Among the many underserved genres of Canadian film is the biography. And barely addressed at all is the sub-genre of the musical bio. As a result, the stories of home-grown stars from Hank Snow to The Guess Who to Nickleback may never be told.
For us, there’s been no “The Buddy Holly Story”, no “La Bamba”, not even an “American Hot Wax”. A few years ago, there was a much anticipated dramatization of the life of Shania Twain –- that concluded before she cut her first hit record.
For the most part they’re insignificant entertainments. But they’re always popular and usually revealing on where creativity comes from and how one artist both connects with and reflects his generation.
Over the years, I’ve pitched a few of those stories, at best meeting a complete lack of interest at the network and studio level or –- at worst – receiving the look that crosses Hugh Dillon’s face in “Hard Core Logo” every time he hears a Terry Jacks song in a bar.
Born Luigi Alfredo Giovanni Sacco in suburban Pittsburgh, he began recording while still a teenager as “Lugee and the Lions” using his sister and a couple of her friends as back-up singers.
And right from the start nobody knew quite how or where to pigeon hole him. It wasn’t just that he wrote his own material and produced it, (virtually unheard of at the time) but his voice was –- well, Lou had a multi-octave range and made sure to use all of it.
From his earliest tracks, he would effortlessly move from a lilting tenor to a piercing falsetto (often a full octave higher than his back up girls) and back again, convinced he had only 15 seconds from needle drop to snag his audience with a sound they’d never heard before.
Nor did they share his desire to break new ground in Rock and Roll. From the age of 15, Luigi had been song-writing with self-described mystic Twyla Herbert, who vastly expanded his musical tastes and knowledge. And he convinced legendary producer Jack Nietzsche to help him design his distinctive sound.
It was Roulette Records that changed Luigi’s name to Lou Christie, informing him on the release of his first 45 for the label “The Gypsy Cried” in January of 1963.
Discharged in late 1965 with no recording contract and his star eclipsed by the British Invasion, Christie should have been happy to be picked up by MGM in Los Angeles.
By then critics were realizing that no one (including “The Beatles”) was packing as much creativity and musical exploration into three minute singles.
And before “Lightning Strikes” had begun to drop from its Number One spot on the hit parade, Christie released three more singles in one month that all charted. The last would fatally fracture his already rocky relationship with MGM.