Monday, July 26, 2010

The Complete Vinyl Discography of Gene Ludwig

A few years back, circa 2005 I suppose, a fellow station member at WRCT booked Gene Ludwig to play at CMU. I'd never met Gene before, but I owned several of his records and I knew that he'd also grown up in Swissvale (actually more like Regent Square, but we had the same zip code anyhow). Later that week I met him and heard him play live for the first time. I soon became acquainted with Gene's wife Pattye who maintains his website and emails. Pattye was excellent at promoting Gene's gigs, so I would try to see him when he was bringing out his Hammond B3. I loved watching him play it and when someone's hauling out a dresser-sized organ with the accompanied leslie amp, at the age of 70 no less, you feel a certain obligation to stop by for a drink and support them. I've always had an interest in local records and in February 2004 I started interviewing some of the artists who made them. I suppose it was in 2006 that I inquired about doing an interview with Gene and discussing his discography. He was into it. Sadly, Gene passed away earlier this month before anything came of our conversations. I found Gene to be truly inspirational. He  managed to spend his entire life doing what he loved, something that's a lot easier said than done. And he did most of it right here in Pittsburgh.

The liner notes of his 1980 album, Now’s The Time, quote Gene Ludwig “I play organ because I love it, and the people I play for love it. And I play it in Pittsburgh because my family and my roots are there.” Ludwig is just one of the army of musicians who have contributed to this city’s rich musical heritage, but without his contributions we’d be short on a very interesting chapter in the history book.

Gene Ludwig began playing the piano in the first grade. He was already playing in clubs before he graduated from Swissvale High School in 1955. Like many Pittsburghers of his day he was highly influenced by the R&B and, what was then referred to as, Rock 'n' Roll sounds that dominated the local airwaves. “I started my club playing ... gee, I think I was maybe a sophomore or a junior. I was playing at a little bar in Swissvale, on Woodstock. Toto’s Hotel ... It’s a big lot now.” One fateful night in 1957 brought a young, impressionable Gene Ludwig to the culturally rich, inner-city neighborhood of Pittsburgh known as the Hill District. “I was working with a singing group called the Hi-fi’s. It was an integrated group and one of the fellas said ‘Come on, we’re going to the Hurricane.’ There was an organist down there who I had heard of on the radio. So we went down and there it was, The Hurricane. And that was my introduction to the Hill. I was so at awe, so to speak, and it was Jimmy Smith and I had heard him play for the first time. I was like ‘This is where I hang from now on.’ And that was the start of it.”

Ludwig was converted from pianist to aspiring-organist that evening. It's important to note that the organ wasn't typically considered a jazz instrument at this point. Jimmy Smith was doing something brand new and unprecedented. Over the course of the next five years Ludwig traveled a road that led him to become one of Smith's contemporaries. And it was then in the early sixties that Gene Ludwig began his recording career as a jazz organist.









“Gospel Goodness” Pt. 1 b/w Pt. 2 (1962 LaVere, JP-194)
“Mr. Fink” Pt. I b/w Part II (1962 LaVere, JP-210)


“I think I did the first one around ’62. It was at Duquesne who had a jazz band under the direction of Paul Hubinon. Joe Kennedy did the arranging. (It was) a company here, LaVere Records that we recorded for. They were down on Fort Pitt Boulevard. So they recorded me with the big band and we came out with a record called ‘Gospel Goodness.’ It was really nice. It sold a few, but unfortunately I got a call from Bill Powell who was with WAMO at the time when they were still in Homestead. He said ‘We have a little problem and we won’t be able to play it.’ I think there was a problem with the title, but we did get some play and we sold a few.”

LaVere released Ludwig's sophomore recording later that year. This time he was joined by his band mates, Jerry Byrd (guitar) and Randy Gelispie (drums). It was the debut recording of the Gene Ludwig Trio, titled “Mr. Fink.” Unlike the previous record with the big band, this was more indicative of what he had been doing in the clubs.

