By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
MANKATO — That Mankato has become a secondary stomping ground for Howard “Guitar” Luedtke and Blue Max should come as no surprise.
The Wisconsin-based musician’s bass player and wife is, after all, New Ulm native Deb Klossner.
With a gritty, forceful blues sound and an energetic frontman, Blue Max has been a regional blues powerhouse since 1982. With Klossner now back on bass after a cancer diagnosis in 2010, the band has returned to regular touring throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota.
And they’re playing the What’s Up Lounge in Mankato on Saturday.
“Oh yes,” Luedtke said when asked if locals have treated him well during his frequent stops in the Mankato area. “I feel like a rock star down there.”
Luedtke and Klossner_certainly know they’re way around.
Before joining Luedtke and Blue Max more than 25 years ago, Klossner kicked around the area in a few bands of her own, including Damzel, Flyer and the Rage.
With Blue Max, Klossner and Luedtke have become regulars on area festival bills, including Brew Fest, River Blast and Blues on Belgrade. They played the well-worn but beloved Blue Moon in Kasota before it closed, played the What’s Up Lounge on the eve of Y2K on Dec. 31, 1999, and Luedtke said the long gone Square Deal in Mankato was one of his favorite venues.
“That was a phenomenal time for us,” Luedtke said, recalling that the Square Deal — now inhabited by Chopps Bar — did not have a stage and musicians played on the floor. “The place was always packed. The cops would show up before we even started playing.”
Through the years, Luedtke has gained a reputation for a powerful, muscular blues sound in the electrified Chicago style. One reviewer characterized Luedtke as one of the two best guitar players in Wisconsin and its “only real blues man.”
Though his solo shows illuminate a more delicate acoustic player, Luedtke’s Blue Max performances are characterized by high intensity and high emotion.
“People can hear and feel that energy,” Luedtke said. “I do like to play with energy.”
And Luedtke said that maintaining that energy over the course of a 30-year run with Blue Max hasn’t been a problem.
Though he and Klossner have scaled back their performance schedule from 150 to about 120 shows a year, Luedtke said they continue to play as much as possible and have a recording in the works.
There is no timetable for the release, but Luedtke said it will likely feature a mix of crowd favorites and 1960s-era rock and blues covers.
“Once you become a musician,” he said, “it gets in your blood. I couldn’t imagine not being a musician.”