Gary James' Interview With
Lou Christie






He's enjoyed million selling records with "The Gypsy Cried", "Rhapsody In The Rain", "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" and his trademark song, "Lightning Strikes". He's performed on the same bill with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Diamond, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. He gave a Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family. John Lennon called him one of his biggest influences.

You know his name...Lou Christie.

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 - What happened when someone had to go to the bathroom?

A - You had to stop. (laughs) We'd just have stops.

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.


© Gary James. All rights reserved.




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