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Humble Island beginnings blossomed into storied career for Trooper keyboardist

Frank Ludwig got his start as a boy pumping the organ in a tiny downtown Chemainus church
Frank Ludwig’s photo from the Chemainus Secondary School graduation class of 1965. (Photo by Greg Wall)

Frank Ludwig’s first band in Chemainus set the stage for a life-long career in music that reached its pinnacle as keyboardist for Trooper in the 1970s.

Ray and the Ravens featured drummer Ray Kinder, Brian Nixon on bass and Martin Bayuk on rhythm guitar.

“I was on rhythm guitar and sang,” noted Ludwig.

Little did he know at the time those humble beginnings would lead him to celebrity status in his heyday and so many satisfying moments playing with other bands and passing on his incredible music knowledge to others as a teacher.

When Ludwig was about seven years old, an uncle, who owned a music store, gave him an accordion, but he was too small and weak to play it. Instead, his parents offered to have him take piano lessons until he was big enough. Ludwig finally agreed under protest to do group piano lessons at the age of nine.

”By the time I was big enough to lift it, I didn’t want anything to do with it,” he recalled.

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By then he’d moved to proper solo lessons with world-class teacher, Heinz Killian, and by 16 was a fairly proficient classical piano player. In 1964, inspired by the Beatles, Ludwig traded in the accordion for a piece of 2x4 otherwise deemed to be a Kay guitar, overpriced at $45.

”I wish I’d kept the accordion,” noted Ludwig. “In my first band formed in Chemainus, I played self-taught guitar. It never occurred to me to play something I actually was decent at, but then again, who wants to carry around a piano?”

As well as a few very sparse gigs, Ludwig regularly played the church organ. His Sundays consisted of being a server at the 8 a.m. service, organist at the 9:45, and then it was off to Duncan where he played the pipe organ at St. Peter’s Quamichan Church, and then at Cowichan Station, south of Duncan, followed by the evening service back at St. Michael’s and All Angels in Chemainus.

”I would get paid for weddings and funerals, which is more than I can say I got from rock and roll at the time,” Ludwig quipped.

A year after graduation, he decided to enter the UBC Music Department and also took up the oboe.

”My prof said I had a wonderful tone, but of course I had little proficiency,” recalled Ludwig.

Over four years, he learned basic fluency on all Western instruments – woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion. Near the end of his first year, Ludwig joined a band called The Self Portrait.

“Over the next few years we developed into a fairly respectable cover band with strong vocals who worked the clubs, school dances and town halls throughout B.C.,” Ludwig added. “Manager Bruce Allen eventually pulled me into Crosstown Bus who gained an even greater profile. After years of doing that circuit, I moved to Toronto for a little over a year with a band called Brutus and I briefly recorded with April Wine, but didn’t land a permanent job with them.”

Upon returning to Vancouver, Ludwig hooked up with some guys he’d known since the Portrait days. They had changed their name from Applejack to Trooper and had put out one album, which got some airplay.

They went into the studio almost immediately with producer Randy Bachman and recorded the Two For the Show album that went gold and then Knock ‘em Dead Kid, Thick as Thieves and a compilation of hits called Hot Shots that became the biggest selling album at that time in Canada. Ludwig recorded one more album with Trooper called Flying Colours.

After Trooper, Ludwig worked with Randy Bachman and did two albums, one as Ironhorse – Everything is Grey, with the single of the same title charting on the Billboard Top 100.

Ludwig was the lead singer and then Fred Turner of Bachman Turner Overdrive fame joined the group for an album called On Strike with the band changing its name to Union. Ludwig eventually left and joined forces with two top Vancouver session musicians to form Body Electric and they were signed to Attic Records.

He then went back to UBC and got a teaching certificate and taught music for 22 years in Vancouver.

Ludwig has continued to work in the industry, even under the guise of retirement with music for films, commercials, animations and more. He put together a compilation of unreleased songs titled It’s About Time and gradually releases new material, with videos online.

His release of the song The Day They Closed the Old Mill Down brings Ludwig back to his roots in Chemainus that were instrumental, so to speak, for the great career in music he enjoyed.

RELATED: The Day They Closed The Old Mill Down in song

And small-town life impacted everybody with numerous great moments, but also some tribulations, especially with the mill that employed so many people in town.

“When I was growing up it was always under a threat,” said Ludwig.

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Saint Michael and All Angels Anglican Church in Chemainus where Frank Ludwig honed some of his musical skills as a youth. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Promo for Frank Luwig and Trooper for a show at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. (Photo submitted)

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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