Some say he stole the show that night... the fella from Pittsburgh who showed up late that afternoon, missing the sound check and sort of looking like anyone's junior high math teacher as he strolled around backstage at the 1994 Newark Jazz Organ Jam waiting for his turn to play. As I introduced myself to him, I remember his hands being huge, reminding me of what a bricklayer's hands might be like: long, thick fingers and wide palms. I had looked forward to meeting Gene Ludwig in person. I was trying so hard to be impartial as I listened to each organist who played that night but deep down I, too, felt that Gene grooved harder than the others... I really do love everybody that sits at that bench... no matter who they are or what kind of music they play... but somehow, those who reach the audience quicker and with the most passion, leave me with the more lasting impression. It didn't take me long to figure out what Gene did to that crowd that night to get the response that he got and win over so many new fans: HE PLAYED THE BLUES... That's what those folks came to hear. They wanted to be taken back in time to the old days of the 'Organ Rooms' where every club had a B-3 on the stage and smokey, inner city soul jazz was the gravy of life. When Gene kicked off with Jimmy Smith's 'The Sermon', he was telling that crowd that there's still truth in this music... it hasn't left us and never will... and more importantly, he wasn't afraid to play Jimmy's sound. As an admitted disciple, he was reminding us just how important this is to us all. Gene Ludwig has always been that kind of a player. He knows where he came from and how he got where he is... no frills, nothing pretentious... just SOLID ORGAN GROOVE... That's Gene Ludwig.
For the next few days in Newark, jazz fans were poking around record stores asking who this Gene Ludwig was and did he have any records out.... All they needed to do was ask any one from Pittsburgh. As Gene, himself would tell you; 'I'm the only one cartin' the Hammond around still, here in Pittsburgh".
Gene was born in Twin Rocks, Pennsylvania on September 4, 1937. Four years later his family moved to Swissvale where Gene spent most of his youth and graduated from Swissvale High in 1955. His mother provided young Gene with piano lessons as early as the first grade and witnessed his musical growth from then on. She would have preferred that he became a concert pianist but soon realized that his musical preference lay in Rhythm and Blues. After two years at Edinboro State Teachers College and a series of jobs, he was ready to make a life long commitment. He had spent many a night watching and listening to musicians like Ramsey Lewis, Horace Silver, Ahmad Jamal and Ray Bryant at The Crawford Grill and the Hi-Hat but when he experienced Jimmy Smith for the first time his mind was made up. "From '43 to about '55, I took formal training on piano", recounts Gene, "Around '57 I met Jimmy Smith and heard the Hammond...and I knew that's what I wanted to be: a Hammond organ player". Gene saw Jimmy at Pittsburgh's famous Hurricane owned by Birdie Dunlap- truly a mecca for the Jazz Organ Sound. Gene was bit by the bug before he had a chance to know what it was all about. "Around 1949, 1950, I used to hear swing organ on the air and it happened to be Bill Davis and Bill Doggett...but all I had heard was the big, full, block chords and I was into piano and (then) when I heard Jimmy playing on the air, he was playing single lines like a piano player or like a horn and I said, 'Oh wow! ... This is amazing' and then when I first saw him play and I heard him live, my God, it was awesome, it was really awesome".