Les Paul: LP
Robert Silverstein: RS
RS: The TV show Les Paul & Mary Ford At Home started on network
television in 1953.
LP: That was 1949.
RS: The TV show?
LP: Oh, no...Im sorry. That was the radio show. The TV show was
in 53. Youre right.
RS: Listerine was the sponsor
LP: That is correct.
RS: And for seven years they were five, five minute shows that aired
five times a day, five days a week? Your house in Mahwah was right near
the Listerine plant!
LP: When the president heard How High The Moon he called
Martin Block and just says where can I find these people?
He says, well they live out in Hollywood and he says, Ill
call them and tell them youd like to talk to them. And I called
the Listerine people and they asked for a meeting at The New Hampshire
House. Then we discussed what we wished to do and I said, well
if were going to broadcast from our home, we surely cant
do that in the home I got out in Hollywood. And they said, would
you consider moving to the East Coast, close to us so that we can work
together better? And I said, sure, well do whatever
you want, well, well work it out. So, we worked it out,
so Listerine found this place where I live. Its now 34 rooms,
but at that time it was seven! We built big studios and everything and
we did all seven years of Listerine from here. So it was very, very
good for us. And those were the years when Gleason, The Honeymooners...all
the great shows on Broadway. You know, the Sullivan and Steve Allen...everything
was here. The Tonight Show...everything was here. And so we were just
right in the midst of everything.
RS: The TV shows were shot in b&w and you did 170 shows?
RS: Will they ever be reissued in any form?
LP: I have em and were getting them to reissue them and
theyre just great. Theyre just great. I cant tell
you how happy I am to see em. What weve done is weve
just cleaned em up and made em so nice and so good.
RS: Have you found company for them or are you going to reissue them
LP: Well we havent made a deal yet to market, of which company
were going with but theres three or four that are terribly
interested in it. We just want to make sure we get the best deal and
that they really go all out to get it done right, you know?
RS: Just getting back to the Capitol Records Legend & The
Legacy box set that's now out of print. Are there alot of other
tracks that didnt make it onto the unreleased rarities CD, disc
LP: Oh yeah...fifty percent. Theres fifty percent more not released.
They were released at one time but theyre not in the box set.
In other words, fifty percent more we couldnt get in that box
set and it was a question of just saying hey! If we put this in,
we cant put that in. And so we says, well, well
wait and well put the other one out later.
RS: And thats more unreleased stuff right?
LP: Yeah...theres alot of it.
RS: Also are there alot of alternate versions for instance instrumental
versions of songs that Mary would sing on?
LP: Sure. Alot of them are different versions entirely than anything
out there. They are still in there...the recordings are still...theyre
masters but theyd never been pressed and theyre all sealed
in the container and filed and have never been played since they were
RS: I would love to hear those. I guess Ill have to wait.
LP: I would too! (laughter) And I wanna play em but you dont
want to damage them. And so what Im doing is, were setting
up the finest equipment to play these things back on to master em
and transfer them to all the latest in the technology as to which is
the best way to store em and restore em in three different
manners. Three different formats.
RS: And theyre out there at your place in Mahwah?
LP: Yeah, in Mahwah.
RS: Just to back track again, back in the 50s it seemed like Capitol
Records had the greatest artists. You and Mary Ford, Les Baxter and
wasnt there another guitarist there, I dont know if I should
mention him, called Alvino Rey?
LP: No, I love Alvino Rey!
RS: Cause I remember from The Gas Guitar episode of
the radio show, when you joined Wires Anonymous someone
tried to trip you up and delivered a wire from Alvino Rey.
LP: Yeah. Alvino Rey married one of the King Sisters. There were King
Sisters married to the vice president of Capitol and so its all
intermingled. Were all one big family.
RS: I havent seen any of his stuff around at all.
LP: Hes still around, hes alive. He loves ham radio. He
lives out west. I dont know just where hes at now. But no,
Alvino Rey is a very dear friend, I just havent seen him in a
long time. But I hear from either one of his wife's sisters, yknow,
cause of the King Family just migrates and on and on and on. And
so the King sisters...one of em was married to Buddy Cole, who
played piano in my group and the other one is the vice president (of
Capitol) Jim Conklin. And so it just goes on with all the...Alvino Rey
was married to one of them.
RS: Jim Conklin married one of the King Sisters?
