A Piano Man of Many Faces, and Some Stranger Stories

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“That’s when I started working with the dead,” he said in his car outside Mimi’s recently as he hunted for a parking space. “That was when I started visiting the African spirit world. The gods talked to me. After that, a conga line of the dead started following me wherever I went.”

Mr. Lukach was merely empowering something that was inside him all along. He was finally able to conclude that an African deity named Oshun, who represents love and the arts, had protected him in that swamp when he was 5. “She had been watching me since I was a boy,” he said.

Regarding Mr. Lukach, Migene González-Wippler, an author and expert on Afro-Carribean religions, said, “It sounds like he was mixing various religions and beliefs and making his own special blend.” She suggested he had fallen through the cracks of occult history, but added: “I don’t want to pass judgment, but this was a time people were interested in spiritualism. Everyone was looking for enlightenment. Bob Dylan was. The Beatles were. It was a period of self-discovery. But he may have been completely sincere in his beliefs.”

Interest in the occult was having a moment in pop culture around the same time. Rock bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were drawn to the dark teachings of Mr. Crowley. Mr. Stowers would enter this cultural moment himself. He and Mr. Lukach, he claimed, were psychics to Ms. Ono in the late 1970s.

“She’d send a limo to pick us up and take us to the Dakota,” he said. “As Joseph and her would do readings together, I’d play the theme to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ right there on John Lennon’s big beautiful white piano. She would call Joseph at all hours of the night if she had a good song idea and ask him, ‘Am I going the right way?’” Mr. Stowers said he still had Ms. Ono’s “hand prints” from those days stored away in his home.

He is mentioned briefly in the controversial 1988 best-selling biography “The Lives of John Lennon,” by Albert Goldman. Of a close friend named Sam, Mr. Goldman wrote that one June evening, Ms. Ono “told him that as a step toward his elevation he must go that very night to see a marvelous psychic whose name was Joseph Lukach. He would make a study of Sam and give him potions that would strengthen him spiritually. Sam was taken by limousine to Yonkers, where Joey was living with his companion, Hunter, in a suburban bungalow with a backyard and garage.” (Ms. Ono did not respond to requests for comment.)

By the end of the 1970s, the Yonkers house was filled with altars to deities like Oshun and Anubis, and students of Mr. Stowers and Mr. Lukach would commute from the city on weekends for lessons in their living room. Many of these people are no longer around, but Mr. Stowers remains in touch with a man named Peter, who joined Mr. Lukach’s circle in the late ’70s, and declined to use his surname to avoid association with his past in the occult. He is a veterinarian in Manhattan.

“He could do things saints could do,” Peter recalled in a phone interview. “Things that Jesus could do.

Photo
Joseph Lukach practiced a blend of Afro-Caribbean religions like Yoruba, Santería and Voodoo. Mr. Stowers was his apprentice.

Credit
William N. Jacobellis/NYP Holdings, Inc., via Getty Images

“We’d go there every week and meet in these groups. Hunter was always there. And he too began to open himself up to the universe and see things like Joseph could.”

But there had long been a darker side to their union. Mr. Stowers has described it as “servitude.” In his mind, it was no ordinary apprenticeship, but rather a form of witchcraft-induced slavery. Soon after they met, according to Mr. Stowers, he was compelled to obey Mr. Lukach, who chose his friends, the relatives he could speak to and even what he could eat. Mr. Stowers slept on the floor and made Mr. Lukach’s clothes by hand. “I was a free bird who was put in a cage for 20 years,” he said.

He reflects calmly on this period now. “There is a tradition of a shaman choosing a whipping boy to break him and then remake him,” he said. “I had to be broken. I was lost. I was looking for him. I look back and wouldn’t change one thing about it because I wouldn’t be who I am now.”

Peter reluctantly admitted that Mr. Lukach, when inclined, could use his prowess as a healer for darker biddings. “He could use black magic on those that rubbed him the wrong way,” he said. When asked to elaborate further, he declined and said, “It’s best not to talk about this.”

When Mr. Lukach died in 1995, Mr. Stowers believed the spell of servitude was broken, but their students dispersed, and Mr. Stowers was left alone in the home filled with potions and Voodoo relics, where he still lives.

“One of the great sadnesses of Hunter’s life is that none of these people who were supposedly so friendly to him are around anymore,” Peter said. “Once Joseph was gone, the thing that brought everybody there left as well. That is what happens when relationships are based on a desire to touch power.”

But Lewis Hunter Stowers III then started his transformation into Chicken Delicious. He still had the piano gigs, which he said Mr. Lukach permitted him because they brought home money. Over the years, he had kept his act simple: background music with little showmanship. After Mr. Lukach died, however, he suddenly felt like singing one night at a bar in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He did. And he liked it.

“I’d never sang before,” he said. “I stood up and sang. I sounded terrible. They laughed at me. But I was finally out of my cage.”

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from http://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/nyregion/mimis-manhattan-chicken-delicious.html

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