Victor Lukenbaugh, the longtime drummer for The Judge Parker Band and Black Oak Arkansas, recently died in Fort Smith. He was 64.
Bandmates looked to Vic not only to keep the beat, but also for his quick wit and deep knowledge of music history with personal connections to a diverse group of artists like Hubert Sumlin, Gregg Allman and Merle Haggard.
"He was like a dictionary, especially with blues," said Bruce Pearson, backup vocalist for Judge Parker. "If you were listening to something with him, he could tell you when it was recorded, who recorded it, where, and who played it live ... He was in the scene. He grew up in the scene."
Lukenbaugh passed away May 8 at a Fort Smith hospice with his longtime friends Bruce and Stephanie Pearson by his side. In early September, Vic was on tour with Black Oak Arkansas when he called Stephanie to say he had swelling in his abdomen. At Stephanie’s request, Jim Dandy, lead singer for Black Oak, took Vic to see a doctor in Jonesboro at 3 a.m. It wasn’t good.
Vic checked himself into a Fort Smith hotel for the next two weeks until Stephanie and Bruce could return from California. They had just left for Santa Cruz to take their son to college when Vic had called that day with the report. Stephanie was livid. She didn’t believe a doctor in Jonesboro could make a diagnosis of liver cancer at 3 a.m. A visit to a Fort Smith oncologist confirmed the diagnosis. It was stage IV. There was nothing they could do.
"Vic made the decision," Stephanie said. "It was a good decision. There was nothing they could do. He had a good nine months. There were good days and bad days. Until the last month, or the last couple weeks. But ... he was tough."
Over the past week, Bruce and Stephanie Pearson have received calls of condolence from Vic’s friends around the world.
On the road, Vic was loved for his stories both by band mates and those he encountered, whether they were famous artists like Merle Haggard on his tour bus, or on a motorcycle with Patrick Swayze in Chicago. Vic brought people together and pushed things forward.
"He helped the band with momentum," says Judge Parker lead singer Larry Pearson. "A couple things to remember about Vic is that he had a way with knowledge, and his love for a diversity of music."
A casual observer may have looked at Vic and just seen a long-haired rock ’n’ roller, but those who knew him best, like brothers Bruce, Larry and Arthur Pearson, say he was one of the smartest guys they ever knew. They never could beat him at Jeopardy.
In 1973, Vic graduated high school in Enid with a music scholarship to Phillips University. He stayed about three weeks, Stephanie said.
The real world was calling.
By 1985, after about 10 years playing in a variety of bands in Oklahoma City like The Famous Unknowns, Vic had packed up and moved to Chicago and dove deep into the blues world where he eventually played drums for Hubert Sumlin & the Night Crawlers. Sumlin, a Mississippi-born Arkansas native, played guitar alongside Howlin’ Wolf for 20 years.
Vic Lukenbaugh, an Oklahoma-born Arkansas native, became known as the "shuffle king." As Bruce Pearson said, "He could play a shuffle like nobody." But his percussion was not limited to drums. He also sometimes played congas in the Jimmy Buffett tribute band, Bluffett, with Larry Pearson.
In 1990, Vic returned to Oklahoma City, where he became a member of Black Oak Arkansas — a role he fulfilled for 30 years. Shortly after, in 1995, he joined The Judge Parker Band from Fort Smith and played with them for over 25 years. Throughout his musical career, he shared the stage with bands that included Molly Hatchet, Charlie Daniels, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foghat and Gregg Allman, to name a few.
"A gypsy soul, he traveled the country playing in every state except Alaska and Hawaii; he also played internationally throughout Canada and Europe," his obituary reads. "Considered to be one of the greatest storytellers by his family and friends, he was a lover of life and novelty."
Vic Lukenbaugh is survived by two daughters, Paige and husband Forest Stanley of Yukon, Okla., and Jessica "Peanut" Lukenbaugh of Oklahoma City; a sister, Lana Lukenbaugh Billings of Enid; a brother, Scott Lukenbaugh of Enid; two grandsons, Korbin and Romeo; and his "Ellie Mae," Eleanor Sharp of Fort Smith.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Play it Again Arkansas, an organization that allows public school students to access gently used and/or repaired instruments through their local band directors, by emailing email@example.com or calling (501) 580-9671.