Lewis: A 31 Year Old Alberta Musical Mystery

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Lewis: A 31 Year Old Alberta Musical Mystery

Postby jon » Wed Aug 13, 2014 12:26 pm

Sleuths track down the mysterious man behind L’Amour, the ‘best album of 2014’ that came out 31 years ago
Tristin Hopper
National Post
August 12, 2014
Last Updated: Aug 12 8:57 PM ET

More than 30 years ago, a mysterious figure with coiffed blond hair, a well-sculpted physique and a gleaming white Mercedes walked into a Los Angeles recording studio and laid down a self-financed album of ethereal love songs.

Producers saw it as a delusional vanity project, and soon enough both the album, L’Amour, and its creator, Lewis, had faded into history.

That is, until a $1 copy of L’Amour turned up at an Edmonton record sale — and was soon surging to underground fame online.

“Every song comes across as a coded declaration of passion for someone inaccessible and intangible,” reads a rave review published last month in England’s The Guardian. Mojo magazine recently picked it as album of the week, praising its “inchoate love songs suffused with a ghostly exhaustion.”

“L’Amour just might be the best album of 2014 — despite being 31 years late,” wrote one writer for VICE.

Last week, the years-long search for L’Amour’s elusive creator came to an end in a Canadian coffee shop. Lewis is not dead, as many fans have claimed; he is Randy Wulff, a Canadian who walks with a cane, owns two cats and would very much prefer to be left alone.

“Randy had no idea about the recent interest in his old records and didn’t seem to care in the slightest,” reads a recent blog post by Matt Sullivan, founder of Light in the Attic Records, a Seattle record label that has re-issued Lewis’ 1980s creations.

“We had a cheque for him but he wasn’t interested,” he added.

Although scattered copies of L’Amour are potentially still kicking around a few Alberta record collections, the album’s modern revival began in 2007 when Canadian record collector Jon Murphy dug up a copy at an Edmonton flea market.

“The cover appealed right away,” Mr. Murphy told Mojo last month. Aside from the good looks of the mysterious Lewis, the LP was released by the unknown record label R.A.W. and one of the songs was curiously dedicated to swimsuit model Christie Brinkley.

Mr. Murphy uploaded details of his discovery to WeirdCanada.com, and from there bootlegged copies rolled through web forums and music blogs, steadily attracting a cult following.

Last month, the buzz even prompted the discovery of another Lewis album, 1985’s Romantic Times — one pristine copy of which was discovered in Recordland, a Calgary record store.

“I can guarantee that the spot where I found the Lewis records was guaranteed untouched by human hands for 15 years at least,” Recordland owner Al Cohen told Postmedia.

When Light in the Attic pegged the album for re-issue more than two years ago, the label vowed to “investigate the mystery” of its creation.

The search started with Ed Colver, a famed Los Angeles punk photographer who had photographed L’Amour’s eye-catching cover — and had been stiffed for the job by a bounced $250 cheque.

“Ed painted of a picture of a guy where all might not have been what it seemed,” said Jack Fleischer, a writer and friend of the label who was tasked with tracking down Lewis.

As Mr. Colver recounted to Mr. Fleischer, his client (real name Randy Wulff) had stayed in the Beverley Hills Hotel, drove a white Mercedes and dated a model.

With the artist’s real name in hand, Mr. Fleischer then tracked down an Alberta nephew of Mr. Wulff and learned more about his Canadian origins.

Born to working-class Calgary parents, Lewis was a product of the dizzying Alberta oil boom of the 1970s. He had raked in a small fortune in finance, but as recession took hold in the early 1980s, he had made his way down to Los Angeles to cut an album.

“The money is sort of running out, and he decides to make this record — I think that’s the most beautiful part,” said Mr. Fleischer.

From there, the trail pretty much ran cold, except for witnesses who remembered a man matching Lewis’ description recording “soft religious music” in a Vancouver studio during the 1990s.

Last week, the final denouement came by way of an “old friend” of Lewis who reported to Light in the Attic that he had recently bumped into the artist in a “major Canadian urban centre” (Light in the Attic has refused to disclose the exact city in an effort to preserve Mr. Wulff’s privacy).

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Fleischer quickly jetted to Canada and, with L’Amour in hand, spent two days canvassing neighbourhood grocery stores and coffee shops asking locals if they had seen an aged version of Lewis.

Finally, on day two, Mr. Fleischer spotted Mr. Wulff siting “in plain sight” on the patio of a coffee shop. True to his album cover mystique, he was wearing white tennis shoes, white shorts and a white, billowy dress shirt unbuttoned to the navel.

“I said ‘hey Randy, how’s it going?’ and he said ‘how are you boys?’” said Mr. Fleischer.

Lewis’ story is remarkably similar to that of Rodríguez, the American folk musician profiled in the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

After a mediocre domestic career, Rodríguez spent decades unaware of the incredible success his music had attained in Apartheid South Africa. Notably, Rodríguez’s music is also released by Light in the Attic records.

Unlike Rodríguez, though, Lewis kindly reported no interest in touring, collecting royalties or even revealing his approximate location.

“It inspired me that someone still had this kind of purity,” said Mr. Fleischer, calling it a “perfect end” to a five-year mystery.

The discovery was so poetic, in fact, that for some fans it seemed almost too good to be true.

“This is shaping up to be an amazingly impressive lie. … Well done for finding some old pictures from an ’80s photo shoot … and then tracking down the model in the picture in his later life,” wrote one of several skeptics posting to the Light in the Attic website.

Nevertheless, with so many confederates involved in the Lewis “conspiracy”— including a Victoria, B.C., record collector, a Calgary record store owner and a famed punk photographer — if it is a hoax, it would stand as one of the most convincing and well-thought-out frauds in music history.

“It’s absolutely not [a conspiracy],” said Mr. Fleischer, a veteran sleuth for obscure LPs and long-missing musicians.

“I’ve heard some weird ones, but this pretty much takes the cake.”

ref. to listen and see pics: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/08/12 ... years-ago/
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