Gene Ludwig

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Gene Ludwig Press

Gene Ludwig (Blues Leaf Records)
Review by: James Rozzi, Jazziz Magazine March 2004

During the 1960's, the popular appeal of jazz-organ groups was evident, and a cast of irrepressible B-3 bombers and tenor saxophonists spearheaded the craze "soul jazz". As time passed, some of the more talented organists began to explore tunes beyond the stereotypical funk and blues. Veteran Pittsburgh organist Ludwig is one such player, whose quartet capably moves beyond basics to cover a more sophisticated set list. With excellent sidemen in guitarist Ken Karsh, drummer Tom Wendt, and tenor saxophonist Eric DeFade, Ludwig presents a well-oiled machine that virtually drips grease, but that's a good thing. This band plays cleanly, but the human element essential to the jazz organ's blue-collar legacy is intact in all its gutsy, heartfelt glory. One of two originals, "Louie and Jazz", is a classic blues shuffle featuring very mature solos by all. Ludwig and company handle the up-tempo "Unit 7" every bit as proficiently as did Wynton Kelly and Cannonball Adderley. Interestingly, these four musicians exhibit very similar styles while soloing, with no obvious foils among them. Each man steps up to blow with a high command of his instrument, having obviously studied the masters. While Ludwig is a composite of every great jazz organist since the late '50s, Karsh's guitar seems to gravitate toward Grant Green. DeFade captures the essence of West Coast tenors Plas Johnson and Pete Christlieb. All the while, Wendt establishes a mighty groove under and exemplary group that's firmly rooted in the history of straight-ahead and bluesy B-3 jazz.

April 10, 2004

November 24, 2003

Sunday, October 26, 2003
By Nate Guidry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It had come to this for Gene Ludwig. He was only 21 and already at a significant crossroads.

So he walked to the bathroom mirror, stared intently into it and then flipped a coin. Heads, he would continue working as a civil engineer. Tails, he would pursue a career in music.

Jazz fans and musicians know what side turned up.

For nearly a half-century, they have heard Ludwig, now 66, pounding the keys of the Hammond B-3 Organ, one of the most groove-laden instruments ever to grace a jazz bandstand.

Back in '63, he recorded a 45-rpm single of "Sticks and Stones," a song made famous by Ray Charles. The single was released the same week President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Later, he worked with smooth bass-baritone vocalist Arthur Prysock, guitarist Pat Martino and Sonny Stitt, an underrated tenor saxophonist who played with terrifying fluidity.

Ludwig has flirted with stardom, never quite able to grasp it. His life has been sacrifices, road fatigue and dingy hotel rooms. He's been underrecorded and largely unappreciated outside jazz inner circles.

Still, he toils, without regrets, his bulky B-3 and Leslie tone cabinet in tow, from one gig and town to the next. The B-3 is ponderous, weighing in at around 450 pounds with two 61-note keyboards, built-in special effects and foot pedals. The Leslie weighs another 75 pounds; its rotating components produce a unique sound.

"He is legend for his musicality," said guitarist Bob DeVos from his home in West Orange, N.J. DeVos, who performed on Ludwig's 2002 "The Groove Organization," met the organist in 1969.

"Gene spent a lot of time backing up people, so he has a lot of experience. He's a great blues player, but he isn't restricted to one style. He's also a very democratic player and leader."


Ludwig was born in 1937 in Twin Rocks, a tiny coal-mining town in Cambria County. After a few years, his father took a job at Westinghouse and moved the family to Wilkinsburg and later to Swissvale. At the home in Swissvale, Ludwig started tinkering with an old piano that the previous owners had left.

"At that time, I had been listening to a lot of big band stuff ... people like Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers," said Ludwig, sitting with his wife, Pattye, in the living room of their Monroeville home. "I started messing around with the piano, and my dad asked if I wanted to take some lessons."

At age 6, Ludwig started taking lessons with Elizabeth Boose and studied with her for the next six years. He continued to practice during high school, but he discovered a broader variety of music while listening to radio legend Porky Chedwick, who was a disc jockey for WHOD in Homestead.

