Howard Luedtke Interview




Howard “Guitar” Luedtke is a local blues musician. In this Oral History, he discusses his early life with music and how that influenced his music as an adult. He also talks about his professional music career and his personal interactions with the Eau Claire music scene.


Interviewer Brian Dombrowski and Alec Bird


April 5, 2017



BD: Our first question is what music always important to you while you were growing up before you entered the music scene?

HL: Oh yeah, since my earliest memories I liked to listen to music and kinda became musically aware when I was probably about nine or ten years old and could sing along to the songs on the radio at that time. Of course, when I was eleven years old, the Beatles came to America and every kid my age had to have a guitar. That’s when I started playing guitar, 1964. I just played for my own enjoyment with a cousin of mine that taught me things. I didn’t know if I would ever do it professionally or not. But then around 1972, 1973 I ended up being the last man in the United States of America receive a draft notice. President Nixon’s final cut-off point. Number 95, and the last thing I wanted to do with my life at the time, but they had me and so I reported for my induction, then I failed my second physical. So, I was home the same day that I left. I had just spent thirty days saying goodbye to everyone. I told myself when I, before I left I said, well when I get out, I’m gonna do what I wanna do. I never really had that opportunity before, and what do I wanna do. Well, I think, I wanna play music. So that two-year stint turned out to be one day and I came home. I moved down to La Crosse and joined my first professional
traveling band, I’ve been playing music ever since.

BD: So did you teach yourself or take formal lessons?

HL: Pretty much self-taught. I had a cousin that showed me my first guitar licks and a couple songs and we used to play together. In fact, that story would be in the booklet in the album. If you get a chance to read that, you’ll find it quite interesting. The first couple pages, the whole story of my…It goes back to age eleven and my cousin who taught me to play guitar.

BD: So, you were saying earlier [before the interview had started] that Travis Wammack I said to be how you were introduced to the Blues, but what is really it about the Blues that you like, that really fascinates you?

HL: Well, back in the sixties, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. I was talking about buying Rolling Stones albums. There was this kind of music on the Rolling Stones album that you didn’t hear on the mainstream radio. It just seemed like they filled up the album. There were all these twelve-bar, three-chord progressions that I began to be able to follow, know where the music was going on just about every song. That was my introduction to the Blues and I didn’t discover Chicago Blues or southern-style blues until about 1969 when a friend of mine turned me on to some Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, stuff like that. That’s a never-ending learning process after that. It will last you a lifetime. There’s so much history involved just the history of America dating back to the Civil War and before, the 20’s and 30’s and the Depression era, Robert Johnson and before. Stuff like that, it’s very fascinating.


I even went to see Angela Davis at the University when she spoke there. Angela Davis,
she was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party and she had a book on three women, black women Blues people from the twentieth century. The way they dealt with, not only with the racial bias, but the gender bias. I haven’t read the whole book yet. Angela signed it anyway. I read a lot of history.

BD: When you started your first bands and travelling the area, did you stay in the area mainly, or did you travel around?

HL: We kinda did a Midwest thing from Wisconsin, Minnesota, a little bit of Illinois, the
Dakotas, and Iowa. That area in general.

BD: So then what was the Blues scene like in the Chippewa Valley during those times, and how do you think it has changed through the years?

HL: Well it’s always ebbed and flowed. Back then I know BB King played somewhere in Eau Claire. I didn’t get to see him there. That was around 1973 or ’74. The Joynt down on Water Street used to have a lot of Blues acts coming through. In ’73 or ’74, I joined another band. We started a Blues band in Eau Claire and we played the local places and some of the outlying small towns. We had two black guys in the band. A couple small towns it was like taking your life into your hands back in 1974 to play there. But mainly it was a rewarding experience. We played down on Water Street quite a bit. Like I said, the Joynt had Willie Dixon play there. It was cold outside, I stood with my nose pressed up against the window to watch Willie Dixon play at the Joynt. I couldn’t afford to get in because I was a musician. I didn’t have any money. James Solberg, a well-known Eau Claire area musician, he would play around the area and he would bring Luther Allison into town every once in a while. That was in the 70’s and sometime in the late 80’s, Solberg took over the Stones Throw bar and he played there on a regular basis and he brought in a lot of Blues. Bob Wiszowski had on the radio the Little Boy Blues Show back around that time. He put together a couple Blues festivals at the Maple Manor and the old Grizzlies on the corner of Clairemont and Hastings. It’s Hamburger Factory, or
whatever it’s called. So, there was always some kind of Blues scene going on, always a struggle, wasn’t ever the mainstream, you know country rock was much more popular in Eau Claire in the 70’s and 80’s. Then you always got top 40 mainstream, disco, rock, whatever was going on at the time.

