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Remembering Jon Lukas Woodenman

In a few days' time, Jon Lukas would have turned 75 years old, affectionately recognised as another Maltese artist who succeeded abroad. This is his story...

Jon Lukas, also known as Woodenman and born as Frank Agius on August 4, 1948, in Paola, Malta, was a renowned musician from Malta. In the 1970s, he achieved a groundbreaking milestone for Maltese music with the release of his hit single "Can't Afford to Lose," becoming the first Maltese artist to achieve international success. This iconic achievement was acknowledged 40 years later when his handprint was included in Bay Street's Walk of Fame on November 28, 2010. Additionally, he received a Lifetime Achievement award at the Malta Music Awards, presented to him by Freddie Portelli and featured on the TVM news on the same day.

Jon Lukas will forever be etched in Maltese music history for being the first Maltese pop artist to sign with a major international record company, not just for his ground-breaking chart success in various foreign territories. The 1970s were a challenging time in Malta when pop music access was limited to Rediffusion, and concepts like FM radio, the internet, or making overseas phone calls were practically unheard of. Consequently, aspiring to become a pop star seemed nearly impossible. Jon Lukas defied the odds by securing a contract with EMI Columbia, which was a momentous achievement.

During its peak, "Can't Afford to Lose" received regular airplay on Radio Luxembourg, which was equivalent to today's MTV. The song's extensive exposure on the station, with twice nightly plays for a month and occasional inclusion on playlists over the following year, propelled its popularity in various territories. Revered as a timeless classic by his fans, the song continues to enjoy regular airplay, particularly in Malta.

Notably, "Can't Afford to Lose" was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London, using the same microphones and session musicians as The Beatles during their tumultuous period near their breakup. The B-side of the single, "Can't Make You Mine," was written by Mike McGear of the UK act The Scaffold, who, in reality, is Peter McCartney, the brother of Sir Paul McCartney.

Aside from reaching the Top 40 charts in the UK and several European territories, "Can't Afford to Lose" secured the top position on the pop charts in Lebanon for an entire month, preventing The Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" from reaching the No. 1 spot. This success led to Lukas embarking on tours in Lebanon, Abu Dhabi, Damascus, Iran, and other Emirates, sharing the spotlight with esteemed 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 and Arabic music stars.

In the early 1980s, Jon Lukas formed a close bond with the legendary US soul artist and Grammy Award winner Marvin Gaye, who was residing in London at the time and facing personal challenges. They collaborated on several ideas and productions, although most remained unfinished. Lukas did release a track titled "Love Hurts" shortly before Gaye's tragic death in 1984.

In 1993, accompanied by Marita, Jon Lukas placed second in the Malta Song Contest with the song "Żommni u Għannaqni." This marked another significant milestone in his career as it was the first time he sang in Maltese, an experience that evoked a deep sense of belonging. The English version of the song, titled "Love We Share," was produced by renowned Indian-British music producer Biddu, known for hits like Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," Tina Charles, Jimmy James, and The Real Thing.

In 1994, Jon Lukas broke the HIV/AIDS taboo in Malta by establishing the Jon Lukas AIDS Awareness Campaign, aimed at promoting 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 passed away from HIV+ related complications in 1987.

In 1998, under the name Woodenman, Jon Lukas and his band made a significant impact by topping the indie music web charts for the entire month of August with their song "My Time."

However, later that year, Lukas faced a near-fatal cardiac arrest, which necessitated a break from music for rest and recovery.

Although less visible in the public eye, Lukas continued his involvement in music behind the scenes. In 2007, he received an Effigy Award in Marbella, Spain, where he spent considerable time when not in the UK. The award was presented by ONDA CERO Radio/ABC Network Radio USA in recognition of Lukas's radio airplay in these territories for his 2007 release, "Far Away." He continued recording under the moniker Jon Lukas Woodenman. Later that year, he released another song titled "Better Man," showcasing a revitalized passion for music that captured his soulful essence from a fresh perspective.

In the summer of 2008, Marc Storace of Krokus paid tribute to Lukas' 'Can't Afford to Lose'. During Krokus’ concert, on the island of Gozo, Lukas surprised the audience as he emerged to sing the last half of the song in duet with Storace.

Throughout most of his career, Lukas made rare visits to Malta, mostly for brief breaks. However, in early 2009, he returned for a six-month period to care for his ailing mother. During his time in Malta, he actively engaged in the local scene, serving as a judge on ONE TV's talent show ID and hosting his distinctive cutting-edge radio show called "Woodenman's Jukebox." The show aimed to present uninterrupted credible music without excessive talk. The radio show continues to be broadcast to this day, streaming 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 airing on Fridays at 2200hrs CET (2100hrs UK). Detailed show information and links to listen on-demand are available on the dedicated Facebook page. Around the same time, jonlukaswoodenman was approached by Adrian Saliba of Rewind Productions to write a song titled "ONE 4 U" for the 2010 Malta Eurosong Contest.

In 2010, Jon Lukas Woodenman was diagnosed with lung cancer, resulting in the partial removal of one of his lungs. He subsequently underwent a grueling four-month chemotherapy course, sharing his cancer treatment experience with friends and fans through online posts on his Facebook page.

In August 2010, during a Winter Moods concert attended by a record-breaking audience of 10,000 people, a personal tribute was paid to Woodenman, highlighting his significant contributions to Maltese music. In May 2011, he made his first post-cancer live appearance in a tribute concert organized by Winter Moods. He also featured in a TVM biography about Winter Moods.

Through his involvement and connections with key figures in the Maltese music scene, Jon Lukas became acquainted with the abundant talent and vibrant music scene on the island. Apart from recording his radio shows, his visits to Malta became more frequent, allowing him to attend numerous live music events held on the island.

Sadly, Jon Lukas, the first Maltese artist to break into the UK's Top 40 charts passed away at the age of 72 after battling cancer for 13 years.

photos from Jon Lukas Woodenman Facebook page

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