Jon Lukas Woodenman
Back in the 1970s, Jon Lukas scored a first for Maltese music when he released Can't afford to lose. The song went on to become a huge hit, making him the first Maltese artist to break through at an international level. 40 years later, his milestone feat was recognized when, on 28 November 2010, his handprint was included at Bay Street's Walk of Fame. He also received a Lifetime Achievement award at that year's edition of the Malta Music Awards, which was presented to him by Freddie Portelli and featured on the TVM news that same day.
It goes without saying that Jon Lukas will forever be remembered in Maltese music history, and not only for achieving the first-ever successful pop chart placing in various foreign territories, but also for being the first Maltese pop artist to sign with a major international record company. In the 1970s, a time when in Malta the only access to pop music was via Rediffusion, FM radio and the internet were still unheard of and even making an overseas telephone call was quite complicated, dreaming of becoming a pop star was next to impossible, so the fact that Jon Lukas succeeded in getting signed to EMI Columbia was certainly a momentous feat.
At its peak Can't afford to lose was getting regular airplay on Radio Luxembourg, which was essentially the equivalent of today's MTV. Thanks to the station playing the song twice nightly for a month and with the odd playlist inclusion over the next year or so the song, spread to various territories where it made a huge impact. Considered by his fans as a classic evergreen, the song continues to enjoy regular airplay, especially in Malta.
It's worth mentioning that Can't afford to lose was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London, precisely in the same studio, and using the same microphones and session musicians as The Beatles at the time when the Fab Four were close to breaking up. The single's B-side Can't Make you Mine was written by Mike McGear of UK act The Scaffold, who in real life is actually Peter McCartney, brother of Sir Paul McCartney.
Apart from making it to the Top 40 charts in the UK and some other European territories, Can't afford to lose occupied the top place in the pop charts in Lebanon for a full month, holding back The Beatles' The Long and Winding Road from reaching the No.1 spot. This led to several tours in Lebanon, Abu Dhabi, Damascus, Iran and the rest of the Emirates, with Lukas sharing top billing alongside major names such as Googoosh, Gilbert Bécaud, Johnny Halliday, Michel Legrand, Mal, Domenico Modugno, Patti Pravo, Bob Geldof, Midge Ure, Bananarama, Lisa Stansfield, Level 42 and various other international acts and stars of the Arabic music world.
At the start of the 1980s, Jon Lukas formed a close friendship with US soul legend and Grammy Award winner Marvin Gaye, who was at the time living in London and going through a period of personal turmoil. They worked together on a number of ideas and productions, and although these remained largely unfinished, Lukas did release one track in particular, Love Hurts, sadly just before Gaye's tragic death in 1984.
In 1993, Jon Lukas, accompanied by Marita, placed second in that year's Malta Song Contest with the song Żommni u Għannaqni. The song marked another first in the singer's career, being the first time he sang in Maltese, the experience of which Lukas has said 'opened a deep feeling of belonging'. The English language version of the song was titled Love We Share and was produced by renowned Indian-British music producer Biddu whose track record includes Carl Douglas'Kung Fu Fighting as well as hits by Tina Charles, Jimmy James and The Real Thing.
In 1994 Jon Lukas broke the taboo surrounding HIV/AIDS in Malta by setting up the Jon Lukas AIDS Awareness Campaign, to promote awareness and education about the emerging disease. That same year, Lukas organized and participated in a Rock Mass dedicated to his brother Ray, who had died from HIV+ related complications in 1987.
In 1998, the singer, under the name of Woodenman, his band at the time, made a significant impression by conquering the Peoplesound.com indie music web charts. The band was at No.1 for the entire month of August with the song My Time. Later that year, Lukas suffered a near-fatal cardiac arrest, as a result of which he was forced to take a break from music and spend time resting and recovering.
Although not so much in the public eye, the singer was still dabbling in music behind the scenes, and in 2007, he was presented with an Effigy Award in Marbella, Spain, where he spent a lot of his time when not in the UK. The award was given to him by ONDA CERO Radio/ABC Network Radio USA for radio airplay in these territories for his 2007 release Far Away, his first under the jon lukas woodenman moniker that he continues to record under to this day. Later that year, he also released a new song, Better man, which like Far away, revealed a re-energized appetite for music that captured his soulful timbre with a fresh perspective.
Throughout the larger part of his career, Lukas had rarely visited Malta, except for maybe the odd short break. In early 2009 however, he decided to return for a six-month stretch in order to care for his mother, who had become very ill. While in Malta, he got involved in the local scene, forming part of the judging panel on ONE TV’s talent show ID and presenting his own distinctive cutting edge radio show, woodenman’s jukebox, with the aim of presenting listeners with 'uninterrupted credible music - no talk'.
The radio show is still broadcast to this day, and is streamed live on Fridays at 2045hrs CET (1945hrs UK) on ONE Radio and at CHANNEL RADIO UK on Wednesdays at 1900hrs CET (1800hrs UK) with a repeat on Fridays 2200hrs CET (2100hrs UK). Show details and listen on-demand links for all the woodenman's jukebox broadcasts are available on the dedicated Facebook page. Around this time, jonlukaswoodenman was approached by Adrian Saliba of Rewind Productions to write a song, ONE 4 U, for the 2010 Malta Eurosong Contest.
In 2010, jonlukas woodenman woodenman was diagnosed with lung cancer, which left him without part of one of his lungs. This was followed by a gruelling four month chemotherapy course, the experience of which he shared with his friends and fans via online posts about his cancer treatment on his Facebook page.
In August 2010 a personal tribute by Winter Moods (Malta's biggest band of its music history) was given towoodenman during their 10.000 audience attended concert ..... an historical gross attendance first, considering the size of this small Island.
His involvement, along with meeting some of the movers and shakers of the Maltese music scene introduced him to the abundance of activity and talent that the island had to offer. In fact, apart from recording his radio shows, the schedule of his visits to Malta, now more frequent, also includes taking in a number of live music events that happen on the island.
1970 Jon Lukas - Can't afford to lose
1993 Jon Lukas & Marita - Żommni u Għannaqni
1998 Woodenman - My time
2007 jonlukaswoodenman - Better man
2013 jonlukaswoodenman - Bad news
2014 jonlukaswoodenman - Older-Better? (original version)
2014 jonlukaswoodenman - Older-Better? (live on Sportsvibe Sessions)