Today's home-baked weirdos are so commonplace it's harder to filter out the DIY savants than it is to find them. I'm regularly sent hand-painted CD booklets tied in twine, or e-mailed videos of, say, some unknown basement dweller doing a swampy organ boogie. The artistic oddball population is no endangered species, and my inner cynic worries each one is just a contrived prank, or, worse, the work of a record label with a savvy marketing department. More often than not, I don't see the need to give these special acts column space.
But sometimes these fringe flyers are genuinely showstopping. Case in point: A couple of weeks ago a truly singular CD arrived in the mail — Luie Luie's Touchy, out on local label Companion Records. On its cover, an oil painting of a mustachioed Mexican gentleman with bushy black hair. On the back, photos of Luie playing the drums, guitar, and piano — but always with a trumpet in hand. Inside was a CD offering ten tracks (and a 20-page booklet, although, thankfully, sans twine) of Luie's "touchy" philosophy. Examples alternated between his passionate spoken-word introductions and the experimental cumbia-meets-lounging mariachi band music he uses to get listeners in a "touchy mood." Every song begins with a "wiiiild" trumpet introduction, and ends with a bah bah bah-pa bah beat alerting dancers, "one, two, touch no more." In between is Luie's groove — music created to get the wallflowers mingling "elbow to elbow or neck to neck...or head to foot."
Based in Southern California, Luie is a multi-instrumentalist on a mission. As he explains in the opening track, "El Touchy," he made Touchy in 1974 "all by myself," jumping among the harp, bells, guitar, percussion, Moogs, "and what have you," but always with that signature trumpet — or, in the case of his "Touch of Light," "up to 14 trumpets." The music is great, his mishmash of styles making for some really zany jukebox gems. But it's the uber-enthusiast whose voice prefaces every track that really made me a sucker for this guy: He tells you how much he loves everything from magical hand-touched tortillas to talk of "more advanced forms of life on other planets, money, finance, dirty rotten politicians, wars, energy, no energy ..."
He loves it; he loves it all.
Companion owners Will Louviere and Troy Peters swear this Luie character really exists, and that in person his joie de vivre remains intact. Louviere, a collector of obscure vinyl, tracked Luie down through a 45 bearing Luie's real name, Luis Johnston. They met in Luie's hometown of Victorville, where Louviere says Luie "showed up in a three-piece suit, driving a Mercedes Benz, holding a painting he'd done of Jesus Christ." (According to his official bio, Luie, now in his 60s, makes his living working as a painter, screenwriter, and nightclub entertainer.)
Like Luie, Louviere and Peters see artistic merit in what other folks might call the absurd. Their tiny, 5-year-old label pulls outsider music down from the elitist, collectors-only prices, making sure the royalties go to the original artists. They've only worked with a couple of groups so far, but the range is eclectic — everything from Vancouver Christian rock (the New Creation), to a Turkish émigré recording in New York (Marc Mundy), to a Santa Cruz folk act with a thing for crickets (Charlie Tweddle), with Luie Luie being their latest release.
Peters says of the roster, "There's no style, but there is a sincerity that runs through all of it. They were all recording something they really had high hopes for, and I think it comes out how seriously they took it." Louviere adds, "Aside from Luie, they were all crushed, totally devastated for years afterward, because they believed in their music and people weren't ready for it."
All the Companion releases were originally recorded without the help of a label in the early to mid-'70s, Louviere and Peters say. (Luie's Touchy has only one new track, his closing condemnation of the bootlegging industry — "music pirates in Switzerland and New Jersey" — that previously released Touchy without his permission.) "There's no filter between that original idea or sound that the group has and the final product," says Louviere. "Now that's pretty commonplace with a lot of DIY music, but in the '70s it was less so; there was less self-consciousness about being DIY. There's no junk in the middle, no producer saying, 'More cowbell.'"
Luie Luie is an old-fashioned card, and it only takes a phone call to the man himself to see where he gets his inspiration. "Music comes from heaven, hijita," Luie explained to me last week. "By the way," he adds with a laugh, "hijita means sweet little daughter. But music comes from heaven. The sound comes from the earth." And so I learned a few things from this little conversation — that Luie is indeed real, and that he is indeed an odd one. I also found out that Touchy is based on Christian philosophy, a philosophy that Luie enjoys explaining for a good portion of our rambling 30-minute conversation, which covered everything from "the computer in your mind" to his new movie script, which is about ... um, something religious. "Now remember," he said at one point, "I'm not a religious fanatic, but I love the Book."
As for why he wrote Touchy, Luie explained that back in the '70s everyone was doing drugs and people were disconnected from one another. "People lost contact with reality, and at that time we saw the dancers — I was playing in the nightclubs — and there was no more romance. The heart was not involved; it was movement. They lost the touch." Three decades later, though, Luie still stands behind his words. "I love it," he says of Touchy. "I loved it then and I love it now!"
Before he gets off the phone, Luie reminds me, "There's a lot to know, hijita." And he's right on that one, too. Just when you think you have the world of musical eccentrics all figured out, a new one drops on your plate who is truly, well, touched.