There was a time, long, long ago, when the banjo ruled the bandstand. Its bright, percussive tones cut through the swell of horns and the din of the saloon in a way that its quieter six-string cousin couldn’t possibly compete with. Then valve-state technology and electric amplification changed everything forever. Still, the anxious tones of the banjo continue to persist and inspire. “Even played badly, I love the banjo,” says Old Man Luedecke the humble, East Coast picker known to his friends and family as simply “Chris.”
“I remember hearing it in a Bug’s Bunny cartoon at a very early age,” he continues. “It was something that always sort of leapt out as being kind of a neat, electrifying acoustic sound that gave me and still gives me a feeling unlike any other sound I’ve heard. It seemed really foreign and it had this really sort of crunchy, exciting sound.”
Luedecke did not immediately pursue the pathway to deliverance. It wasn’t until years later, in the wilds of the Yukon, that the banjo once again called to him. “I really discovered it the age of 22. I thought, ‘That’s a sound I could sort of get into.’” Luedecke had studied prose and poetry in university and played the clarinet, but songwriting was a form he had yet to explore.
“This is a place where words make sense,” he says. “It seemed like it was a perfect harness. I had to learn how to play the banjo, but in terms of what I was trying to get across, it seemed like an exhilarating thing for me. The banjo just became a sort of magic outlet for all this energy I had.”
Luedecke released his indie debut in 2003 and hooked up with Steve Dawson and Black Hen Music in 2006. The collaboration with Dawson has worked out rather well. “There’s a sound with me that Steve is very good at getting — he’s just been very good at getting that thing that I do and not drowning it with other things,” Luedecke says. The pair’s 2008 recording, Proof of Love, took the Juno for Best Roots Solo Album.
The cover art for the brand new record, My Hands are on Fire and Other Love Songs, features a winged Luedecke soaring Icarus-like into the blazing sun. It furthers the timely troubadour legacy Luedecke’s been steadily building. It’s Luedecke’s unique ability to tell 21st-century stories in the time-honoured form that separates him from other, more traditional traditionalists.
“I really love these old archival folk recordings,” he says. “There’s something really pure and un-egotistical about them that leaves me room to express myself in it and then I can update it to an ongoing development of my ability to express myself musically.”
While Luedecke’s last two releases feature backing by some of the West Coast’s finest, audiences for the upcoming tour will get the pure, solo experience that Luedecke has built into an ever-growing following. “The thing is, I’m kind of addicted to the energy that I get when I get in front of an audience,” he explains. “It’s kind of like being dropped into a tank of cold water, even if they already sort of like you to start with. Solo players have to get what [others] would get from their side players or backing musicians, we have to get from the audience. It’s a tremendous amount of energy you have to put out.”
Still young (with an old soul, as they say), this old man is unlikely to burn out or fade away, any time soon. “I’m no hipster in any kind of way,” Luedecke says. “Doing what I do, it’s more about a steady build. You don’t call yourself Old Man Luedecke and expect to be famous overnight.”