"I got a really good taste for R&B from Porky," said Ludwig. "He was playing a lot of Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner and organ players like Bill Doggett and Wild Bill Davis.

"The music was so different from the big band stuff I had been listening to. I just fell in love with the groove, and I started trying some of that on the piano."

In 1955, he graduated from Swissvale High School and enrolled in Edinboro State Teacher's College, where he studied physics and mathematics. After two years, he was forced to quit because money was tight and his father was on strike at Westinghouse.

He returned to Pittsburgh, where he eventually accepted a position at Fuller Construction, which was erecting several new buildings Downtown.

He eventually started performing with singing groups around town. One night, he went to the Hurricane, a Hill District nightspot, to hear organist Jimmy Smith.

The small club, owned by the late Birdie Dunlop, was famous for its Brazilian shrimp and fried chicken. Patrons came from all sides of the street -- the upper crust and the under crust, shoulder to shoulder. Bobby Layne, the former Steelers quarterback, was known to frequent the place. One night, Layne placed two crisp $100 bills in the saxophone of Big Jay McNeely as a tip.

Food and patrons aside, the Hurricane also was known for its sizzling organ groups -- jazz by Wild Bill Doggett, Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Don Patterson, Jimmy McGriff and Smith, who performed with a searing, thunderous style. |

"I'll never forget that night," said Ludwig. "I ordered chicken wings, and Jimmy got up there and started playing 'Preacher,' a Horace Silver tune, and the drummer laid down a shuffle beat. And I was so happy I threw up my arm, and one of the wings hit the ceiling and landed in my lap.

"I said 'Man! That's what I want.' I decided if I could scrounge up enough money for an organ, I would get one."

Ludwig eventually purchased a Hammond M100 organ and later a C Model.

During an Atlantic City concert in 1964, Ludwig played on the same bill with Smith, who used Ludwig's C Model. After the show, Smith thanked Ludwig and then told him he should try to get a B-3 because the C Model would work him to death.

Ludwig returned to Pittsburgh, bought a B-3 and started performing with his trio. They traveled to Count Basie's club in Harlem, the 100 Club in Cleveland and other clubs that featured the organ.

In 1969, Ludwig replaced Don Patterson in Sonny Stitt's band. The relationship lasted about a year and produced Stitt's "Night Letter," a recording on the Prestige label.

"Working with Sonny was an education," said Ludwig. "I had been playing a long time before I joined Sonny. He taught me a great deal about music, although I don't know if he knew it."


After the Stitt job ended, Ludwig returned to Pittsburgh and started working regularly with saxophonist Bill Easley and, later, Walt Maddox.

Soon, Arthur Prysock came calling, and Ludwig joined the vocalist on two separate occasions, for a year beginning in 1973 and again in 1979. It was also around this time Ludwig recorded "Now Is the Time," a funky, groove-drenched recording for Muse Records.

"The groove is where it is for me," said Ludwig. "I let loose when I hit the groove. A groove on the B-3 would be comparable to Willie Stargell hitting a home run. The sound of the instrument combined with the grease, funk and groove is such an inspirational feeling.

"The B-3 is an aggressive instrument. It doesn't matter what you play, you're going to put funk and soul into it."

Throughout the '80s and '90s, Ludwig continued to travel and work in local venues such as the Crawford Grill and James Street Tavern.

In 1997, he signed a record deal with Blues Leaf and released "Back on Track," which he followed up with "Soul Serenade," "The Groove Organization" and "Hands On," released this month.

"I can't tell you how much I learned from Gene," said 24-year-old drummer Tom Wendt, who performs on "Hands On" and started working with Ludwig while still a high school student at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

"He came up at a time when the instrument was extremely popular. He was heavily influenced by Jimmy Smith, and for me performing with him at such a young age was great because I felt I was learning from the source.

"There aren't too many guys like him left. He was extremely supportive. He gave me room to play and he never told me how to play. He's also a great human being and set a great example for me."

Back in his living room, Ludwig crosses his legs before sipping from a cup of water. He thinks of that night at the Hurricane and wonders whether it's been worth it.

"I've had some good times and some lean ones," he said. "Sometimes I didn't know where my next dollar was going to come from. But I would never trade it for all the money in the world."


from The Baltimore Sun, The Baltimore Weekly, and their on-line newspaper. The Baltimore City Paper will run in a special column on out of town musicians performing the the City of Baltimore.

Jazz Organ Master, GENE LUDWIG, will be appearing with his trio at the New Haven Lounge in Baltimore on Sunday, October 26 from 4PM to 7:30 PM. The trio features fellow Bluesleaf recording artists BOB DEVOS on guitar and VINCE ECTOR on drums, both from New Jersey. All 3 musicians have just released new CD's with Bluesleaf Records and will have copies for sale at the concert. With a forty-five year professional career, Pittsburgh based Hammond B-3 Master, GENE LUDWIG, has released a new CD every other year since 1998, totaling 17 as a leader.

He has worked with ARTHUR PRYSOCK and has played and recorded with PAT MARTINO, SONNY STITT, and RED HOLLOWAY-PLAS JOHNSON, and has a new release due out in 2004 with JIMMY PONDER. His most recent effort is CD "THE GROOVE ORGANIZATION" with BOB DEVOS and BILLY JAMES. His next release "HANDS ON" is scheduled for Oct.2003.

He has collaborated often with fellow B3 organists JACK McDUFF and JOEY DeFRANCESCO.. He has been and will continue to be one of this country's most passionate exponents of Jazz Organ; "I have an A-100 Hammond in my game room and I keep five B-3's in my garage... I'm ready to go when I get my calls". In a May 2001 profile, JAZZIS hailed him as the "finest mainstream jazz organ player alive."

Guitarist-composer-arranger BOB DEVOS has been recently anointed as "the thinking man's guitar hero" in ALLABOUTJAZZ. BOB has played and recorded with Hammond B3 Organ legends CHARLES EARLAND, JIMMY McGRIFF-HANK CRAWFORD, RICHARD "Groove" HOLMES-SONNY STITT, JOEY DeFRANCESCO, and DR. LONNIE SMITH, among others. Active on the NYC scene, BOB can also be heard as a regular member of legendary bassist RON McCLURE'S forward thinking quartet and in duo with MIKE RICHMOND, as well as heading his own quartet. His debut CD BREAKING THE ICE (Savant) with CHARLES EARLAND garnered rave reviews.

His current CDs include KEEPERS OF THE FLAME: THE CHARLES EARLAND TRIBUTE BAND (HighNote), a top ten airplay release and the well received MATCH POINT (Ron McClure Qt.-Steeplechase) which features his compositions. His newest release is "DEVOS' GROOVE GUITAR" with GENE LUDWIG and BILLY JAMES. There are a lot of prominent jazz drummers that hail from Philadelphia, now you can add VINCE ECTOR to that list as well.

In his years on the scene in Philadephia and now New York, ECTOR has worked with BOBBY WATSON, JIMMY BRUNO, FREDDIE HUBBARD, GLORIA LYNNE, ERIC ALEXANDER and many others. But his main influence was family friend MICKEY ROKER, in fact Philadelphia is the fuel to the spark that ignites his new CD "VINCE ECTOR, RHYTHM MASTER". It is obvious how ECTOR feels about his musical home, when you discover that the entire rhythm secion of his CD hails from Philadelphia.

Come enjoy some hot, swinging jazz and great food at the NEW HAVEN LOUNGE, 1552 Havenwood Rd., Baltimore (410-366-7416) on Sunday, October 26 from 4PM to 7:30PM. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door and there will be a complimentary buffet.

By Bill Milkowski


OFF THE BANDSTAND, he hardly looks the part. The dress shirt and square-knotted tie, the neatly pressed slacks, wide-rimmed glasses and patriarchal demeanor suggest an upright, solid citizen-possibly a Midwestern high school principal or bank president.

And yet, when Gene Ludwig sits behind the hulking Hammond B-3 organ, he is instantly transformed. To witness this straitlaced 65-year-old white man wailing with such bluesy authority on Joe Henderson's "Step Lightly" or laying down such a greasy groove on "One Mint Julep" is a momentarily disorienting experience. The juxtaposition of image and sound presents a befuddling dichotomy: High school principals and bank presidents aren't supposed to be this baaaad.

Perhaps Ludwig's genial demeanor and conservative attire has gotten in the way of him becoming as widely recognized and regularly recorded as some of his organ-playing colleagues. From a purely musical standpoint, he is certainly on par with the best of the bona fide B-3 burners and has been for over four decades. And yet, the Pittsburgh native had been overlooked for session work and largely ignored by the labels over the past 30 years.

"It's the old story of 'out of sight, out of mind," says renowned producer, soul-jazz expert and B-3 maven Bob Porter. "That's a rule for anybody who deals in jazz. If you don't hear anything from a guy for a certain length of time, and there's no opportunity to see him, how the hell are you supposed to stay up with him? I mean, no one's giving you a round-trip plane ticket to Pittsburgh to go hear Gene Ludwig."

Porter had worked with Ludwig back in 1969 on a Sonny Stitt recording he produced for Prestige. As he recalls, "Stitt worked trios in those years, most of the time with (organist) Don Patterson and (drummer) Billy James. But I went to see him at a joint in Montclair (New Jersey) called the Spearington House, and he had Gene with him on organ and Randy Gillespie on drums. And I just thought it sounded really good-more inspired than Stitt had been with Patterson, not to say that he and Patterson hadn't inspired each other for long periods of time. But based on the last time I had heard them together, it was getting a little tired. And seeing him with Gene-it sounded terrific."

Porter promptly booked the trio (plus guest guitarist Pat Martino) for the Prestige studio session that resulted in Night Letter. following a year of road-work with Stitt, Ludwig would return to Pittsburgh and during the '70s hook up with singer Arthur Prysock for two separate stints-one from 1973 to '74 and the other from 1978 to '79. The organist recorded his first session as a leader in 1980 for Muse (Now's The Time with local Pittsburghers George Green on tenor sax, Kwasi Jayourba on percussion, Tom Soisson on drums and Larry McGee on guitar) but by and large remained "out of sight, out of mind" in Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, his reputation flourished through the '80s and '90s.

"I've always relied on a loose-knit network of guys who get around and see different organ players, and word usually gets back to me." says Porter. "And everything that ever came back about Gene Ludwig was always positive. And I wasn't really surprised because I figured he was good enough to probably work around Pittsburgh and not have to travel.

And sometimes that makes a difference. To a certain extent if you are a local musician, you're either so good that you're always working or you're not good enough to travel. There's no real middle ground. And Gene is just one of these guys who is so good, and his reputation is so strong around Pittsburgh, that he really didn't have to come out that much. I'm sure he didn't (leave Pittsburgh) all that frequently."

In recent years, Ludwig has been mounting something of a comeback, at least in terms of visibility beyond his own hometown turf of Pittsburgh. In 1997, Joe Morabia of Blues Leaf signed the underrecognized B-3 veteran to a deal that saw the release of Back on the Track that year. It sold well enough to merit a follow-up, 2000's Soul Serenade, which led to appearances in the New York and New Jersey area. Ludwig's most recent release, 2002's The Groove ORGANization, has been garnering substantial radio play in that same East Coast market. Jack Kreisberg, who books talent for the Blue Note nightclub in New York, brought Ludwig to Morabia's attention and ultimately served as producer of those sessions for Blues Leaf: "I wanted to get him a little more visibility and exposure, as a friend and as someone who appreciates his talent." he says. "The combination of his technique and his timing and his soulfulness is what got me about Gene. He's not about showing off his chops as opposed to just dealing with the music. a lot of people are into that attitude of 'Look, I can play all these notes.' But Gene is not that much concerned about that. He's more concerned with the groove and the feel of the music and whatever it takes to enhance that. And he knows how to lay back, which a lot of people don't do. Of the organ players who were around, I didn't see anybody, outside of Joey DeFrancesco, who was of that kind of caliber and who really understood the instrument as much as he does."