LP: Yeah the King Sisters were great.
RS: I remember they had a TV show back in the 60s.
LP: Yeah, yeah...sure.
RS: Those were back in the black and white days. Just to jump ahead
here, in 1988 Les Paul & Friends: He Changed The Music was
filmed for cable live at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music.
RS: That video featured interviews with David Gilmour, Steve Miller,
B.B. King, Waylon Jennings and more...any memories of that show? I know
that video is currently unavailable.
LP: Yeah, it should be available. We were talking about it the other
night. What I should do is track it down and put it out again. I liked
it and it was alot of fun making it. I think we found where its
at. You know, the companies are changing so much and the big fish are
eatin the little fish. And so the banner change of music has been
with different companies. And its gets stored away and its
lost. Its not lost, its just buried. And we found it the
other day and were negotiating with them to put the thing out
cause it was an interesting show. It was a lot of fun doing.
RS: Speaking of Steve Miller, I saw you wrote liner notes for the 2003
double live Steve Miller live CD on King Biscuit. I know Steves
father gave you and Mary Ford a blood test the day you married her.
LP: Yeah...on a beer box. I sat on a beer box and got my blood test.
And his father and his mother...his mothers still alive. They
live down in Texas. I just talked to Steve last night. So, Steve and
I are very good friends.
RS: Another Capitol recording artist by the way...
LP: And a very talented record guy too. Yeah...hes good.
RS: Also around that same time, was your 1988 induction into the Rock
& Roll Hall of Fame.
LP: Yeah, well I know...
RS: It must have been nice finally getting recognition from some of
the younger players.
LP: It was a great feeling because you knew there were alot of great
musicians, alot of great talent thats gonna be around! Its
new music coming in. So it was great to be included.
RS: I recall Jeff Beck was there with you on the stage.
LP: Oh, I love Jeff Beck...holy Christ...hes great.
RS: Going back to the your moving from Capitol to Columbia why do you
think instrumental music got so big in England and Europe on the pop
charts around 1960 and in the States it got a little less popular?
LP: The guitars all over but...things go through cycles. All of
a sudden you will find that theres maybe five great female vocalists
and they manage to save the jazz or the good music of that type or that
caliber from disappearing. It brings it back. And then along comes the
Jeff Becks and a million other great players out there that have
the privilege of seeing, being taught, by listening, by learning first
hand to play their instrument so many different ways and done so differently
each one from the other. Its great that youll see the wide
variety of music that you got to choose! You could listen to anything
you wanna hear! Its out there. Thats why down at the club,
I enjoy playing there is because it never ends, that whos going
to walk up on that stage and how different he is from what we had last
week. You remain fresh all the time because of the constant people coming
up with new ideas. And not only that, but its the toys that theyve
got to play with! That they didnt have to play with way back at
the beginning. You know, we were pioneers! We only had one! Now you
can go into a music store, you can see anything known to man there to
deal with and work with, so every kid has in his bedroom, his basement,
his garage...he has the capability of putting out masters where I can
remember where I was the only one that recorded by himself. To make
masters and plunk em down on the table of a record company. It
was unheard of! It was frustrating to the union! The union says, well
this guy just sits there and he plays it himself. All the parts, hes
doing all the stuff. He says, what are we going to do with
him? And that was just the beginning. Then the multi-track machine
became recognized as what a great tool it is to work with. And then
those that were only in the pro fields said, we gotta move over
to the consumer field. And when they got over to the consumer
field its unimaginable the amount and choice that you have of
things that you could get today in a music store. You were lucky to
find a guitar pick! It changed so much.
RS: Well from my perspective, itd be nice to see your 4 CD Capitol
Records box set back in print in the future.
LP: Originally, when they knocked on my door with that one it was going
to be a 2 box set. And so I said to em We have so much material
here, well make it a three CD box set. So Capitol agreed
with that. So then I thought, well Ill dangle a few over...the
radio shows and things. I will give em some goodies and make it
a four CD box set and Ill be damned if they didnt do it!
And of course, this is the time when the whole industry was starting
to shudder because there was some big vast, shocking things about to
happen in the music business. And it did.
RS: You mean the internet? Which big things?
