LEWIS-SMOKE, MIRRORS, HYPE AND HYPERBOLE?

LEWIS-SMOKE, MIRRORS, HYPE AND HYPERBOLE?

One of the biggest stories in music in 2014, was the mystery surrounding the man they called Lewis. It’s become an internet phenomena. Usually, I don’t bother with sensationalist stories like this. Especially, this story. It just didn’t seem right. 

Far from it. There were way too many unanswered questions. I mentioned the story in my review and moved on. To be honest, the story didn’t interest me. What interests me is music, not smoke, mirrors, hype and hyperbole. So, having reviewed L’Amour I forgot about the story.

Then I received an email from Donna, who had dated Lewis in the seventies. Back then, he was Randall Aldon Wulff. She emailed me to tell me that Randall wasn’t related to Doris Duke, the heiress. That was part of the Lewis mythology. 

Previously, Randall claimed he was the nephew of heiress of Doris Duke. She was heir to the Duke Power fortune and a legendary philanthropist. Growing up, Ralph’s nephew claimed, Randall lived with his Aunt Doris in Hawaii. I knew that the Doris Duke connection was  a long-shot. Other people were suspicious. Donna confirmed they were right to be suspicious. That wasn’t the end of the story Donna had to tell.

When I emailed her to thank her for her information, I happened to ask her if she’d any memories of her time with Randall Aldon Wulff? To my surprise, Donna sent me a lengthy email. In it she told me of her time with Randall Aldon Wulff.

“I  met Randall Aldon Wulff in the summer of 1975 or 1976 on the Oregon coast.  He was on a motorcycle trip and I was on a beach camping trip with my sister.  He was a Canadian,  the son of Gladys and Earl Wulff of Calgary, Alberta.  In the winter of 1976, Randy and I lived with Gladys and Earl in their home while we did painting jobs around Calgary trying to get enough money to get to Hawaii.  His mother, Gladys Wulff was a clerk in the Hudson Bay Dept store in Calgary, and his father, Earl, was a building contractor, who had recently been disabled by a stroke. I believe Randy was about 23, at the time and I was about 30 yrs old.  We went to Maui, Hawaii for about a month, ran out of money, and my father paid for our transport back to Calgary.  We soon left Calgary and moved to Victoria, BC Canada,  where we lived on St Ann Street i,n a rented house in Oak Bay. Then after 6 months to a year, we moved to a rental house on Hollywood Crescent in the Fairfield neighbourhood of Victoria.

We were constantly broke. Randy was collecting unemployment and I was unable to work legally because I was an American without a Canadian SI number.  What kept us together was our mutual quest for sex, drugs and rock and roll…  Randy was an attractive, sweet, artistic soul but uninterested in persuing an income through  the construction trades and unable to make any money softly singing his original songs and playing his guitar.  He was a good person but he was not well educated or very bright.  Unable to tolerate  our precarious financial situation any longer, I split up with him in 1977 or 1978 and he left Victoria.  I saw him again around 1980 when he returned to Victoria and called me. We met for dinner.  He was with his older brother, Larry Wulff, who had been living “up island” on Vancouver Island and they were travelling in a limousine and seemed to have lots of money.  When I questioned him about the source of his new found wealth, he gave me vague answers about “silver futures”…the stock market, etc.  I did not believe him and think there was an illegal source of new wealth…. Later in the 80s he sent me a vinyl copy of his LP L’Amour which I have since lost and I never saw him again.”

Between that dinner and 1983, Randall Aldon Wulff became Lewis. It was a remarkable transformation.

When he swept in to town, Randall was sporting perfectly coiffured blonde hair and movie star looks. The man who called himself Lewis, lived the playboy lifestyle. Randall drove a white convertible Mercedes and booked into the Beverley Hilton. Randall dated a string of beautiful women. Models and movie stars accompanied Lewis to the smartest parties in Los Angeles. He lived the playboy lifestyle. Wine, women and song were constant companions for Randall. However, before long, the party was over.

Randall had arrived in Los Angeles with L’Amour already recorded. Not that anyone knew where L’Amour had been recorded. The sessions took place in the Fiasco Brothers Recording Studios in Vancouver. Randall had recorded there before. After that, Randall headed to Los Angeles. That’s where he readied himself for release  Lewis’ debut album, L’Amour. Rather than using his own name, Randall used the alias Lewis. This added to the air of mystery. So did the album cover.

For the album cover, Randall called one of the most famous photographers in music, Ed Colver. He’d made his name photographing punk bands. That was the past. By 1983, Ed was expanding his musical portfolio. So when Randall called, Ed agreed to meet him in the Beverley Hilton. 

