Old Man Luedecke loves life. That’s about the long and short of it. If you take anything away from this piece, I’d prefer it if you think of Nova Scotia’s favorite singin’ banjo man as a guy who really digs living. And playing his banjo. Perhaps the most content guy in the world, Luedecke (who goes by Chris when he isn’t Old Man) sings songs about doing things that make you happy, such as playing his banjo and living well. First thing in my interview with him he starts raving about this “beautiful lunch” he just had, marveling about it he is. That’s right, he is wistful about lunch.
There aren’t many solo banjo players around – at least in my many years, I haven’t encountered too many, and I am a man who loves banjo, especially when it’s allowed to take the forefront of a piece – so when I first saw Old Man Luedecke (I quite figuratively stumbled into the middle of his set) just shredding banjo by himself, stomping his feet and grinning wildly: magic. This guy loves banjo more than most people like air.
“It [banjo] is a sound that I found thrilling and didn’t know much about – certainly didn’t know anybody that played much and just thought that the sound of it could move me in such a way that when I hear it and think “that… that sounds cool.” So then I found pretty quickly that if you want to tell stories or tell stories about your life or sing about anything really, the banjo is kind of a good propulsion for songs. It keeps things moving, it’s very rhythmic, it’s perfect for language.”
A resident of the village of Chester, Nova Scotia, where he lives with his sculptor wife, Old Man Luedecke has gained a reputation across the country for his riveting playing, distinctive voice and literate but humble songwriting prowess, to say little of his live performance which is one of the better one man gigs going in Canada or otherwise. He’s lived all over the country, and toured it extensively; he once lived in Vancouver for six months by accident (whatever that means) and is completely nonchalant about it. As a result he speaks of Canada with almost ferocious excitement and reverence.
“I’m into it. I have been quite interested in Pierre Berton books and all of the stuff that’s just – I tend to be, on average, about forty to fifty years behind the times at any given time when it comes to my interests. Like when Margaret Atwood was building up Canada like it was a real nationalist movement and there was a lot of Canadian writers and painters and such in the middle of the last century doing that. I really hate the “I AM CANADIAN” view of nationalism; you know, that beer can version, the sort of meathead, pseudo-American impersonations of what it is to be proud of your country.
“But I’m actually pretty starry-eyed about the space and the more I travel, the more I realize how much room we have. I think that’s a really exciting thing about our country and so many people have tried to tackle the space and that identity and now it just doesn’t seem important. I think most people have moved on and see that the cities are the key to understanding our national culture. And that’s fair, but I’m quite romantic for the part that people made when they decided that Canada was a good place to be. I like that.”
Being proud creator of three full-length albums, Mole in the Ground (2004), Hinterland (2006), and Proof of Love (2008), and the survivor of several years’ hard touring, you might very correctly expect an earnest folk troubadour to savor thoroughly his small pleasures. And indeed, his village life in Chester and the small moments in life are exactly where this particular folk troubadour draws much of his inspiration. His decidedly non-flashy and instantly hummable songs are completely stuffed full of life and joy in both their simple but memorable melodies and in Luedecke’s lively, introspective lyricism.
“There is a distinct theme on Proof of Love of hope in the face of fear; a lot of the songs are very optimistic and a lot of the songs come as expressions of great joy in spite of… I think the songs work because they are optimistic without being afraid to embrace the dark side a little bit. Also, the banjo is a really good and upbeat thing, so it does tend to keep things pretty up and then I can sing the darker stuff underneath it and it works.”
It is indeed all of this that has garnered him a surprisingly strong following across the country, not to mention critical acclaim and a host of awards to adorn his probably extremely rustic-looking mantle with, though he is surely more likely to keep his trinkets in a box hidden somewhere. Regardless, he is certainly excited for his success and I don’t believe that there are too many people that would ever wish anything but for this wonderfully talented songwriter.
“Well, I’m right into it. It was always going to be an uphill battle with what I do, so it’s nice when people are saying that they’re into it. And it’s funny, because you always think that what you do isn’t that out there, but on the other hand, there aren’t a lot of solo banjo players in Canada that are out there writing songs and paying close attention to what they’re saying in their tunes – I might actually be the only one. So it is a bit weird, but then you see people really liking the songs and singing along. I really like that.”