LP: Well as you know, the record companies today are having a rough
time with it because of the way things are going, the record companies
have to readjust the record stores, the computers and downloading of
material. The whole structure is changing. They dont have the
outlet to make a song like in the early days when we could be on every
radio station, not only in New York City but every city in the United
States and the World! They would all be playing your song! Well, that
youll never see again. And that doesnt exist anymore. So
they have to find different avenues of exploiting their new music, their
new talent. And, if you take years ago, the record company wouldnt
even blink an eye of spending half a million dollars before you make
the first record! And now, its the other way around! You could
be the best there is and walk up to a record company and youre
lucky if they even listen to you!
RS: Its unfortunate but its true.
LP: Yeah! Well right now its at a time when every record company
is just in a state of shock because they just dont know where
tomorrow is going to be.
RS: Again from the box set I wrote here that song you did Little
Rock Getaway had so much echo on it that you could fly and airplane
LP: (laughter) Now I tell ya, I havent played that in a long time
down at the club. I just didnt get around to it, so Im glad
you brought that up. Ill play that next week.
RS: When you went on the road you took your recorder with you and you
recorded that song in Rock Island, Illinois?
LP: Thats right.
RS: And there was some drunk guy in the audience that said, play
something about Rock Island..
RS: Then you said, I dont know anything with rocks in it
but then you remembered Little Rock Getaway.
LP: Exactly! And then I went upstairs and played it on the next radio
show. And we recorded it, I guess it took me about a half hour.
RS: And its amazing because you say you carried your tape machine
on the road with a little mixer, two guitars and a microphone...
LP: Thats all!
RS: Im amazed. The quality...I mean people cant even do
that today! That cool sounding stuff...I mean they can come close now
LP: Yah..ya..Well they have too many toys and thats dangerous
too because sometimes if its raining out, when I was a little
kid, my mother would just take the pots and pans out from underneath
the sink and the cupboards and put em on the floor and let me
play with em. And I could imagine all the things I wished to do
with my pots and pans but I didnt have real toys with real wheels
and planes that had propellers and motors and jets, whatever... Well,
the same thing applies today! When back in my time, when Im recording
I only had a limited amount of machinery, of technical devices, to work
with versus what they have today! Well you can go in and get so many
things to turn on with your feet and you got so many things to plug
in that you destroy the very thing that would be a winner. You got too
much to play with and you lose the original idea. It becomes... detoured.
I see that very often. I said, well I see where this guy had it,
but he lost it. But he lost it because of too much gimmickry. And then
also, theres a...you have to have a taste and you have to have
the ability to not let it get away from you if you have too much to
work with. Now I found out...that I made an album years and years ago.
I made an album, for Decca Records, and it was a Hawaiian album. And
the Hawaiian album, the president, Jack Kapp, just said to me, Id
like to have you do this over again. And he says, think
about it... And I said, okay. So I played the original
album. I was flying all over the guitar on that thing. I was playing
the Hawaiian album like I was in Bop City, yknow? Then I began
to realize what the president was...I didnt say, but what he was
getting the message across to me to think about, and that is to make
this so that the public could digest it and that it was like the Hawaiians
would like to hear it or how they would play it. And so, I redid the
album for Decca and the album...I made more money on that album than
I did on any of the other records that I made. And that was a great
education to me. And then the third time I made the album, I made another
Hawaiian album with Mary, okay? And I didnt do as well on that
one as I did the one on Decca. Jack Kapp had the ability to, without
telling you so, is to remain simple. Leave the garbage out if you dont
need to put it in, dont put it in there. Its like Count
Basie playing the piano. If you have the ability...if youre put
in the position where you have a choice of playing anything you want,
but its got to go in this little space, and then he picks one
note...and as long as its the right note, and he puts it in the
right place, well God bless him. Hes a winner. And thats
the hardest thing to do, is to leave it out. And play it without. Leave
that air there. Leave black there so that white is white. No gray area.
You have a white area and a black area. You can only have nothing and
you have a blast. And its the same way musically. Theres
places where you should say, it doesnt need anything, so
dont put it there. Thats a talent all of its
own. Is not to overdue it. And thats what you do, like on Monday
night, we do that all the time. Well say, lets try
it this way. Well try it and see what the audience reaction is.
Another example, a better example was, when I first started with Mary,
I said, look, Im curious about something. I play How
High The Moon one way and then I play it another way and then
I play it another way. And I find out that How High The
Moon this way works on Monday, but it dont work on a Wednesday.