When the two met, Ed wasn’t suspicious of Randall. Why should he be? After all, Randall was living in the Beverley Hilton, driving a Mercedes convertible and had a beautiful, model girlfriend. He’d also just recorded his debut album and was looking for someone to shoot some photographs for the cover of L’Amour. That would be Ed. Randall agreed to pay Ed $250 for the photo shoot and wrote a cheque for $250.

Ed shot thirty different versions of the photo that agreed on the cover of L’Amour. It was a head and shoulders photo of Randall. That photo epitomises eighties fashion and attitudes. Looking like the atypical eighties playboy, Randall looks mysteriously into the distance. However, just like everything else about Randall, this was all a facade.

When Ed went to cash the cheque for $250 it bounced. The supposed wealthy playboy wasn’t what he seemed. It was a case of style over substance. After all, surely $250 was only loose change to an international playboy. Surely Lewis the international playboy would give a busboy that sort of money for parking his Mercedes? Lewis it seemed was financially embarrassed. The myth was unravelling. For Ed Colver this was a disaster. $250 was a lot to him.

The cheque had been drawn on an account in Malibu. This was no help to Ed. So he headed to where Ed had met Randall, the Beverley Hilton. Staff at the Beverley Hilton told Ed that Randall had left. Randall, they told him, had headed to Las Vegas and then Hawaii. They didn’t have a forwarding address. For Ed this was a disaster. $250 was lot of money. So much, it took him four months to repay his bank. As security, Ed held on to the negatives to the photos for L’Amour, which was released in 1983. Two years alter, Lewis released his sophomore album Romantic Times.

In 1985 Romantic Times was released by a Lewis Baloue. This was the latest alias adopted Randall Aldon Wulff had adopted. Lewis adopted a much lower profile. Still he sported movie star looks and enjoyed his love of the finer things in life. Romantic Times features Lewis standing nonchalantly beside a sport’s car and private jet. This was the lifestyle  Lewis always wanted. However, still success eluded Lewis. After that, most people forgot about Lewis.

Donna occasionally wondered what became of Randall? That’s only natural. They spent three years together. However, nearly thirty years later, other people began looking for Lewis.

Over the past four decades, L’Amour became something of a cult album. It was only a matter of time before a reissue label released it. This happened earlier this year when Light In The Attic Records released L’Amour. The sleeve-notes told what they believed was Lewis story and claimed to have solved it.

When Jack Jack D. Fleischer was writing the sleeve-notes to L’Amour, he he got a phone call from a friend and another long time fan of L’Amour Markus Armstrong. He was on way to solving the mystery of Lewis’ identity. 

Markus Armstrong discovered several copies of L’Amour for sale in Alberta, Canada.This was unusual, as copies of L’Amour are a rarity. So, Markus decided to start looking for Lewis’ identity in Alberta. Then Markus remembered that L’Amour was a private pressing. Usually, private pressings were recorded locally. In the case of L’Amour, it was recorded at Fiasco Brothers Recording Studios in Vancouver. So possibly, Lewis or Randall Wulff, as he called himself back in 1983, was a Canadian?

He was right. As Donna told me, Randall was a Canadian. So, Markus started looking for anyone with a similar name. He checked everywhere he could think of. This included phonebooks. It was a long-shot. Then he thought his luck had changed.

Before long, Markus was contacted by Randall Wulff’s nephew, Jeremy. He said he was able to throw some light on who Randall Wuiff was. He was the nephew of heiress of Doris Duke. She was heir to the Duke Power fortune and a legendary philanthropist. Growing up, Ralph lived with his Aunt Doris in Hawaii. However, the nom de plume Lewis, was a reference to his grandmother. At last, thirty-one years after the mystery began, Lewis had been unmasked? They were wrong. Very wrong.

Randall as we know, wasn’t related to Doris Duke. However, mixed up in he information were two clues that would help solve the story. That would take time.

After the release of L’Amour, it seemed music lovers across the world were trying to find Lewis. I had a dilemma. Donna had given me all this information, what would I do with it? Should I write an article or just forget about the whole story? There was, something strange about the whole story. It didn’t seem right. I begin to wonder if the whole story was hype to sell a record? This wouldn’t be the first time this had happened. However, Donna had one more piece of information.

Donna said “I came across the 2010 obituary of his mother, Gladys, who had remarried someone named Camden after Earl died… the Calgary newspaper obituary… listed “his surviving brothers, Gary and Larry and his sister, Maureen and significantly, Randall is not mentioned… which leads me to believe he is dead.” This was potentially, a game-changer.

When I thought about the situation I’d mixed feelings. Just because Randall wasn’t mentioned in the obituary didn’t mean he was dead. There could’ve been a family fall out? Maybe Randall was in hiding and his family were ensuring he stayed hidden? I wasn’t sure. It was a leap of faith using just an obituary to say a man had died? I wasn’t happy. Eventually, I printed what Donna’s thought had happened. Then the floodgates opened.