Gene formed a rapport with Billy Driscoll at LaVere Records. Driscoll was instrumental in accelerating his career. “He sort of took me under his wing. They (LaVere) had a couple of guys there that had the money, but they weren’t interested in putting the time into promotions so of course the label suffered. I wasn’t signed with them. I had like a two record deal. Billy said ‘C’mon, let’s go knock on some doors in New York. So we started fooling around in New York and I started working around that area. Doing things in Newark, New Jersey. We went into see Nesuhi and Ahmet (Erteg√ľn), who were brothers, and Jerry Wexler. They owned Atlantic. He (Driscoll) made arrangements for Nesuhi to come over to Newark to hear us play. They liked what we did, and we went into the studio and the first record I did for Atlantic was ‘Sticks and Stones.’”











“Sticks and Stones” Part I b/w Part II (1963 Atlantic, 5034) 

So at this point Ludwig’s been recording for approximately one year and he’s already aligned with one of the most powerful labels of its day, or any other day for that matter. The home of Ray Charles and future home of Aretha Franklin, who's jazz roster boasted the likes of popular sellers including Herbie Mann and The Modern Jazz Quartet to name a few. Unfortunately Gene's relationship with the label was in jeopardy before his six month contract was up. Atlantic had reneged on their agreement and Ludwig insisted that they fullfil their obligations. He referred to this as “one of the biggest blunders of my career.”

“They released ‘Sticks and Stones’ and that did very well. I did ‘Sticks and Stones’ and then ‘High Heeled Sneakers’ was the follow up on it and they never released it. We did that and there was a B side on it. They just laid on it and it came time to sign again. We went up to negotiate and Nesuhi said to me ‘Well, you sign another contract and we’ll release this record.’ And I said ‘No man.’ I signed for six months and they were supposed to release the second 45 at the tail end of the six months. That was our deal. I said ‘You release this record as promised and I’ll sign.’ So that’s where we left it. It was kind of a catch twenty-two. So maybe if I would’ve signed ... who knows? That was forty years ago.”


In addition to the unreleased single there’s also an album worth of material featuring a young Pittsburgh saxophonist by the name of Eric Kloss. This predates Kloss' releases on Prestige. “At that period I was at Count Basie’s club up in Harlem. I was working there and Alton Kloss brought his son up from Pittsburgh, Eric Kloss. Eric was like 16 years old and he had been coming up to the Hurricane and different places and sitting in with various groups around Pittsburgh. I get this phone call at the hotel and it was Dr. Kloss and he says ‘Eric and I are in town. We understand that you’re at Basie’s. Is it okay if I brought Eric up and he played?’ So he brought Eric up and Billy Driscoll got this idea, so he called up the Erteg√ľns right away and he says ‘We got this kid in town. Can we come up and do a session?’ So we went in and we did. I don’t know how much we recorded or what tunes we recorded. At that time you could get like maybe thirty to forty-five minutes on an LP. It took us about forty minutes. And that got shelved. I would love to hear those sessions. I’ve never heard them since the playback.’











Organ Out Loud (1963 Mainstream, S/6032)
later repackaged as The Hot Organ (1967 Time, S/2199)
”House of the Rising Sun” b/w “Blues For Mister Fink” (1964 Mainstream, 601)


After Atlantic, Ludwig quickly signed another deal with Mainstream Records. “Bobby Shad came to Atlantic City. I had a chance to sign with Scepter/Wand. That was Chuck Jackson and Dionne Warwick on that label, the big pop label. Me and Billy went up to sign a contract and everybody was out to lunch, so Billy says ‘Come on, let’s go over and talk to Bob Shad.’ It was all in Manhattan, so we hopped in a cab and we went across town and he was in. So we signed a contract and that’s who we went with. I had two options that day.”

