Old Man Luedecke makes banjo cool

California: the land of palm trees, year-round heat and sunshine. At least that’s what you would like to believe when you are in the middle of a wet and mostly dreary Atlantic Canadian spring.

When speaking with the Times & Transcript earlier this week from California, Chris “Old Man” Luedecke had just wrapped up playing a trio of shows at the Strawberry Music Festival, located in the mountains bordering Yosemite National Park. Contrary to the ideal weather that people on the Atlantic Coast might be inclined to think Californians live with daily, Luedecke says the weather in California isn’t all what it is cracked up to be, at least not that he has seen.

“It actually snowed in the mountains while I was there,” Luedecke says from San Francisco. “The weather had been so bad at home, I figured that California was going to be great in comparison but in truth, San Francisco is not a whole lot warmer. It is not at all what you think of when you think of California.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Ludecke admits he “bounced around” a few areas of the country including Montreal and Yukon before he and his wife settled in Chester, N.S. Growing up, Luedecke says that he listened to music that he considered to be typical for a teen but leaned towards “outside” musical tastes such as classical and jazz music when in high school.

“I always enjoyed pipe bands and a couple of folk shows that I would hear on CBC,” he says.

Luedecke’s love affair with the banjo began on a whim. Contrary to some musicians that might have started on guitar or another instrument and made the banjo a secondary instrument, the banjo was the first instrument that Luedecke picked up.

“I liked the sound of the instrument; it always stood out to me. I thought it was thrilling and really enjoyed the rhythm of it. I have always felt as though the banjo occupies its own sonic space.

“Plus I never felt that I had the ego for rock music, so the banjo was definitely appropriate for me,” Luedecke jokes. “I always felt as though it was a neglected instrument.”

Once he had picked up and learned the instrument, he insists that he got serious about it rather quickly. After getting university out of the way, Luedecke says that he was looking for a worthwhile means of expression and ended up finding that in the banjo.

“I probably wanted to make a living playing the banjo before I could even tune it. It took me a while to catch up to where I needed to be. Ultimately, I was looking for a means of expression and the banjo was where what I needed to say met up with music.”

Considering Luedecke is a relatively young 35 years old however, one has to wonder: how exactly did he end up earning the “Old” moniker?

“I had a job in Halifax and was outright obsessed with the banjo,” he relates. “A co-worker started calling me Old Man, imagining me as a crazy old kook 20 years down the road. The name just ended up sticking. I thought it was more interesting than going by my own name was and found that it really suits the style of music I play.”

Old Man or not, Ludecke’s simple, heartfelt songs have clearly resonated with the public. Not only is the musician’s name growing at home and abroad, he is already the proud recipient of two Juno Awards, Canada’s equivalent to the prestigious Grammy Awards. Luedecke earned his first Juno in 2009 for his sophomore record Proof of Love while his most recent win this past April comes courtesy of his last record My Hands Are On Fire and Other Love Songs.

He insists however that getting his music out to the masses is his primary concern at the present time, not adhering to a set schedule of bi-annual record releases just because it is viewed as the “norm”.

“At the end of the day, I want to have songs that I can sing and play for people now. That is what I am living for. I am not reliant upon making a record and then learning how to play the songs live, I would rather do things the opposite way.”

Luedecke says that due to his hectic tour schedule that has seen him play throughout Canada, he hasn’t dedicated as much time as he would like to write new material. And with twin babies due next month, he is unsure about whether that will change the pace of his writing for the better or not. “I really don’t know what to expect,” he laughs. “I’m really excited about it though. I’m sure that it will prove to be an incredibly inspirational experience for me.”

Article published in June 3, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript