Howard “Guitar” Luedtke & Blue Max – By Request
False Dog Records
13 tracks – 76 minutes
Wisconsin native Howard “Guitar” Luedtke has been playing guitar since 1964 in various bands and styles. But as he moved into the 1970’s, he became fascinated by the classic blues musicians and eventually formed his own band, Blue Max. Howard has a strong reputation in the upper Midwest as one of the best guitarists around and Blue Max quickly settled in as one of the top bands in the area playing blues rock. But as usual with many bands, the original band members dropped out. Minnesota native Deb Klossner started playing in several different rock bands in southern Minnesota in 1982. In 1987, she joined Blue Max to play bass and add backing vocals. Eventually the two married and became the backbone of Blue Max with a rotating lineup of drummers that is currently filled on the album by Bill Weiss, who also adds some backing vocals. The band has had several previous album releases dating back to their first in 1992. The trio now operates out of Eau Clair, Wisconsin.
The By Request album is a live studio production of many of the songs that the band has received as requests over the years. They have a regular group of followers that make the repeated requests for certain songs at their shows. Most of the songs on the album are covers, but Howard recreates the songs to fit the band’s blues rock mold. They note that the album is exactly as you would hear the band in concert, with no overdubbing or high production.
The album opens with a hard-rocking version of The Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everyone Else”, perhaps to make a point about the direction of their music. This version is certainly their own with little that would remind about the original song. Howard’s strong vocals drives the song as well as the bombast of his guitar in an instrumental run.
The band then moves into more of a blues mode as Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” is next up with a dynamite six-minute version. That is followed by a more laidback version of Skip James’ “Look at the People Standing at Judgement” with Howard’s plaintive vocals offering a gospel feel but with his guitar ringing out. Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” is given the full blues rock mode. This grouping is rounded out by B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel” and again slows down the pace with some very tasteful guitar.
“House of the Rising Son” has been in the public domain and performed by many artists over the years including the 1964 version performed by The Animals. The seven-minute Blue Max version is given a traditional approach but with more soaring guitar work. “Thought I Heard a Train” is the sole original song on the album. Howard says he thought the “train will bring my baby back, she done left me” and he’s “been traveling, the highway has been my home”.
“The Thrill Is Gone” is best known as the hit by B.B. King, but it was originally written by Rick Darnell and Ray Hawkins and Hawkins had a hit with the song in 1951 when it reached #6 on the music charts. Howard adds his own guitar touch to the well-known song. Another B.B. King Song, “Rock Me Baby” follows with Howard’s rocking guitar having a touch of a surf sound added to his run. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking” which might have a link to Howard’s original song as it cites that “My baby has left me, taking a train and never coming home”. Howard provides some unique slide work and vibrato on this song.
“Ghost Riders In the Sky” was originally written and performed by Stan Jones in 1948. Many versions of that song have been performed over the years by Johnny Cash, The Outlaws, The Doors and many others. Here Howard uniquely blends the song with “Apache”, which was originally a hit by The Shadows in the early 60’s, into an all-instrumental version. The song “Sorrow” was originally written as hit for The McCoys in 1965. It was moved to UK where it became a hit for The Merseys in 1966 and ultimately David Bowie provided his own version in 1973. The Blue Max variant certainly feels like an older rock and roll number. The album ends with “Wildwood Flower”, which was written by A.P. Carter and most famously performed by The Carter Family in 1928 and later performed by Maybelle Carter and later still June Carter and by many folk artists over the years. Here Howard again presents an instrumental version of the song letting his guitar do all of the talking.
This is a fun album that breaches many older songs but offers an original approach that makes them immediately accessible. Howard’s vocals match well to all of the songs, but it is certainly his fine guitar work that will bring you back to the album again. And for the car enthusiasts out there, the album includes a picture of Howard’s 1957 Packard Hawk on the back cover.
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