BD: Do you think that it’s more prominent nowadays?

HL: The Blues scene?

BD: Yeah, the Blues scene. Or is it still struggling?

HL: Oh if it doesn’t struggle it ain’t the Blues.

BD: Oh that’s true. (Laughing ensues)

HL: Seemed like one day everything was gonna be alright and there will be Blue bars on every corner and everybody will make their living playing or singing the Blues, or sitting and getting drunk listening to it, that probably will never happen. So it’s always kind of a struggle. I think it was, probably its hay day would’ve been the late 80’s through the 90’s, Stones Throw era in Eau Claire.


In the 21st century I think there’s been…there’s still Blues here. You gonna go see some
Blues here tonight? or this weekend that you know of? Probably not. No, it’s down to the Blues society of Eau Claire. They do the Tuesday night Blues series and we haven’t had a Blues festival. They have the festival in Durand. That’s been going quite well for I don’t know how many years now, probably going on around ten years. We haven’t been there for about three, something like that. I think we’ll be there this year, and then the Northwoods Blues Festival that’s moving from Spooner to the Chippewa County fairgrounds. We’ll be opening the show for that. The guys that put that on told me that they like having me there and they’d have me open the show for the rest of my life. I’ve been told that before. That’s usually good for about four or five years. (laughs) and so this may be the last year they have me, but I’m sure they may me again, but Hopefully they’ll have me for a long time. So yeah it ebbed and flows. The 90’s were a hot time. A lot of acts came to the Stones Throw. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, John Hammond. Familiar with John Hammond?

BD: I’ve heard of him.

HL: John Hammond, I’ve been a fan of his since ’69. John Hammond played the Stones Throw, I think it was the week before the Nighthawks played there and John Hammond played there by himself and he stamps his foot and plays. He rattled this plant of the piano, fell down and crashed on the stage. The Nighthawks played there the week before and they didn’t rattle the plant off the piano, that is to say one man, John Hammond, put out more energy than a five-piece band did. John Hammond is pretty incredible.

BD: So then how would you describe the community as a whole in the Chippewa Valley area, not just the Blues, but as a whole?

HL: Well the last, what, fifteen years or so there’s been a Volume One magazine promoting a lot of things. The Indie Rock scene is taking off. Justin Verns, great success that he’s had with the couple festivals he’s had going on now and a lot of young bands coming up a lot of music going on in the area. There’s still a thriving live music scene here. I think, after the recession of ’08 the budget of most establishments has been dwindled down a little bit for the music thing, but musicians will always be willing to play for whatever they can get.

BD: Then how do you think it differs with other areas you’ve been in?

HL: Oh, well, Eau Claire has been...My second home is La Crosse. I played a lot of times in La Crosse and that seems to be much more thriving over the decades. It’s just a different location and so many metro-areas packed together. They’ve always expanded…that’s really thriving. Wausau, I think like you’ve said, it ebbs and flows too. They still have the Big Bull Falls Blues Fest and whatever. There’s some towns around that have absolutely nothing happening and then you don’t have to go very far to Minneapolis-St. Paul. There’s always what you’re looking for there. I don’t go down to Chicago much. I’ve never played there in all my years of playing Blues, been to the Buddy Guy club once. Milwaukee, I used to live there back in the 70’s, started a Blues band there.


I had to move down there to seek my family fortune with the Blues. I didn’t make a cent for a couple months that I lived there. I panhandled five dollars and pointed my car back this way, back north. Here’s somebody. (Howard’s wife walks into the interview space) Here’s my wife Deb, “Magic” Deb.

BD: Hi, how are you guys doing?

(Howard introduces us to his wife Deb and a conversation not related to the Interview ensues.)

Deb has been here for twenty years now in the Chippewa Valley playing my bass for thirty years. (Deb confirms) So she knows a bit about what’s going on in the music scene here too.

(More Conversation ensues interview continues at


BD: My next question, how do you feel you fit into the music community and what impact do you personally feel you may have had on it?

HL: Well I’m known as a Blues player, you know, I played little bit more than that. I’m pretty much established now as someone who is going to be around here playing ‘till his dying day.


What was the second part of the question?

BD: Personally how do you feel, what kind of impact you had on it?

