For the record, Lou Christie’s “The Gypsy Cried” was being played in the Pittsburgh area before Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts with “Sherry” in September of 1962. Neither artist was trying to copy the other’s style.
“I was cutting records in Pittsburgh, doing falsetto, and I wasn’t even aware of Frankie,” remembered Christie, one of the legendary musical acts performing at Proctors on Saturday as part of the Golden Oldies Spectacular. “We got popular around the same time, but we were both singing like that for years before we got big.”
Christie, who grew up on a farm outside Pittsburgh, reached No. 24 on the U.S. charts in March of 1963 with “The Gypsy Cried.” He followed that in 1963 with “Two Faces Have I,” which climbed to No. 6, and then after a six-month stint in the Army Reserves slowed his momentum, he posted his first and only No. 1 record, “Lightnin’ Strikes,” in 1965.
“It hit No. 1 on my birthday,” said Christie, who was born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco on Feb. 19, 1943. “How about that? I was kind of freaking out because I was so hot when I went into the Reserves. I was in ‘Teen Magazine.’ There was a picture of me holding hands with Diana Ross. I’m going to Hollywood, and then all of a sudden I gotta go into the Army. The whole time I was thinking to myself, ‘I gotta get back on the charts.’ I was worried.”
Christie served his country, then hooked back up with Twyla Herbert, a classically-trained musician in her 30s when she first came across the 15-year-old Christie. Herbert, who lived in the Pittsburgh area her entire life, became Christie’s songwriting partner for more than 20 years, and initially had encouraged him to set his sights on a more classical career. Christie wasn’t interested in that route.
“I sang all my life and I love all kinds of music,” he said. “My mom sounded like Peggy Lee, my dad had perfect pitch. I was doing choral stuff in high school, so they all wanted me to go to college and train and study, but all I wanted was to get on ‘American Bandstand’ and ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ I watched guys like Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
As soon as he graduated from high school, Christie said goodbye to his parents, an older sister and four younger siblings, and headed to New York City.
“I never sang with an instrument or a band, other than being accompanied by a piano,” he said. “I never sang at clubs. I was always too young. The first time I sang with a guitar, a bass and the drums was when I walked into a studio in New York City and did ‘The Gypsy Cried.’ I grew up on a farm, but my father was working at a steel mill and we also had a pizza place. I didn’t want to farm, or work in the steel mill or the pizza place. I had to get out of there and get on ‘American Bandstand.'”
Christie developed his falsetto style when record producers in New York told him to try something different vocally.
“They told me the disc jockey is going to put that needle on the record and if he doesn’t hear something different, he’ll just throw it in the corner and never look at it again,” said Christie. “That’s why we started out ‘The Gypsy Cried’ with ‘I had some trouble with my baby.’ Falsetto was being done in background vocals, but never the lead. You needed something to get their attention, and starting the song out in that falsetto got their attention.”
Christie never matched the chart success he had with his first three singles, but he did release “Rhapsody in the Rain” (No. 16 in 1966), “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” (No. 10 in 1969) and “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (No. 80 in 1973), the latter enjoying a second life when it was used in the soundtrack of “Rain Man” in 1988.
“I don’t have a burning desire to be recognized, or to be a Beatle,” said Christie. “I just want to be creative in whatever I do. Sure, things slowed down a bit, but I never stopped playing or recording. Since the nostalgia craze started up, maybe 30 years ago or so, it’s been great. I love performing, and I’m still singing those three and a half octaves in the same key. People seem to enjoy it. They see me and they’re 17 again.”
Joining Christie onstage Saturday at Proctors will be The Lettermen, who posted 16 top-10 singles on the charts, beginning with “The Way You Look Tonight” in 1961. Dolores “La La” Brooks, a singer-songwriter and actress, as well as a member of The Crystals, is also on the bill, along with Jimmy Clanton, Bobby Brooks Wilson and Ladd Vance.
The Crystals were one of the top girl groups of the 1960s, recording top-10 hits such as “Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” while Clanton will be remembered for “Just a Dream,” “Venus in Blue Jeans” and “A Letter to an Angel.”
Wilson is the son of the legendary Jackie Wilson and recreates his father’s persona onstage. Vance, the son of Kenny Vance, has been featured recently on PBS’ “Doo Wop Generations.”
Golden Oldies Spectacular
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $39.75-$75
MORE INFO: (518) 346-6204, or visit www.proctors.org
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