The first release on Mainstream was the Gene Ludwig Trio’s debut LP, Organ Out Loud, which was later repackaged as The Hot Organ on sister label, Time Records. “Back in those days, especially with Bobby Shad, he would get the last oink out of a release. He would repackage it on a value label. Maybe you get it for a buck and a half or something like that. But that’s what he’s famous for ... repackaging. I think I had maybe a year’s contract with them and the contract ran its course.”


Before the contract was up the trio released a single featuring two non-album tracks. The A side being “House Of The Rising Sun,” backed with a revisited version of their debut recording titled “Blues For Mister Fink.” "I think we went in the studio and we did the album first. He (Bob Shad) was originally with Mercury Records in the R&B part of Mercury. He did the marketing thing for them and he had a big love for R&B. So he knew all of the jocks from around the country that were playing that sort of music. So one guy out in San Francisco said ‘If you can get Gene to record "The House Of The Rising Sun" by the Animals maybe we can get it on the charts out here.’ So anyway we went in the studio and I don’t know, it just didn’t take off."





“Walk on the Wild Side” b/w “Birdie’s Blues” (1964 D.D. Productions, 77-011)   

By the end of ’64 Ludwig returned home from New York. He was tired of the business practices of the big labels and he was back on the scene in Pittsburgh. His next release was a live recording cut at Birdie Dunlap’s now-legendary Hurricane club in the Hill District. The same club where it all began, where he first heard Jimmy Smith and became inspired to play to the Hammond organ.


All of the records in Gene Ludwig's discography have more or less become obscure, but this particular release tops them all.
“That was released in ’64. I completely forgot about that.” Ludwig recalled only a few details. The bold type face on the label reads “Cut Live at the Hurricane – Pittsburg.” If Pittsburgh wasn't misspelled one may assume that they were pressing these discs in a back room at the venue. The A side is the theme from the Columbia Pictures film Walk On The Wild Side and the B side is a bluesy ballad dedicated to Mrs. Dunlap titled “Birdie’s Blues.” Two minutes and forty seconds in it’s entirety, it fades out slowly before it really has a chance to develop. Sadly there's very little documentation of the Hurricane, but these live recordings are soundscapes that allow the listener to imagine what that room may have been like nearly fifty years ago.










“The Vamp” b/w  “Deep Purple” (1965 Travis, TR-033)        
The Educated Sound of Gene Ludwig LP (1965 Travis, LP-707)  
“Soul Mountain” b/w “My Blue Heaven” (1966 Travis, TR-038)  
 


One night during a gig at the Hurricane Ludwig was approached by Travis Klein. Klein was a young entrepreneur who ran a local one-stop with his father. Their distributor branched out into a label, Travis Records. They recorded musicians who traveled through Pittsburgh and released singles by Johnny Lytle and Eddie Chamblee. Ludwig recalls the likes of Grant Green, and Larry Young recording for them as well. “Travis came to see us play and he said ‘Me and my dad have a one-stop right up the street.’ He said ‘If you aren’t signed with anybody we might be able to record and release some stuff.’ So we went up there and struck a deal.”

The deal resulted in the release of two singles and the Gene Ludwig Trio’s second full-length, The Educated Sound of Gene Ludwig. “I did two (singles). ‘The Vamp’ and then we followed it up with ‘Soul Mountain.’” The former, “The Vamp” included the B side “Deep Purple” both of which appear on the LP. “Soul Mountain” which is another original composition by Joe Kennedy III (who also wrote "Gospell Goodness") was backed with a rendition of “My Blue Heaven.” “That was a different session. They wanted another 45, but they didn’t want to spring for a whole album. We did 45’s. They were in with all the jukebox vendors. Itsy Klein and Travis, they sold a lot of product. They were handling the Prestige line I think and maybe the Blue Note line.”







