This is a newly revised article from a 1980s in-person interview with pop star, Lou Christie.
Imagine this scenario. It's somewhere around 1971. You're an oil rigger off the shore of Louisiana. At the end of a long day's work, you walk past the guy you've been rigging with for months as he sits on the dock listening to the radio, drinking a beer. He sings along with the tune and something strikes you as very familiar.
Could it be lightening?
Lou Christie, master falsetto vocalist and originator of the 1965 Number One song, "Lightening Strikes," as well as many other top chart riders, got tired of his fame in the mid seventies and literally dropped out of the limelight. Literally. As he put it in an interview, "I couldn't stand to hear my name anymore. When I got sick of myself, then I knew everyone else would get sick of me. I'm the one that has to really believe."
During that time of soul searching, Lou Christie—a man who, at one point in his career, couldn't leave his house without bodyguards—did many odd jobs under a pseudonym. He worked on a ranch in Wyoming, drove a truck, acted as a carnival roadie, even made pizza. He crossed the paths of many "everyday" people. "I dropped out [of life] to see how other people think and live, and put my perspective of life into order."
It is now some thirty years later and Lou Christie is back. He has been back, in fact, since the mid-eighties. He's performed on the Grand Ole Opry and cut a country western album. He made a tribute rap record for the subway vigilantes, the Guardian Angels. He has made the rounds, visiting every major company to promote new demos. At one point he performed the theme for the CBS-TV series "People," and even did a duet with Pia Zadora.
In the late eighties, Lou had a successful cut on the film soundtrack for "Rainman." Titled "Beyond the Blue Horizon," it was a reworking of a fifty-nine year old musical standard that, during a brief return to his former lifestyle, he had originally cut in 1974. It made Number Twelve on that year's Adult Contemporary hit list, and stayed on the charts for four months. . . .
What is this mystique that even today surrounds "teen idols?"
Maybe it's because the teeny-boppers that made up Christie's audience back then are now parents of adults with their own teeny-boppers, and the music of the likes of Lou Christie brings back nostalgic memories for them of sweet days long gone.
Yet while it may be a fun trip down Memory Lane for those of us who listen to the music, it's not all good things for the then-teen idols themselves. Why do "oldies" performers, those that used to be the idols, now face an uphill battle when they try to return to the public eye? Why is there a stigma attached to the term—"Oldies?" Wouldn't it seem logical that if a performer had that certain something thirty years ago and is still able to sing, dance, and capture an audience with as much vitality as he did in the sixties, he would automatically still have his share of that audience that also has aged those who grew up listening to that music?
Lou summed up the problem. "Rock 'n' roll is supposed to be so open-minded, but whenever I go into a record company and hand them some new material and say the name 'Lou Christie,' they immediately think, 'oldie.' That really drives me insane. It's frustrating, trying to make people forget that you have a past."
Born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco in 1943 to Polish and Italian parents, Lou can't remember a time when he didn't sing. His home was a rural area outside Pittsburgh where he grew up with cats, dogs, chickens, and goats and, as a child, often "ran through the woods singing."
At only fifteen he met Twyla Herbert, a woman he has called "a psychic gypsy." She was in her thirties, nearly twice his age, but they instantly hit it off and began writing songs together. It was Twyla who collaborated with him on all his hits. She changed his life and they became lifelong friends. That relationship, one which, by his own admission, was "wild and crazy," was unlike most others between a man and woman with fifteen plus years separating them.
It was a younger man/older woman scenario, a time when Lou was learning much about himself and the world around him. He said about her, "She was a space cadet, a genius. We had such a relationship. I guess I'll never find it again and I'm not looking for it, 'cause it pretty much wiped us out. We were so close." By letting a lot go unsaid, Lou spoke volumes about his relationship with this wild gypsy woman.
Having started so early in life, it is no wonder that by age twenty-one, Lou had gained and lost a million dollars. That was, as he called it, his "entrance into show business." He was taken to Hollywood and managed by Bob Marcucci, the "idol maker" behind Fabian and Frankie Avalon. He lived in the back quarters of Marcucci's Sunset Boulevard home, encountering glamour and excesses of every kind. He was courted by the public, the music business, and the press. He shared busses and stages with every performer from the Supremes to the Rolling Stones.
On February 19, 1966, Lou's twenty-third birthday, his hit single, "Lightening Strikes," hit Number One in the United States. He was back on top.
