Through a lifetime in the music business, Frank Ludwig has kept his wits about him. And one of Chemainus Secondary School’s most famous graduates known for the time he spent as keyboardist with the legendary Canadian rock band Trooper from 1975 to 1979 has also maintained his quick wit over the years.
The 75-year-old, looking ahead to turning 76 in December, said it’s “time to buy another trombone.”
The reference, of course, is to the show tune Seventy-Six Trombones. But if that requires an explanation, it can’t be a very good joke, he concedes.
Nonetheless, some semblance of a sense of humour is a necessity to survive in the industry and Ludwig went through plenty of great times and not so great with the band and in the ensuing years since then.
Many would say it’s been a long time coming, but Trooper was finally inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame located at Studio Bell in Calgary May 18 with a ceremony attended by Ludwig and nine other either former band members or current musicians continuing to perform under the group name.
“Yeah, a lot of people would seem to think so,” said Ludwig of the recognition.
He isn’t big on awards as a means of verifying the band’s impact or his own personal contribution, but admits it was nice to be honoured.
“It’s not like everybody and his dog gets inducted into the Music Hall of Fame,” Ludwig said. “I’ve never been in it for the glory. I’m in it for the music and still making music.”
In Trooper’s heyday, band members were on top of the world. Ludwig, Ra McGuire (vocals, guitar), Brian Smith (guitar), Doni Underhill (bass) and Tommy Stewart (drums) were a dynamite combination during their time together, churning out hit after hit. Other 2023 inductees joining Trooper were: Terri Clark, Diane Dufresne and Oliver Jones.
“Apparently, we stole the show,” chuckled Ludwig. “Tommy brought all his relatives. We had a pretty good rooting section.”
The Canadian Music Hall of Fame is on Level Five of Studio Bell, with the entire floor dedicated to celebrating and recognizing Canadian music creators and artists who have left their mark on the country and beyond. Plaques are displayed with the names of more than 50 legendary Canadian artists.
“The complex also includes a museum with a wonderful collection of instruments,” added Ludwig.
Having so many folks of his generation acknowledging what their music meant to them and still picking up newer younger fans who obviously weren’t around in those days is satisfying.
“I think it’s nice people are still getting enjoyment out of those songs,” Ludwig conceded. “It has meaning for people in their lives and still does.”
Immediately after Ludwig joined Trooper, the band recorded the ‘Two For The Show’ album in a Toronto studio, with the title track and ‘Santa Maria’ becoming top 10 singles.
Ludwig became known for his vocals on the songs he wrote while in the band, especially ‘Round Round We Go.’
“It was the first one that broke the Toronto market for us,” noted Ludwig.
He also sang lead on Moment That It Takes and shared the lead vocals with McGuire on Gypsy Wheeler.
The roots of the band were on the Lower Mainland, but they soon branched out to capture a Canada-wide market and, in fact, caught on internationally with the 1978 hit Raise A Little Hell cracking into the famous Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 59.
All good things eventually come to an end and Ludwig was the first to leave the group. He said there’s “some angst happening still.”
Stewart, Underhill and Ludwig have remained friends and were happy to reunite during the Hall of Fame induction activities that included a chance for inductees to perform at King Eddy, a restored country bar across the street from the Studio Bell complex, after the main show.
At King Eddy, Ludwig, Underhill and Stewart played Here For a Good Time, and Raise a Little Hell with Smith and McGuire, but it also involved the current bass player and the former guitar roadie who is now the guitarist, playing Boys in the Bright White Sports Car, followed by a repeat with Smith coming back on.
The best part of the induction for Ludwig is the $25,000 that goes in Trooper’s name toward a music program in Alberta schools.
As a retired music teacher, “this is such a big deal to me,” he conceded.
Meanwhile, Ludwig continues to produce music of distinction. Following the release of his song The Day They Closed The Old Mill Down in 2021 with direct reference to Chemainus, he has released a new song Out To Pasture that relates to his time with Trooper.
“It shows my perspective on all of it,” Ludwig said. “It’s kind of saying we don’t appreciate the knowledge of elders, we put them out to pasture.”
“I haven’t tried to change to suit the times,” Ludwig reinforced. “I still want to write songs that have a melody and a message. I think it’s a fun song and a fun video, too.”
His previous music with Trooper continues to gain new life. The Richmond Orchestra and Chorus, a 40-voice choir, will be premiering his arrangement of ‘Round Round We Go (Orchestral Fantasy)’ on June 17 at Fraserview Mennonite Church in Richmond.
Ludwig said he’d do an arrangement, but not like a pop song. He treated it as an orchestral fantasy and had to redo it to make it work for the choir.
Ludwig said his mission was to “not try to make it sound like the Trooper version.”
However, he has done a medley of Trooper songs to be released in a week or two on YouTube.
Like so many musicians of his era, Ludwig isn’t going to be put Out To Pasture anytime soon.