Most fans of progressive rock tend to assume that the genre came into being in the U.K. somewhere around the time that the Nice changed tack from the psychedelia of songs like "Flower King of Flies" and "Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon" in favor of monkeying around with Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. Yet there's an equally strong case to be made for Touch's one remarkable album, recording sessions for which began as early as 1968, as the true progenitor of prog. The difference is that by the time Keith Emerson was whipping up a media frenzy for his on-stage knife-wielding, Touch were already plummeting earthwards.
The band was essentially the brainchild of keyboard player Don Gallucci, already assured a footnote in rock history as a 16-year-old member of the Kingsmen. In fact, it's his piano that introduces what most people consider to be the definitive version of "Louie, Louie." By the mid-'60s he'd left to form his own moderately successful band, Don & the Goodtimes, alongside vocalist Jeff Hawks, guitarist Joey Newman, and, later, bassist Bruce Hauser and drummer John Bordonaro. The band inevitably began to gravitate away from its R&B roots toward music of a more cosmic mien around 1967, and the name change to Touch soon followed. Gallucci in particular was now composing music that owed as much to jazz and classical forms as it did to rock, and when the band began rehearsing his new material in a Moorish-style castle in the Hollywood Hills, word quickly spread that something special was afoot.
Soon, record company execs were being lured to the castle, plied with drugs, and exposed to the band's formidable sonic assault. A bidding war ended with Coliseum/London Records snapping them up for the then exorbitant fee of $25,000. Recording sessions commenced shortly after at Sunset Sound. It was at this point that the Touch sessions began to acquire legendary status, as a succession of rock superstars began to join the assembled freaks and partygoers drawn by the Touch vibe to hear for themselves what all the fuss was about. Mick Jagger was the first, followed by Jimi Hendrix and Grace Slick. For his part, Hendrix ended up so impressed that he rented studio time just so he could listen to the whole album.
Gallucci, still only 19, grandiloquently called the album "a spiritual quest put to music, a search for the Holy Grail of its generation by way of sound." But when the record company suggested that Touch take their spiritual quest on the road, Gallucci bluntly refused, insisting that it would have been impossible to re-create the music's complexities live. Soon, with their advance spent and sales dwindling, the bandmembers were reduced to using the antique furniture in their rental house for firewood. They split shortly after, leaving other bands to pursue their Holy Grail of sound.
Gallucci's extraordinary potential was never fulfilled. Aside from the odd abortive film soundtrack, he worked briefly as a producer, helming albums by the Stooges and Tom Waits before leaving the music business entirely for a career in real estate. As for his band's legacy, Touch were hailed as inspirational by bands like Yes, Kansas, and Uriah Heep, but their influence has never been even remotely reflected in the sales of their sole album, which only received its first CD release in 1993.