This Is Gene Ludwig LP (1965 GeLu, GL 1415)
“Chittlin' Juice” Pt. I b/w Pt. II (1965 GeLu, GL001)
 

Pittsburgh and the surrounding tri-state areas are what Ludwig referred to as his “meat and potatoes.” Eager to continue recording, but reluctant to take the routes he already traveled, he started GeLu Records. “I was sort of tired of major labels. Of course I would be paid for the sessions, but I was supposed to be getting royalties from these companies. Even Atlantic ... my statements ... you'd laugh at them.”

GeLu Records was formed with the help of Gene’s manager Billy Driscoll. It was a two-man operation with no distribution outside of a local record store chain by the name of National Record Mart (commonly thought to be the nation's first record store chain). ”We didn’t really have the money to get into it with the promotions and this and that. So I said ‘If we can sell enough product here in the tri-state area to at least get my investment back ...’ I did that with the help of Jason Shapiro, who was the president of the National Record Mart chain. He didn't invest but he bought product off of me directly. It wasn't on consignment. He paid me right on the barrel for all of my product. As a rule in the record business, ever since day one, everything's been sold on consignment. If it sells then they'll re-order it and then they'll pay, 90 days same as cash. So he paid me right then and there, so I thank him for that. They had like forty outlets and the records got out. I think they had a few stores in West Virginia, maybe Wheeling, Stubenville. They were strong man, very strong. I did get some airplay here in Pittsburgh, but there weren't too many jazz stations at that time. I think WAMO was about the only one.”

This Is Gene Ludwig is a six-cut LP featuring what Ludwig describes as ”the stuff that works in the clubs.” After the LP came “Chittlin’ Juice” parts I & II, which is a greasy soul jazz original that swings along with the best of them. 




 








“Mother Blues” b/w “Blue Flame” (1967 Jocida, C-303)   

Another contender for the most obscure piece in the Gene Ludwig discography came circa 1967 courtesy of Johnny "I Can See Clearly Now" Nash. “We did one record, ‘Mother Blues’ on Joda (Jocida). Joda was New York. That was Johnny Nash and Danny Simms. Danny was more or less Johnny's manager and they formed this label. You know Johnny and Dan ... Joda. They were recruiting talent, so we went in and talked and recorded this one piece for them.” Nash and Simms actually formed three sister labels, which were Joda, Jocida (the label that Gene’s 45 was released on), and Jomada who coincidentally released a 45 by another Pittsburgh artist, Johnny Daye. The trio of label's roster also included a young, pre-"I Will Survive" Gloria Gaynor.


Ludwig’s recollections of this date were less than vivid. He recalls that Jerry Byrd, and perhaps Randy Gelispie, had some involvement. He did remember details about the producer of the record, Arthur Jenkins, bringing in some session musicians. “Well actually the producer put me with Bernard Purdie. Him and I, and they put a vibe player in there. Maybe Jerry was on there. I can’t remember really. He’s on one of the sides. He may be on both sides. I remember Purdie carried a sign. “The Hit Maker.” He’d put it in front of the bass drum. He had a nickname back then, Pretty Boy Purdie.” The Jocida single is a definite departure from Ludwig's previous recordings. "Mother Blues" has a strong late sixties pop sensibility and the upbeat groove drumming is very much indicative of Bernard Purdie's signature style. Meanwhile the B side, "Blue Flame"
melds the Hammond together with vibraphone and percussion. Its exotic mid-tempo melody is just short of hypnotic.
 










Sonny Stitt Night Letter LP (1969 Prestige, 7759)
 
Gene only recorded once more before the sixties ended. He was touring with Sonny Stitt, who used him and Randy Gelispi on his Night Letter album. This session was recorded by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder and released on Prestige Records in 1970. We didn't speak extensively about this session, but
up until a few years ago Gene was still using the same organ, which is scarred with marks where Stitt would leave his burning cigarettes. This is hysterical seeing as Stitt held a lit cigarette on virtually every one of his album covers, including Night Letter. “We did that in 1969. Me and Randy Gelispie were traveling with him and Bob Porter. He caught us in Newark and he liked the band so we went into the studio. Sonny was signed with Prestige at the time. He could have used anybody he wanted, but he chose me and Randy. So we went in and he brought Pat (Martino) up from Philadelphia. I think it was a good date.“