HL: I’ve literally jammed with hundreds of people over my lifetime, playing music. I hosted the Blues Jams in La Crosse for 28 years. I hosted a Blues jam for a while when Solberg had the Stones Throw. So probably all the older musicians and quite a few of the younger ones I’ve met in over the years, probably know just about everybody, by sight anyway, not by name. Scott Hayden, do you know Scott Hayden is? He plays with the Jim Paulman band. He used to come play Rock fest with us when he was, he was 14 years old, I think, but he looked about 9. He was just a little little kid and he was on the front page of the Eau Claire Leader, did a story on him. He was a prodigy. He could… he was taking music lessons at Morgan’s Music and he ended up teaching the teacher, he knew how to play a little something. His dad brought him to gigs with us and he used to come follow us around and I’d always have him do the gigs with us, played Rockfest. I played with a lot of younger kids. Scotty Hayden comes to the forefront. He was pretty hot from an early time. I haven’t heard him lately, I haven’t seen him for a while, but he’s
still around, still playing. People come over for lessons once in a while. I am not much of a
teacher. I’m good for about a half an hour, then go somewhere else. I’ll set around and play guitar with somebody for hours, but I know I really don’t have a teaching method so I really don’t give lessons or anything like that. But, the impact on the area? I don’t know. They haven’t built a new bar for me to play in or anything like that, I don’t have that much of an impact. I think I’ve influenced a lot of younger players to play and some older ones too as they have influenced me. I used to hang out at Water Street back in the Mickey Larson days. He’s dead and gone now. Mickey Larson was a main stay in Eau Claire, played Girolamo’s on the corner, Water Street every…several times a week, every week for many years. Oh my God, I don’t know how long, maybe a whole decade, but he had a big following in Eau Claire. I didn’t know until after he was gone that he played with…he toured with Chuck Berry in 1959. He was in Chuck Berry’s band. I didn’t know
that. Oh I got a trivia question for you guys. A couple weeks ago, I know it was in the Eau Claire paper. Clyde Stubblefield passed away. Familiar with that at all? Clyde Stubblefield was the Godfather of Funk. He was with the James Brown band back in the 60’s. He’s accredited with inventing Funk music. He passed away from cancer at age…must have been about 74 and he quit the James Brown band in 1969 and he lived in Madison ever since, but back in the 90’s, he toured Europe with a Eau Claire based band. Can you name that band? (interviewers shake their heads no) It was our band. A little trivia that nobody seems to remember. They did a couple tributes about Clyde but they never mentioned the fact that he toured Europe with aEau Claire based band. We played the State Theater a few years ago and we thought we might have the gig playing there with the “What do you know show”, but they figured they were coming north of
Eau Claire, it would be more appropriate to have a Polka band. So, we missed out on that gig.


BD: So you’re well acclimated in the Blues community and in the Blues world in the area at least, I mean, I’ve heard of you before we’ve had this thing, so are there any other genres or aspects of music that you enjoy that many really don’t know about you?

HL: Well, I’m a child of the 60’s, I’d guess you’d say so, I revert back to 60’s and 70’s music quite often. Underground Rock, stuff from MC Five to Old Animals, to Jamie Brocket, Kim Fowley, Quick Silver Messenger Service, The Stones, and various obscure bands. I listen…I enjoy listening to Gypsy Jazz occasionally and guitar music of all kinds. I don’t know of any guitar music I don’t like, but no, I’m not a closet Polka player or anything like that. I did some Polka gigs. I’ve played a lot of Country Western in my day. We were Minnie Pearl’s opening act one time at a county fair. We played with her, did two shows with Minnie Pearl. Matter of five minutes before the show she said, “well I’ll go out on the stage and tell a few jokes and then I’ll cue you, you do whatever you musicians do, then I’ll cue you back on. You come on and we’ll do something like this” (sings and slaps his leg) “You are my sunshine my only sunshine.” That’s the only instructions we had and we did two shows with Minnie Pearl and that was fun. But we’ve opened the show for a lot of Blues orientated bands. We flew out to Portland, Oregon about three years ago, I think it was, to open the show for Rick Derringer. We
used to play with Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter and the White Trash back in the 70’s. He’s quite the hard rocker. Rick Derringer, we’d do a couple of his songs. That was fun playing out there. Did a show for him. One of my guitar heroes, Johnny Winter, we opened a show for him about three times. The last was a couple weeks before he passed on, at the Spooner Northwoods Blues Festival. That was 2014. We played the…Davenport, Iowa, the Blues Festival in 1989. That’s where I met Johnny Shines. King of the Delta Blues. Johnny Shines travelled with Robert Johnson, you’re familiar with Robert Johnson, he travelled with Robert Johnson back in the 30’s. There’s a interesting documentary called The Search of Robert Johnson, narrated by John Hammond. They follow the old trails that they did back in the 30’s and you know, that was in the early 90’s when they did that documentary and they went back to these towns and villages where Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines travelled in the 1930’s. The same people, still
standing on the street corner, they’re much older, but the hadn’t went anywhere. Still standing there, still cuttin’ heads for the same people on the street corner. Johnny Shines, John Hammond played the part of Robert Johnson and they’d go, they’d divide up and get on one end of the street and one on the other and try to draw up people and see who’d get the most quarters thrown at them. Of course, after it was done, then they would pool their money. They were travelling together, but Johnny Shines, the king of the Delta Blues, he literally went down to the cross roads and Robert Johnson, we played the 1989 Davenport, Iowa Blues Festival together.