Everyone had their story to tell. Many people who knew the man who called himself Lewis got in touch. They each had their story to tell. 

Rumours surrounding Lewis’ newly found wealth started doing the rounds. They found their way to me. I heard stories of money made silver futures and the stock market? My sources had their doubts. Nothing can be proved though. That’s the case with so much about Lewis. 

Later, rumour has it that Lewis became allegedly addicted to Quaaludes. That’s probably just another myth. So much surrounding Lewis is smoke and mirrors. The same can be said of his religious phase.

After that, Lewis allegedly found religion. It’s even been suggested to me that he recorded an album of religious music. Lewis’ supposed involvement with religion adds to the mystery surrounding Lewis. He would certainly have made a charismatic preacher. Charisma I’m told, is something Lewis certainly didn’t lack. All the rumours didn’t ring true. It was like something from a bad B-movie.

If Lewis had done all these things, he’d have had to live several lives. He’d also have had to have the constitution of an ox. It’s no wonder some people thought the whole story was a hoax. The more stories that came to light, the more suspicious people were. Their suspicions were further raised earlier this year.

Copies of what was thought to be Lewis’ sophomore album Romantic Times had turned out. Just like everything to do with the Lewis story, nothing is straightforward.

Two versions of the story have been told to me. The first is that a Canadian record collector found a copy of Romantic Times, an album released by Lewis Baloue in 1985 and sold it to Light In The Attic Records. That sounds the most likeliest outcome. After all, dedicated crate diggers who look long and hard enough, will always have the opportunity to discover that elusive rare albums. After all, surely it’s not as easy as finding a copy of Romantic Times on Ebay?

That’s the second version of the story behind  Romantic Times. Allegedly, a copy of Romantic Times was offered for sale on eBay. To say a bidding frenzy followed is to put it mildly. The price reached $1,725. This is similar to what happened when copies of L’Amour were discovered. Nothing was straightforward in the Lewis story.

Everyone wanted their say on Lewis. The story was all across the internet. As far as I was concerned, the whole story was becoming tedious. I was beginning to tire of the story. After all, the smoke, mirrors, hype and hyperbole were becoming more important than the music. So, I decided to close the book on Lewis. I’d said all I wanted to say on Lewis. Then there was a breakthrough.

Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from a friend. Lewis’ whereabouts had been discovered. I’d been here before. My friend was convincing. He told me where Lewis was living and under what name. I now had a dilemma. Obviously, Lewis didn’t want to be found? Should I respect his privacy or should I print him name and location? So I decided to sleep on it. After all, it was hardly the biggest scoop in the history of journalism.

Then today when I logged on the internet, I discovered that Lewis’ whereabouts had been discovered. At last the mystery was solved. For Light In The Attic Records, they’d solved the mystery. After two and a half years they’d found Lewis. There was a but.

Lewis has asked that his location is kept secret. Light In The Attic Records have agreed to that. That’s very noble. I would’ve done so as well. After all, everyone deserves their privacy. That’s until someone who I believe is close to the story, decided to threaten me. They weren’t the brightest, as they used their own name and email address. After that, all bets were off. 

Lewis I believe, resides in Hawaii, where he lives under the alias Randy Duke. That’s the name on the recordings at Fiasco Studios, where L’Amour and Romantic Times were recorded. Len from Fiasco Studios knew the truth, but kept Lewis’ secret. He kept that secret for thirty years. That’s what I call a friend. What I can’t quite understand, is why Len didn’t tell Lewis everyone was trying to find him. 

Eventually, Lewis was found alive and well. Donna will be pleased. Especially given Lewis looks so well and happy. Seemingly, he spends his time with his girlfriend and cats. The music on L’Amour and Romantic Times is his past, a past he’s no longer interested in. As L.P. Hartley said, “the past is a foreign country.” I don’t blame him.

I hope Lewis is happy and enjoys a long and healthy life. We’ll never know why he disappeared and changed his name? He’s not for telling. There must be a reason. We’ll never know. Lewis wants to stay hidden. He’s said all that he wants to say. That brings to an end one of music’s mysteries. Now that the mystery is over, everyone will await the release of Lewis’ sophomore album Romantic Times. Now people can concentrate on Lewis’ music.

Maybe now that the mystery surrounding Lewis’ whereabouts has been solved, people will remember him for his music. His debut album L’Amour is a variously beautiful, ethereal, haunting, minimalist, poignant and powerful album. Lewis sings about heartbreak, hope and hurt. He delivers lyrics like he’s lived, loved and survived them. His vocal ranges from emotive, hopeful, needy and seductive. Other times his vocal is rueful, as he sings about love lost and the woman who broke or stole his heart. L’Amour and Romantic Times are reminder of a truly talented singer, songwriter and musician who could’ve and should’ve been huge star.

LEWIS-SMOKE, MIRRORS, HYPE AND HYPERBOLE?

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