“My Way” Part I b/w Part II (1971 Steel City Records, SC-0002)

           
Ludwig’s next recording came in 1971. It was a funky, upbeat version of Paul Anka’s “My Way." “I’d become friends with Steve Walker who was the engineer for Steel City. He knew my work and he said ‘Come on in the studio. It won’t cost you a thing and we’ll do some tracking.’ So I went in and I recorded, and we played it for Lloyd (Anderson) and he said ‘Yeah man.’ So initially I think they had like 500 pressed.”


“My Way” stands out stylistically from a lot of Ludwig’s recordings. For starters he's strictly playing the lead on this record, rather than supplying the rhythm with his left hand. The original Gene Ludwig Trio had disbanded by this point. Jerry Byrd and Randy Gelispie were no longer in Pittsburgh. "My Way" features Sonny Gigliotti on bass along with Sylvester Goshay, perhaps best known for his drumming with Lonnie Smith, adding a furious back beat. “I was working with Walt Maddox and I was playing in that vain and it seemed to get over. Sylvester Goshay, myself, and Walt. I took it to WAMO and they were just starting to hit on it and they liked it.” Then Gene received another ominous phone call from WAMO disc jockey Bill Powell. “He said ‘Did you pick up the news paper today?'" Shortly after the record was released one of the label owners was involved in a shoot out with the FBI. "That made the headlines and the news, so Bill said ‘We have to pull your record off the air.'”

Another record from this era that Ludwig may have been involved with is "Dancing on a Daydream" by the Soulvation Army Band. He didn't recall doing the session, but multiple people who were interviewed rememberred that he recorded on it. It was released in 1974 on the Soulvation Army label and it featured a young Pittsburgh-bred Phyllis Hyman contributing background vocals.












Now’s The Time LP (1980 Muse, 5164)

Ludwig played quite frequently through out the seventies, but any other recordings that he may have done failed to be pressed on record. “One big thing that I did was I traveled with the Arthur Prysock band. That was like '73 (and) ’78. Although I didn’t record with them I did play all over the country. That got me into cities were I’d just dreamt of going like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. He’d always feature me so the name kind of sunk in here and there.”

By the start of the new decade Ludwig was eager to get a release back into the larger national market. One night in Newark, NJ he bumped into Houston Person. “He said maybe talk to Joe Fields, who had the Muse label, and maybe he might be able to do something. So I left the Prysock band and I came back to Pittsburgh, and I got some musicians together and I did Now’s the Time. I called Houston and I said ‘Talk to Joe and see if he likes it and he’ll put it out.’ And he did and Joe liked it, so the following year it came out on vinyl.”

Now’s The Time was released in 1980. It was Gene’s first release in almost a decade. His first full-length album in fifteen years and the first done without Jerry Byrd and Randy Gelispie. John Struthers engineered it at Pittsburgh’s Audio Innovators Studios. He led a quintet consisting of some of Pittsburgh’s most seasoned veterans. “It’s all Pittsburgh guys. George Green’s on saxophone, Tommy Soisson on drums, Kwasi Jayourba on percussion and (Larry) “Butch” McGee on guitar. They’re still practicing musicians.”









