Lou Christie was a teen idol who had fame, adulation and girls screaming at his every move.
There was a big problem – he was unhappy and searching for identity.
“It took me years to find out how to just be myself and relax and enjoy what I was doing –I used to worry and was very self-conscious,” said Christie, 74. He plays two shows with Rocky and the Rollers on Wednesday Feb. 7, at 5 and 8 p.m. in Savannah Center.
During the 1960s, Christie and his falsetto vocal style had such hits as “Lightning Strikes,” “Two Faces Have I,” “Rhapsody In the Rain,” “The Gypsy Cried” and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine.” Here’s his big hit:
Christie toured on a Dick Clark Caravan with Diana Ross and the Supremes. Elton John played piano for Christie in London in the early ‘70s and once recorded one of Christie’s songs. John Lennon once said, “Lou Christie was one of my influences.”
So why wasn’t he happy?
“I was a successful songwriter, and singer; I knew and loved music but that wasn’t enough for some people,” Christie said in a telephone interview.
Those people included record companies, agents and managers. They tried to control Lou Christie — who grew up as Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, singing in the choir of his church in Glenwillard, Pennsylvania, a rural area near Pittsburgh.
Christie’s life forever changed in 1962, when the teenager scored a million-seller with “The Gypsy Cried.” Unlike many artists of the day, Christie wrote his songs with his mentor and collaborator, Twyla Herbert. She was nearly three decades older than Lou, but they clicked.
After a series of hits, however, the music business was changing and the powers that be wanted to change Lou Christie.
One manager put it bluntly: “Stop singing like that.”
“That’s the trouble with this business,” Christie said. “You’ve got so many people who aren’t artists and don’t create music, telling you how to make music.
“I wrote million-sellers. I had hits. And they wanted me to be something I’m not.”
For a time, Christie admits he lost his way.
Eventually, he found himself, regained his confidence and for nearly six decades has been a successful touring act all over the world.
The turning point came when he outgrew his teen idol status.
“People would listen and enjoy my singing, not because of the way I looked, but the way I performed,” Christie said. “I wasn’t just a teen idol.”
He grew as a performer when he went to England in the late ‘60s and early 70s. In London, he met his future wife, Francesca Winfield, and developed his act on stage.
“Those were tough audiences and they knew rock and roll,” he said. “They didn’t care if I was cute. They wanted to hear good music and be entertained.”
That’s exactly what Christie has been doing most of his life. Many of his most memorable stage performances came during duets with the late Lesley Gore.
“We knew each other from the early 1960s,” Christie said. “Lesley had pop hits like “It’s My Party,” but she was a serious singer with substance and style. She could turn a phrase and she loved jazz. She could be tough; she had high standards and we just blended together.”
Here they are singing, “Since I Don’t Have You”:
Christie’s life has been filled with ups and downs.
In 1971 in England, he made a concept album, “Paint America Love,” that one critic described it this way: “a Polish/Italian/American take on (Marvin Gaye’s) What’s Going On.” Another critic likened it to a John Steinbeck novel.
Regardless, the album bombed.
“Disillusioned by ‘Paint America Love’s’ failure, he quit the music business in the mid-70s and moved back (from England) to the US,” English journalist Bob Stanley wrote in The Guardian. “He took work as an offshore oil rigger, then a carnival roadie, and then a truck driver. I like to picture him singing ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’ to himself as he drove from Phoenix to Albuquerque.”
Now at 74, Christie has found contentment , but there are still serious and sometimes tragic challenges
His son, Christopher, 46, was killed in a race car accident in 2014.
“You don’t get over something like that,” Christie told the Columbia Journal. “But you learn to live with it. Like everything else life hands you, you have to take it as it comes.”
His daughter, Bianca Lucia, is a model who is pictured on his web site www.lou-christie.com
Despite everything that happened, Lou Christie is still going strong in his 70s.
“This is a scary part of life, but at this time of life, I believe you are where you are supposed to be. I love singing and being on stage.”
He finds common ground in The Villages.
“I love the people there and it’s great to play with a band like Rocky and the Rollers,” Christie said. “Those guys are a lot like me — they’ve been around a long time but they’re still rocking.”