He got on stage, they rather unceremoniously gave him a chair, sat him down and put the guitar on him. He looked at the crowd and he said, I don’t play the Blues because I want to. He said, "I play the Blues because I have to." He was 79 years old at the time and he did a solo act there. There were some people heckling him from the audience.
After the gig, they had a little tent where they served a chicken dinner to the musicians and Johnny and I ended up there. Just me and Johnny in this tent. Standing alone in the middle of the tent, and I…this was the king of the Delta Blues, I walk up to him and I say, “you travelled with Robert Johnson.” He said, “yes I did.” And he said, “Robert Johnson liked to talk.” He said, “I don’t like to talk.” And he wasn’t kidding, because he didn’t say a word. We both just stood there. Finally, we got our chicken dinner and we set down at the same table, we ate our chicken dinner and didn’t say a word. I didn’t want to bother him. I finished my meal and got up, threw my paper plate in the garbage, stood back in the middle of the tent, twiddled my thumbs, past the time. Finally, he got done with his meal, threw his paper plate away and stood in the middle of the tent, twiddling his thumbs, passing the time. I didn’t want to bother him. We both just stood there.
Finally, he comes over to me and he says, “Bet you’d like to have some insight into your
hero Robert Johnson, wouldn’t ya?” I said, “Oh yes sir, I sure would.” Johnny shines literally went down to the crossroads with Robert Johnson. He said, “Robert Johnson was a very dirty man. Shit his pants all the time.” That’s all he said...I’m thinking, thanks Johnny, probably won’t ever think of my hero quite the same…thank you. That was his insight that he gave me. There you have it. Direct from…closest as the real Blues that I have ever been. From the mouth of Johnny Shines.

BD: So is there anything you wish we had asked you?

HL: That I wish you had asked me?

BD: Yeah, something that you were kinda thinking about that you feel is important, I
guess, to talk about.

HL: Well no, I guess you’ve already asked the important questions about the Blues scene here. What every body’s been doing over the years and what may be coming and the music scene in general. I hope you get the chance to listen to the “Going down to Alabama” album. Number 3 seller in the Chippewa Valley last year. Out sold by Idle Empress but they sold theirs for five dollars. I sold mine for 20, but you’ll find the story pretty interesting in my life-long search for Travis Wammack, the fastest guitar in the south. Had his instrumental record “Firefly” when I was 11 years old and it was a big influence on me and to go down south and link up with him after 50 years, it was an amazing experience. Then to record at his studio. I stayed at his house for over three weeks now. When I did the project the year before last, in 2015. Yeah, he’s an amazing guitar player. He had a hand in inventing Rock and Roll. He’s not that…he started
young. Not that much older than me. He’s 8 years older than me. I’m 64, so he’s 72 and he still kills 15 deer a year and catches rattlesnakes alive, still gigs every week, plays guitar every day. Amazing man, Travis Wammack.”


But I couldn’t imagine what else you could ask me. Can you think of anything that you should ask me?

BD: No, I was trying to think of questions as you were going along and you answered them after I was thinking them, so (talks to another interviewer)

HL: Yeah, there’s new places to play in Eau Claire now that I hear. They have…the Lismore. They have some Jazz and stuff going on. The Oxbow, they have Jazz or something going on. Maybe I can weasel my way in there, one of those places, one of these days, do a little Blues picking or something. Been a long time since we played the State Theater. We played the Mabel Tainter not too long ago. We do that once in a while. But, no I’ll be here playing my guitar hopefully a long time to come.

BD: Alright, I suppose that’s all we have.

([00:36:43-00:38:17] is debriefing Howard Luedtke and telling him what to expect in the weeks to come along with brief chatter about the ongoing project

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