innocent as we were in the old days.” Are you saying that today’s rockers are more savvy when it comes to business than you were?

A – Savvy? A four year old is more savvy than we were. We came from an innocent era; a period where it really was Mom and Pop and the Catholic Church for me. Being Italian, that ethnicity was such a big part of my family, of my upbringing. Of course, I was also raised on a farm. I was raised out in the country. My Dad had about 109 acres. It was mostly crab apples and trees. But, we had the garden. Sometimes we grew soybeans and we had a big vegetable garden and corn. We had chicken and goats and pigs and pigeons and ducks. When I say we had chickens, we had 200 chickens. I was raised in an entirely different way than the kids of today are. The sophistication level was pretty much nil. (laughs)

Q – One good thing about being in the country, at least the neighbors wouldn’t call the police if your band was rehearsing.

A – I didn’t have a band. I never sang with a band until I cut the first record. That was the first time I sang with a band, when we cut “The Gypsy Cried”. I always had singing groups. I was always dragging my sister into my life to sing with me or be in one of my great productions, whatever it was. (laughs) I usually had two boys and two girls in the group, the vocal group. It was an all a cappella type thing.

Q – You actually threw away a Classical music scholarship to pursue Rock ‘n’ Roll, didn’t you?

A – Absolutely. (laughs)

Q – Where was the scholarship to?

A – Well, there were a few of them that had come by the wayside. When I was in high school I was like student conductor of the choir, because I sang almost every solo there was to sing every time there was a Christmas holiday or Easter or whatever it was. I won a couple of scholarships just to take vocal things. I wasn’t even driving then. I must’ve been about 13 or 14. The whole idea was; my mentor, Frank Cummings wanted me to obviously continue and pursue the more Classical, semi-Classical end and sing that way. My octave range is like four octaves. So, I was the lowest bass we had. I have this other voice that I really couldn’t use that much. That’s where he was pushing me, in that direction. I just kept passing on it. I wanted to get in on Rock ‘n’ Roll ’cause Bandstand was happening at the time. I had to get on American Bandstand. I wasn’t going to do it singing some Classical song. The only way I could do it was to cut a record and I did. I kept pursuing that end of it.

Q – What kind of recording equipment did you have in your basement in 1960, that allowed you to record “The Gypsy Cried”?

A – Oh, it wasn’t even in the basement. I didn’t have any recording equipment. I cut the thing on a little two track machine. That was up in someone’s place in Pittsburgh. Then we went to a four track machine…”Two Faces Have I”. That first album was on a four track. There weren’t things like punching-in and all those little terms they use today. Everyone sang and played together.

Q – It was one take or start again.

A – Yeah. That was it.

Q – How did you land a deal with Roulette Records?

A – Well, “The Gypsy Cried” was released on a small local label in Pittsburgh. They were distributing other records and one of the labels they distributed was Roulette Records. The man who owned that was Morris Levy. He had the End label, the Gone label. He had Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, The Flamingos, The Chantels, Jimmie Rodgers and Tito Puente. This distributing company that distributed records throughout the tri-state area in Pittsburgh had a gentleman, Nick Session, who loved falsetto voices. I talked him into helping me cut this record. We cut “The Gypsy Cried” on a little label called Co and C, and it started being a hit in Pittsburgh. I was doing record hops and doing the Clark Gray Show, driving my Dad’s car out every weekend or having someone drive me to do record hops with some of the local disc jockeys. The record started taking off. It started spreading from Pittsburgh to Ohio to Cleveland to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Then, it jumped out of San Francisco and started spreading around the country and that was it. Roulette Records picked it up and said I think we got a hit here. And that was the beginning of how I got on Roulette.

Q – How long did it take you to write “The Gypsy Cried”?

A – About 15 minutes. It was one of those things that just happened. It was so easy. Then, when it was a hit, we thought oh my God, now what do we follow up with? And we wrote “Two Faces Have I”. As you go on, you learn more and in one way you become more secure and insecure at the same time. It was like a double-edged sword. You had to write something better than the last record and then you started learning how to write songs. You kept learning as you went along. It was all self-taught. It was instinct. I went truly by my instincts and that’s always the best…for me anyhow. I guide my life by my instincts. If there’s a lesson to learn I guess it’s follow your instinct and then learn the lesson.

Q – You did the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars tour. From what I gather, you weren’t too fond of the touring. In fact, you were going to write a book called The Stench Of Dick’s Bus. Did you ever write that book?

A – No. I loved those tours. I had a great time on them. Are you kidding? I was sitting on the bus with Diana Ross. She was sitting on the seat next to me. She and I were bus buddies. I always put it that way. It’s best that way. Here I was, sitting next to all those people who, six months ago I bought their records and watched them on American Bandstand. Now, all of a sudden I’m one of them. There would be Brian Hyland. We roomed together. Brian and I shared our hotel rooms together. Then I was with Gene Pitney and Johnny Tillotson, The Supremes, Paul and Paula, Dick and Dee Dee, The Crystals, The Ronettes, Fabian, Frankie Avalon. To me, this was my graduating class and still is today.