Porter, who had been hip to Ludwig's singular talent for some 30 years, ended up calling on the organist once again for a Plas Johnson/Red Holloway session he produced in 2001 for Milestone entitled Keep That Groove Going! As he recalls, "A few years ago at one of the Newark Organ jams, Gene came down and just smoked the place out. Nobody even came close, and Jimmy McGriff was on the bill that day! And you know, I was very, very impressed. It kind of reaffirmed everything I had been hearing from other people about how great Gene was sounding. The Pittsburgh guys always raved about him and I filed it away as a mental note. And when I got a chance to hear him at the organ jam, (I realized) they were right. So I brought Gene in on that session with Plas and Red, which also had Kenny Washington on drums and Melvin Sparks on guitar. Gene came in and worked with four guys he had never played with before but he was ready and he was prepared. They couldn't throw anything at him that he couldn't handle, which was really wonderful. That's what you want in a sideman. I think his own solos were terrific and his accompaniment was fine. I was very happy with how he played on that session."

Porter regards Ludwig as a consummate pro. As he put it, "Gene is, in my estimation, a real jazz organ player from the old school. He puts it right down the middle. And for my money, he's playing better now than ever."

To hear the Ludwig today conjuring up soulful, rig-and-greens-eating anthems on the bandstand is to experience one of the masters of 'the Beast' at the top of his game. A natural blues and bop player, his nimble right-hand flights are expertly anchored by some of the most solidly insistent grooves in the business. Adept at the long-lost art of bass pedals, Ludwig often doubles the low end with left-hand bass lines to fatten the groove while remaining purely liberated with his right-hand flourishes.

Accompanied on The Groove ORGANization by guitarist Bob DeVos, a sideman for such legendary B-3 burners as Charles "The Mighty Burner" Earland and Richard "Groove" Holmes, and the great drummer Billy James, whose loose, flexible shuffle beat made him the drummer of choice during the '60s for the likes of organist Don Patterson and saxophonist Booker Ervin, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Houston Person, Ludwig wails with impunity on such soulful vehicles as Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", Miles Davis' "All Blues" and Tyrone Smith's "Chitlins Con Carne".

He burns through Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" and swings briskly through a jaunty reading of the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn standard "It's You or No One". And on lush ballads like Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" or the standard "You've Changed", he ladles on rich timbres and thick chordal voicings to set a dramatic and appropriately melancholy mood.

Ludwig began piano lessons in 1943 and, at the urging of his mother, began pursuing a classical path. All that changed in 1957 when he witnessed a Jimmy Smith performance at the Hurricane in his hometown. "I was so struck by his greatness that that's when I decided that's what I wanted to do", he recalls.

The nascent organist bought his first Hammond B-3 in 1958 and began the life of a traveling musician in 1960. Early on he worked in Earland's band before "The Mighty Burner" switched to organ from tenor saxophone. He also worked regularly around the Pittsburgh area, leading his own trio on jazz and R&B gigs at places like the Hurricane and the Crawford Grill. In 1963, he made his recording debut for Atlantic. His 45-rpm single, an instrumental version of Titus Turner's "Sticks and Stones", which had been a gigantic hit the year before for Ray Charles, was released during a memorable week in November that year. "I'll never forget", says Ludwig. "I was playing at the Shanty in Boston the week my record was released. And that same week, President John Kennedy was assassinated."

All through the '60s, Ludwig worked a circuit of black clubs and was universally accepted by the clientele. As he recalls, "It was beautiful. I didn't encounter any problems at all. I was up there playing and we always got return invites to all these places-the Hubbub in Indianapolis, the Key Club in Newark, Count Basie's in Harlem, Lennie's on the Turnpike and the Shanty in Boston. The people liked us."

Following the release of Keep That Groove Going! and The Groove ORGANization, Ludwig has seen a flurry of recorded activity, including a project for guitarist Bob DeVos on New Note, a recording with guitarist Jimmy Ponder for HighNote and one with trumpeter Mac Gollehan for New Note, all of which are due out in early 2003.

Meanwhile, the man who looks like a high school principal but "kicks the 3" like the baddest of the burners continues to make semi-regular appearances at the Blue Note in New York and Las Vegas and at Trumpets in New Jersey.

In assessing his own talent, Ludwig says, "I think swinging is my strongest thing-being able to sit down and swing and groove. I've just had a natural affinity for those rhythms ever since I first sat down at the piano. I guess it's like riding a bicycle. Once you get the feel of it, you never forget how."

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