Despite—or maybe because of—widespread bannings due to the obvious sexual lyrics, and Lou's suggestive body movements, his fourth million seller, "Rhapsody In The Rain" became a huge success. Lyrics implied that sexual intercourse was involved, in a car, and to the rhythm of the windshield wipers. The words, "We were making out in the rain" and, "Our love went much too far" had to be changed for public radio stations to agree to air the song. A quick trip back to the studio had the song saying, "Our love came like a falling star."
At that point Lou Christie became a sex symbol.
A 1966 photo of him in Variety was captioned, "Hotcakes!" At a Cleveland concert in 1966 most of his clothes were ripped from him, and he had to employ an increased number of police guards. In a surfing accident in 1966, he broke his nose. Months later at a concert, a group of fans rushed the stage and pulled him down, banging his nose and re-breaking it.
Even in 1970, during an appearance on Joey Bishop's ABC TV show, network censors refused to show the lower half of his body because, according to them, he was "doing an Elvis."
"LOU CHRISTIE'S WILD DANCING CURBED ON TV!" screamed the next days' headlines. He was now a controversial trendsetter.
"She Sold Me Magic" became his last big hit, a 1970 gold record in Japan.
Just a few years later, he "disappeared." Literally disappeared from the public scope. He needed to take care of himself for a change, and do some soul-searching. During this period, from 1971 – 1973, he lived in London. There he met Francesca Winfield, a former Miss United Kingdom, and married her. Lou Christie had created and lived his own dream.
He became a recluse with a past.
But the past catches up with all of us and the years since have dramatically changed the one-time teen idol. He's more introspective now, less given to impetuous action. He and his wife have two grown children. His wife, at the time of this writing, lives in New Orleans; Lou in New York City.
About this unusual arrangement, he said, "I wouldn't have raised children in New York City; it's too violent and distracting. [But] I stayed in NY because I like a lot of stimulation. . .being around people who create things. . .My wife didn't want to live my lifestyle, so this suited us fine."
Lou Christie is a man who has lived a life of which many people only dream. He is a walking contradiction. He is still living, and will probably always live, a lifestyle which skirts the limelight, and skims controversy. As he has said, he has a past, a very colorful past.
His story is one Christie fans of old would delight digging into, and a story risqué enough to garner new Christie fans. Even oldies music buffs in general would be intrigued.
But why the continuing interest, all these years after he first hit the scene? Because the truth is—Lou Christie still draws crowds wherever he performs. Women—and men—still chant his name as he comes onstage. He is still the headliner at nearly any nostalgia concert at which he performs. He is probably more sexually intimidating now then during his prime because of the very nature of today's openly blatant sexuality.
As an enigma, the truth is, Lou Christie will always have "it."
Revised, Coyright 2004, Linda Alexander. All rights reserved.
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"Lou Christie: Lightning is Still Striking"
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|Reviewed by Bernadine Fawcett
|Contact me at Bernfawcett.optonline.net if you wish personal stories about Margie Hart. I was the daughter of the manager of the Gaitey theatre on 46th St and Broadway. From ages 3 to 8 I went backstage with Marigie who had a special liking for me. Etc.|
|Reviewed by Bj Howell (Reader)
|Linda, great piece of work!!! After reading it I couldn't help but to remember the night I got to meet him after a show in Montgomery (Alabama) that he; along with, Tommy Roe and Billy Joe Royal, did. Billy and I would eventually become friends and with each time he and Lou would return to Montgomery for a show I'd find myself saving every penny I could so that I could go. To this day hearing both of them do various events I find myself reliving one of the most pleasant times of my life. And, because of them I'll always be forever young.
Thanks for the article.
|Reviewed by Evelyn Kurtock (Reader)
What a great story!! You aren't kidding, lightning is still striking!! I've seen Lou in concert 6 times in the last year and a half, with three more coming up in December. He just gets better. I've met him and found him to be as charming as I knew he would be. It took me 40 years to finally meet my "teen idol"!! I was in the audience at the recording of his new CD Lou Christie's Greatest Hits Live at the Bottom Line. It was a wodnerful night, Lou was just spectacular and the evening was preserved by the recording for all time.
I enjoyed your story tremendously. Thanks for sharing it with us. How fortunate you are that you were able to sit down with Lou and have do a one on one interview. I would love to sit down with Lou and hear the stories of his life. He's a fascenating man......
|Reviewed by Michael Charles Messineo
|Linda, Thank you for this great story. Lightning Strikes has always been on my hot list of songs. And I always wondered about Lou.