Q – How long did you do those tours?

A – I did them for years. Some of them we would do for 32 one nighters in a row and see a hotel room every other night. We’d sleep on the bus every other night. So, that was grueling. It was hard, but we were young. I had nothing to compare it to. They didn’t have VCRs and televisions, even bathrooms on the bus the way they have today. We sat up the whole tour on the bus…the band, Dick Clark and all the acts.

Q – You believe that at the time of the British Invasion, the Teen Idols were going down the tubes. Tell me why you believe that.

A – Oh, they went. They started disappearing. It was so interesting that I kept going. I hit the end of that whole era. I’ve always been between the cracks of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I felt. The missing link. Someone wrote about me being the missing link of all this Rock ‘n’ Roll. We had the Teenage Idols. We had Frankie Avalon. We had Fabian. That thing was just about closing down when a lot of my records started hitting. I guess one of the last of that era between the late ’50s, early ’60s. Then, they all disappeared, but my records kept going through that English Invasion. I had the biggest record of all time with “Lightning Strikes” in the middle of the English Invasion. I remember we were on tour and Paul and Paula had just come back from England and they said there’s a group over there called The Beatles. That was 1963. They hadn’t even landed in the States. They started telling me all about this group.

Q – What did you think when they started describing The Beatles and the reaction their music was getting?

A – I didn’t think much of it. It was interesting, but we were always hearing about the new group or the new song.

Q – Did they tell you about the hair?

A – Yeah. They said they had long, shaggy hair.

Q – Did you know what they were talking about?

A – No, not really. They were using the terms Mod and Mop Tops. I thought what the hell are they talking about? Here we are traveling through the South. I was considered having long hair, but it was nothing compared to what the Beatles were. Of course, we wore these pompadours. That was our claim to fame.

Q – Did you hear their music at the time?

A – I remember hearing one of the songs…”She Loves You” or something like that and I thought it’s kind of different. And then all of a sudden it was, Oh my God, this English Invasion has started. That was pretty much the end of the people I was traveling around the country with. We were in teen magazines together. We were sort of the cat’s meow there for all those years as being teenage idols, teenage princes and princesses.

Q – You played with David Bowie. Do you recall where that was?

A – I don’t know if it was Albert Hall or the London Palladium. It was before he went into his Ziggy Stardust. It was fascinating to go over to Europe and be a success there.

Q – Were you ripped off by your record company and business team?

A – Of course. Isn’t that the old story of everyone? You know, I can tell my story of what happened. By the time I was 21, I had made a million dollars and had lost a million dollars.

Q – But, if you never had it, how then could you lose it?

A – That’s right. The same thing happened a couple of times in my life. When I was a little older, it happened again. I was 27. Only that time I had two children and a wife, so starting over at that time wasn’t easy. The ups and downs in this career have been just unbelievable and maybe someday I’ll write about it when I feel I’ve lived enough. My life has been very interesting…very interesting.

 

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Gig


‘Cryin’ in the Streets’


‘Rhapsody in the Rain’


‘Jungle’


‘Trapeze’


‘I’m Gonna Make You Mine’


‘She Sold Me Magic’


‘If My Car Could Only Talk to Me’


‘Have I Sinned’


‘Two Faces Have I’


‘Big Time’


‘Cryin’ on My Knees’


‘Tears on My Pillow’


‘Self Expression (The Kids on the Street Will Never Give In)’


‘Shake Hands and Walk Away Crying’


‘Lightnin’ Strikes’
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p.s. Hey. I’m at a meeting this morning and can’t do the p.s., but I will tomorrow. Until then please explore this restored foray into the curious musical oeuvre of 60s hit maker turned latter day cult figure Lou Christie.

7 Comments

  1. Great to see this tribute to a unique character
    Morris Levy was a mobster and Roulette Records was a scam. Christie was one of many they ripped off.

  2. Wisconsin University Press has evidenced interest in “Raised By Hand Puppets”! It’s going to take some time as they’re quite busy but I am greatly encouraged. Fingers and toes crossed.

  3. is there a Christie album you’d recommend as an entry point?

    I listened to Glen Campbell’s WICHITA LINEMAN for the first time recently, never having heard a Campbell song apart from the title track, and was surprised how many points of contact it had with Scott Walker, despite nominally being a country album.

  4. Never seen A Home of Our Own a feature directed by actor-producer-restauranteur and TOTAL BABE Tony Bill Long a romantic obsession of mine. He’s right up there with Gregoire LePrince-Ringuet.

  5. Hey Dennis,
    just read your conversation with Jeff Jackson over at Lit Hub. So excited you have a new novel. Cannot wait! Any idea when/where it’ll come out?

  6. I was always into Lightning Strikes via the Klaus Nomi cover, but the Lou Christie original is a real revelation. He had a unique style alright.

    Looking forward to hearing about your London adventures! Hoping you managed to avoid all the constant political white noise.

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