Mandy Marie Luke

 Mandy Marie Luke: Rhinestone Wishes and Telecaster Dreams. 

If ever the phrase “born to play” fit any one, it fits Mandy Marie Luke.  A playfully energetic, petite brunette with the finest gal chops in country music today. Yes, I said “chops”, as in guitar chops. Mandy Marie Luke eats, breathes and sleeps the Telecaster. Never mind that she’s a great songwriter, or that her vocals can line up with Grand Dames like Wanda Jackson, it is the guitar that Luke wants to talk about. So lets.

Miss Mandy Marie Luke was born and raised in southern Missouri. “I started playing guitar when I was thirteen. I HAD to learn how to play…. I was just so in love with it and still to this day there’s nothing that makes me happier than bending strings on a Telecaster! I started playing out live later that same year in my Dad’s band. I spent three nights a week playing Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma beer joints with a Fender Twin pointed straight at my dang head, breathin’ in cigarette smoke.  I’m twenty-nine now and happy as a kid at Christmas to be doing the same exact thing!”

The enthusiasm is unmistakable, and absolutely genuine. To witness Luke perform live is like watching a firecracker do a happy dance. And yes, she can really play. She counts her early influences as  Buck Owens and Don Rich, Merle Haggard and Roy Nichols, Gene Moles, Grady Martin, Bob Wills and the like. Another guitar hero of Luke’s, Eugene Moles (the son of the late Gene Moles), befriended Luke when they met at a show in Nashville in 2007.

“Eugene Moles is my favorite guitar player in life and he’s without a doubt the Telecaster king of my heart,” Luke enthuses.”I had a bootleg video of Eugene playing guitar with Merle Haggard when I was a kid and I watched that video so many times, the actual cassette inside the video wore through. His father, Gene Moles, is one of my favorite players ever and because of his Dad, Eugene grew up around guys like Roy Nichols and Don Rich and he’s this amazing combination of every single thing I love about the guitar. I’m so grateful for his inspiration…I feel like that guy gave me the thing that makes me the happiest in my life…the inspiration to pick up a Telecaster and bend strings like a maniac. When I met him for the first time I cried.”

The exuberance for all things guitar reveals itself most in her playing. Supporting her ‘throwback to the Sixties’ country vocals with her own brand of twangy riffs and zappin’ licks add a fevered frenzied quality to an already exciting performance. This comes out in full essence when the stage is shared with her knockout band, The Cool Hand Lukes.

When Luke relocated to Indianapolis six years ago, she formed Mandy Marie and The Cool Hand Lukes somewhat by default. “Our upright bass player and I were in a band before this one and our singer quit,” Luke remembers.” I had only played lead guitar in bands and I’d never sang in my entire life, but we had gigs booked that we didn’t want to cancel and we sort of drew straws to see who would have to sing. I was the one forced into it and then they just wouldn’t let me quit. I was so scared to sing that I was literally shakin’ in my boots…I enjoy it now but, whew, it about killed me!”

You’d never know it now to hear her sing. Music comes so naturally to Luke that there’s really no line between the performer and the person, and the chemistry within the band is electric onstage.  They’ve been rapidly making a name for themselves across the country as a powerful force of fun loving, pure country music and with the impending release of their debut album $600 Bootscoming in August, things seem to be on upswing for them. Her musicians have also been supportive of the recent solo acoustic endeavors Luke has undertaken, allowing her to expand into territory that doesn’t necessarily fit in with what is the band’s usual repertoire.

More acoustic shows, compounded with The Cool Hand Lukes touring schedule, make this a busy year for the tele-slinger. With the rise of interest in roots country music brought on by the magic of the World Wide Web, Luke has a chance of reaching a larger audience than what would have been available just a few short years ago. Even though Country Music has removed most of the”country” out of the genre and is now just a mess of blurred pitch machines, Jimmy Buffet copy cats, and pop hemush, Luke knows there’s more opportunity out there now for someone like her.

“I’m anything but a fan of mainstream country”, she says,”but I think real country music is alive and well! You may not hear it on the radio or see it on television but if you dig just a little bit deeper you’ll find it. Especially now with Satellite radio and the Internet, you don’t have to look too far to run into something real and true. I think we’re all crazy lucky to be living in this age…we get to listen to it ALL! I can spend half of the day listening to Gene Moles doing all of that crazy cool pickin’ on my Red Simpson records and then spend the rest of it listening to the new Bill Kirchen CD on my iPod. It’s great!”

Luke is truly one of a kind. There is no other woman in country music today that can write, sing, and telecast their way into hearts the way that she does so effortlessly. Rock on, Mandy, and pave the way for little girls with rhinestone wishes and telecaster dreams.

~Michael Ross

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