 



Blues And More (1982 Gelu)
Ron Bartol Nassau LP (1984 Leeway Sound, NR15803)
“The Street Preacher” Part I b/w Part II (1987 GeLu, Ge-Lu 141)


After the release of Now’s The Time Ludwig revamped the GeLu label, which had been on hiatus since it’s initial two releases in the sixties.  As always, he had a group together and he was playing for his never-neglected local fan base. In 1982 he put out what is perhaps the most peculiar of all of his releases. It was a cassette-only full length titled Blues And More. Three of the tracks were recorded in New York in 1962 and the majority of the content was new material recorded locally. “When I was with LaVere Billy got me a date with some heavies in New York. Kenny Burrell, Grassella Oliphant ... he was traveling with Gloria Lynn at the time, Clark Terry, Harold Ousley, Sonny Red. We did this for LaVere Records and they shelved it. I got ownership of the masters. That was done at Tom Knowles studio in New York. There was only three good tunes off of there that I liked, so what I did is we had a group together with George Heid and myself, Lou Stellute, Tony Janflone, and George Jones. We went into Aircraft. That was up in Dormont. We did some tracking and I took the best out of that and I added it to the Tom Knowles date and I released it on cassette on Gelu, Blues and More. The bulk of the cassette was the group with George Heid. So I sold a few on the gigs, but unfortunately getting cassettes played on the air ... forget it. I didn’t release that on vinyl, I just didn’t have the money to do anything with it. CD’s weren’t out yet y’know. Cassettes were very popular, but the radio stations were still playing vinyl. If I can dig out a virgin copy of it I might re-release it on CD. Even the names on it, my god, these guys are champions!”


In 1984 Ludwig did a studio session with local guitarist, Ron Bartol. They recorded a cover of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” which was included on Bartol’s Nassau LP. Aside from that there’s just one more piece in Gene’s vinyl discography, which is a single that he self-released in 1987. “In the late 80’s I released another 45 on my label called “The Street Preacher.“ I’d written it and I used Tony Janflone, and John Smith and It was done at Mark Strickland studios. There I utilized the piano with all of the voices and the backup behind it. Unfortunately that’s when the market for 45’s became null and void. That’s when CD’s were the up-and-coming thing.”

And that’s the complete Gene Ludwig vinyl discography. Gene continued to do more session work through the nineties. In 1998 he signed with the Blues Leaf label and released five full length CD's. In the summer of 2007 he led a quartet at the Detroit International Jazz Festival featuring
saxophonist Eric Defade along with original Gene Ludwig Trio members, Randy Gelispie and Jerry Byrd. This was only the second time they played together in forty years. His last release, The Gene Ludwig Trio with the Bill Warfield Big Band was released in 2008 on 18th & Vine. More information about Gene Ludwig is available at www.geneludwig.com.

In addition to this blog there is a sister-youtube site where all eleven of Gene's 45 singles have been uploaded. There are sixteen compositions total. They can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/idigpgh.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great history of Gene's work. I have all of his CD releases, but my collection is spotty on his older catalog.

Linda Dachtyl

I Dig Pgh said...

Thanks for checking it out Linda!

Nick Rossi said...

This is just great. Thanks SO much for piecing this all together. I have been waiting for something like this (not to mention the YouTube site) for years! Excellent job.

Douglas Payne said...

A brilliant write-up, Jason. Thank you. Gene Ludwig richly deserves the care and attention that you have provided for him here. Thank you for the detail, the late, great Mr. Ludwig's commentary and the generous sound samples on YouTube. You've really provided sincere hommage to a great artist.

Pattye Ludwig said...

Thank you J, this is just a fantastic piece of writing about a fantastic, unique man. I know that Gene is smiling down upon you for this honor.

darby said...

Awesome site Jay! now i just need some mp3 links... ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey J, This is a great artical, off the hook,(smile) BRAVO,BRAVO big hug, Spanky

Anonymous said...

Thanks not only for the insight into Gene's vinyl discography, but for enlightening me on the chronology of Gene's career. It's all amazing...Pattye is truly molding the history on Gene's artistic career into solid gold.

Ty Bailey
"Just Jazz"
WVST-FM & Soul City Radio Baltimore, MD

I Dig Pgh said...

Thank you for the comment Ty. The chronology took quite a while to figure out as there weren't many dates included on the releases. I'm not sure that I got everything 100% accurate as far as that goes, but Gene seemed pleased with the finished product. I agree with you, hats off to Pattye for all of her hard work!