Now why in the world would a day make a difference in the arrangement
of How High The Moon? And so I finally found out where I
could play How High The Moon on a Monday, on a Saturday...it
didnt make any difference. They liked it. So I said this
is a clue. And the next clue is gonna be what happens in Rock
Island, Illinois when I play Little Rock, when I play How
High The Moon? Is it going to be different on Monday and Saturday
in Rock Island? And I found out by the time I get to, I dont know...
Indianapolis, Indiana, wherever it was...I said to Mary...it was on
the Wabash River somewhere. And I says, I know the way to make
How High The Moon. Okay, and the rendition of How
High The Moon and why it works on a Monday and works on
a Saturday in this driving rhythm and the arrangement of that song.
I had a hundred arrangements of How High The Moon! And I
gradually whittled it down to the one that fit everybody. And thats
the hardest thing in the world to do, is to please the majority of people,
RS: I know you were telling me how long it took to convince Capitol
to release How High The Moon. Its great it was your
version that really clicked.
LP: Yeah, yeah...It took him one year! One year and finally he came
to me and it was the vice president, Jim Conklin...one the King Sisters
husbands...and he said to me at a party at the Presidents house.
He said...I was...at that time I was talking to Stan Kenton and Tex
Ritter and a bunch of guys there from Capitol. And he come over and
he says, Les I think our next release should be How High
The Moon. So I said, No, youre right, that thingll
never make it! And he says, No, I disagree with you (laughter).
So Mary says, why do you tell him not to release it. Youve
been working a year tryin to get him to release it. And
it was just the psychology of it, to get him to try to force me to agree
with him to release the record. And they put it out. In two weeks he
sent me a telegram from Chicago. And was taking the Superchief to New
York and he says, I was wrong, he says How High
The Moon is number one in two weeks. So, it just proved
that it pays to go out there and find out what that public wants.
TCG: You made four Hawaiian music albums? I know the Hawaiian Paradise
LP: Thats right. Well, I made two for Decca and then I made the
third one...was the one that I made for Capitol. And Mary was in the
hospital with hepatitis, so Id have to go up there and get her
parts from the hospital and then bring em home and play around
and do it that way. And that one didnt come off as good as the
one with Decca. There was three of them. But the Hawaiian album...it
proved one thing for me to do and that is not play too many notes where
theyre not needed. Its like my piano player, I was sayin
to him the other night...I was sayin, if you just breath
a little bit, just leave a little air in there somewhere... I
never tell the guys what to do. I never tell my guys in my group what
to do. But I did say something the other day, maybe two weeks ago. And
I said, Im just going to mention one thing to the group.
Just remember the melody. Just remember theres a melody.
If you wander too far from it...if you do wander from it just make sure
its something better. Otherwise, leave that melody! The guy worked
like hell Over The Rainbow right! Or Stardust
or Cant Get Started...Sunny Side Of The Street...you
cant do any better than that. You can play different versions
of it, yknow? But always make sure that that audience...I want
em that if they come down those stairs, that they say, Wow,
theyre playing Little Rock'...hes on the stairway.
I had a fellow come to me and he says, my wife and I were parking
the car and he says I could hear you off in the distance
and he says, I knew it was you, before I ever locked the door
in my car! See, because of the style, the sound. And thats
important that youre labeled so that you have your own distinction.
And that same thing applies when youre walking down the stairs,
that you know what song theyre playing. Youll go crazy with
that song. And if the song is meant to go crazy, go crazy!
RS: Well, the best stuff is obviously the melodies people can remember.
Like you say, its not what you put it, its sometimes what
you leave out.
LP: Yeah, sometimes. But then theres other times when youre
playing the blues when there is no melody! Youre playing the blues,
the people love the blues. But then you get a message of your own. Youre
making up your own mixture of notes into this melody that youre
creating right there. And that goes when you go in and youre a
guy playing the blues...like Stevie Ray Vaughan or something. Hes
doing some of this...or Al Collins or whoever it is...B.B. King...They
have their way of saying the blues.
RS: Another favorite of mine from the rarities CD on the Capitol box
set is I Love You, Oh So Much. Do you remember that?
LP: I dont remember it, but I wrote it.
RS: Also the song Five Alarm Fire. Do you remember that
LP: Yeah sure!
