In 1962, when Lou Christie recorded his first single, “The Gypsy Cried,” at age 19, he was an anomaly — a teen idol who wrote his own songs.
Christie, born Luigi Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, wrote most of his biggest hits, from his best-known single “Lightnin’ Strikes” to the controversial, sexually charged “Rhapsody in the Rain,” with self-described mystic and classically trained pianist Twyla Herbert, who was more than 20 years older than him.
The unusual pairing raised more than a few eyebrows in an industry used to hiring separate songwriters and performers, even after the duo proved themselves throughout the ’60s with a string of hit singles.
“Even though we would come off of a number 1 record, [the] businesspeople, shall we say, and people in publishing — managers, people who were gonna get a cut of the deal — would always try to break us up as songwriters,” said Christie, now 70, from his home in New York City recently. “It was such a non sequitur to me. If we just produced a million-selling record — we wrote this thing — don’t you think we can do it again? And then we’d do it again. But they either smelled the dollars and wanted to get involved, or the creativity just drove them crazy.”
Golden Oldies Spectacular
With: Lou Christie, Kenny Vance & the Planotones, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, Sonny Turner and Nicole Ortiz
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26
Where: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
How Much: $51.75, $44.75, $36.75
More Info: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
When the two first began collaborating, Christie was only 15 years old. The songwriting partnership endured until Herbert’s death in 2009.
“We had to fill albums, too, so we wrote constantly,” Christie said. “We were always flying back from Hollywood, where we were living at the time, out to the East Coast to write; or while we were on the road, sometimes we would go in maybe a week before and have someone deliver a piano so we could write somewhere, because we had recording sessions to do the next weekend. It was really an interesting way of doing it.
“We did have some creativity,” Christie added. “We never wanted to make records like anyone else.”
Christie is still doing things his own way today. While many of his contemporaries have given up recording for the oldies touring circuit, Christie has continued to make new music. Last year he released “The Turquoise Trail,” an album featuring re-recordings of old songs alongside new cuts. The album’s closer, “Beyond The Blue Horizon,” a rerecording of a song he originally sang on the soundtrack to the 1988 film “Rain Man,” has even become a staple of his live sets.
“People just love ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’ — people respond to it so much, and it’s been in so many movies,” Christie said. “That’s turning into something [the audience] requests as much as ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’ — ‘Do the “Rain Man” song!’ ”
Of course, Christie still delivers his hits, and that will be the primary focus for his headlining set at this year’s Golden Oldies Spectacular, which will take place at Proctors on Saturday. But the songs never get old for Christie, or for his audiences.
“Somehow it even gets better when you get older,” Christie said. “When I walk out onstage, everyone really turns 17 years old, or 16 years old — whatever period they were in their life when they first heard it. It puts them right back in the mood. It does for me too — I see it in their eyes. One of the magic tricks for me is that I let myself go there, and it’s exciting to me — it’s why my show feels always that it’s alive.”
A package show
The show will also feature Jay and the Americans offshoot Kenny Vance & the Planotones, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, former Platters lead singer Sonny Turner and Nicole Ortiz. Package shows like this are some of Christie’s favorites to perform at, reuniting him with old friends in the business.
“Little Anthony and I were talking the other night . . . just about how long we’ve known each other — it was 53 years ago that we met each other, and we’ve been friends since then,” Christie said. “We’ve played Vegas together; we bump into each other and it’s like going to your graduation class reunion. I’ll be on [a] show with Lesley Gore, Bobby Rydell, The Angels, The Crystals — it’s so nice. . . . I always call it my graduating class.”
Christie has certainly slowed down over the years, although he still plays shows nearly every weekend of the year.
“You know, it’s enough, it’s enough,” Christie said. “I was thinking yesterday as I was coming back on the plane — oh my, I used to land — we would go to the airport in a helicopter and land on top of the PanAm building [in New York City]. . . . We were always trying to get to the next town, the next city. It was an exciting time, but it was really hard to keep abreast of where you have to be in the next 24 hours. . . . Talk about being a gypsy; that was it for me. But now things are a little more organized.”
Even at 70, Christie’s famed three-octave range hasn’t diminished much — he’s still able to hit his trademark chorus falsettos. His regimen for keeping his voice in shape isn’t complicated.
“I don’t scream; I don’t abuse my voice; I try to eat the right things and take care of myself, my body, and keeping the right frame of mind,” Christie said. “I really have to hit those notes, so I sort of take care of myself. And it sounds corny, but you have to keep a positive attitude and still be excited. That’s one part of your being that you have to sort of keep innocent, because that’s important for anyone who creates, too — who creates music. I’ve always had that ability to do that because I had to keep writing songs to keep the fantasy alive.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or email@example.com.