RS: Theres some opening lick from that song that sounds like the
Vanilla Fudge stole for their opening to You Keep Me Hangin
On. I dont know if you remember that.
LP: (laughter) Yeah, I do. I can remember I was at breakfast and they
said, we gotta have something that is 1 minute and 39 seconds
long or what ever it was. And I got a stopwatch and I just timed
it out. And I says, I got the tempo now I gotta think of the song.
For some reason or another, I heard a siren go by. So I got five alarms
going. Five alarm fire! And I got the title of the song and then I had
to think up the music. And then fifteen minutes later while we were
making the Listerine show. We were doing the show. One of those things
I finished that day was still hot. I hadnt even stopped the tape
RS: I was reading that your brother in law, Wally, came up with some
of the titles for your songs. And you could never figure out how he
LP: Yeah, I would give him a list of maybe ten songs that I wrote and
Id say, put some titles on there, will you? And then
after he puts the titles on then wed have to get some guy to write
lyrics, a melody to it. Wed have a song with no melody, no lyrics.
Was there a lot of pressure from the record companies back then. Youd
have a great instrumental and theyd say why dont you put
lyrics to it or something. Did you ever have that artistic dispute with
LP: No, no. But I did have it the other way around. I made an instrumental
of Tiger Rag. And I made it in Jackson Heights. Boy, Capitol
loved it. And they kept wanting to release it but I wouldnt allow
them to release it. I says, no, Ill give you another song.
And I wouldnt put out Tiger Rag. And then one day
I thought of the lyrics...And I said, here kitty, kitty, here
pussy, pussy... And I said, oh Jesus, I know the lyrics!
Okay, so I wrote the lyrics out and that was it. But theres a
time... I never had Capitol say, you oughta make a vocal of this
thing. No, I never had that... But I know they do it. I know they
do it with others. (I would) put an instrumental on the back of a vocal
and I would always try...if the A side of that record, lets say
its Worlds Waiting For The Sunrise...the key
to that is what you put on the other side of that record. How
High The Moon...what do you put on the other side of that that
is not going to take away from How High The Moon, but its
a damn good song? A damned good recording. And thats why I would
put Walkin And Whistling Blues on the back of How
High The Moon. Or, I would take Mockingbird Hill,
knowing that sonofabitch is going to go number one real fast! What am
I going to put on the other side thats gonna get airplay?... That
the announcer can talk over anytime he wants to, he can fade it anywhere
he wants to, and its a perfect...you cant hurt it. And I
said Ill put Chicken Reel there. And I
put Chicken Reel there...or Ill put Little Rock,
y know? And Ill put that on the B-side, okay? And Ill
be darned if those sonofaguns didnt go up like the A-side!
RS: So Little Rock was the B-side of Tennessee Waltz?
RS: Thats a pretty pioneering move. To put a cool instrumental
on the back of a hot vocal hit...
LP: Yeah, and then I had a problem cause the instrumental would
have a tendency to knock the vocal out. And I didnt want that
to happen so I had to make sure that it didnt make something too
strong that would take away from the one that we want to be the hit.
Okay? And I wrote the other side of Vaya Con Dios (Johnny
Is The Boy For Me). And everybody was playing the other side of
Vaya Con Dios! And I asked Capitol Records if we could go
on a seven city tour, and its to stop them from playing my recording,
okay?...of the other side and play Vaya Con Dios. And the
jockey says, well jeez, we thought this is your song, you wrote
it! Dont you want to plug your own song? (I said) No
in this case, I dont want you to plug my song, I want you to play
Vaya Con Dios And we got em to turn the record
over and it broke all sales for any record we ever made! But I had to
go to seven cities! We did, Mary and I to stop em from playing
the other side.
RS: What a great way to close out the Capitol box set with the song
Zing (Went The Strings). I was reading that there were many
versions of that song, yet the one you made with Mary Ford is the best
one I ever heard.
LP: That one wasnt completely finished. When I dug it out, I found
it wasnt finished, so I finished it!
RS: For the box set?
LP: For the box set.
RS: Really? So that was finished back in 1991?
LP: Yeah...When I dug that one out I says, well jeez I better
dig out the guitar. And I dug out the same guitar I used before. And
I hadnt played guitar...with the arthritis...Id given up
at least twenty years! Yknow? So when I got there and I had to
grab that guitar, it seemed like a strange instrument to me. I only
came out of retirement because of the heart surgery. The doctor just
said to me, if you want to stay alive and stay young, you go and
work hard. So he says, promise me that youll be my
friend and secondly, that youll work hard. So I said, well,
jeez, what am I going to do? I never thought of going back into
the music business. 1965 I was done. I said, thats it, Im
going to put the guitar away, leave the young guys play. And then
it was way in 1980...the doctor says, you better go back and go
to work doing something. So, I thought about it and I say, well...maybe
Ill see if I can still play this guitar. By then, arthritis had
taken most of my fingering away. And I said, well, I dont
even know if people want me. I dont even know if theyll
like what I do. So I went to this little place (laughter) called
Fat Tuesdays. And I went there and I said to the guy at the door, I
says, Id like to talk to you for a minute, he says
How many are there. (laughter) And I say, just my
friend and I, he says, well Ill seat you in a minute.
No, no I say, I dont want a seat I want to talk
to you about a job. (laughter) And hes (laughter) looking
at me like I want to wash dishes. So...(laughter) (I said) My
name is Les Paul, I play the guitar. And hes looking at
this old man, yknow. So he says, well, were not really
looking for anybody (laughter). So I said, Do you have a boss?
Yeah, he says, at the bar over there. So I went
over to the boss and I said, my names Les Paul. And
he says, the Les Paul?! I said, well, jeez at least
you know my name!, you know who I am. And he said, what
are you doing in this joint? Said, I come down for a job.
I said, I got Wayne right here, and I said, We thought
the three of us would come in here. And he said, Youd
play in this joint? and I said, Yeah!, were looking
for a little joint to play in, so I said, but I only want
to work on Mondays. He said, were not open on Monday,
but I said, Ill work for nothing. He said, were
open on Mondays! (laughter)
RS: You put Fat Tuesdays on the map back then. That was only reason
I went down to see you back in the 80s.
LP: That was a great time! Cause we were just starting out, everything
was brand new. And I said, oh, my god, theres a whole new
world. Here we are. And you know who was in there? Billy Joel
was in there, and Dylan was in there. And everybody I can think of was
in Fat Tuesdays...Al DiMeola... And they all get up there and play and
the next thing you know, we got a whole thing goin...
RS: When you put it in perspective, youre the king of the whole
thing in alot of ways...
LP: You know whats great...is that people are there next Monday,
they were there last Monday. Theres people still coming from Fat
Tuesdays, coming to The Iridium. Theyre still loyal to us and
thats 20 years ago. We still got our audience and they come in.
Last Monday, or two weeks ago I said to Mike and Diane, I says, When
did you first come to see us play?. And he said, Oh, it
was twenty years ago, he says, at Fat Tuesdays, the second
week you were there. And I said, my God, you still come
RS: Its just a cool show, you know? It has the humor that so much
music just doesnt have anymore.
LP: Well some people are very serious, you know. And were not
serious at all. They get up there...it was a couple weeks ago down there
at The Iridium, and the band walked off!... because a rap musician wanted
to sit in and play and the guys just walked off the stage. They wouldnt
play with him. And there was a big ka-doo (laughter) down there. And
I dont give a damn who walks on the stage. Well welcome
them and let the public decide!
RS: Thats one way to look at it!
LP: Oh, I have my preferences who I like the better, more than one from
the other, but I see the good in all of them.
RS: Well Im gonna come see you play more often...
RS: I was reading youre planning a book on your life...
LP: Yeah...I set up the desk and I set up the recording device and I
said, well, Ill just have to start ramblin off some
of those funny stories and some of those terribly serious stories. And
get a ghostwriter to put em together, that really knows how to
do a book. All I know is, Ive sure seen alot and been through
alot and have alot of stories to tell that are funny or serious. They
go both ways, and theyre both great because theres such
a variety. You cant live 88 years and not (laughter) have something
to talk about.
RS: Youve seen it all...
LP: Well, Ive seen alot of it. My friend here is telling me that
Kitty Hawk...this is a hundred years since the Wright Brothers flew
their plane, huh?
RS: They should have a Les Paul and Mary Ford stamp at least.
LP: Well, by God...with the (Gibson) president last night...we were
talking about that. Thats one of the reasons he was there...was
to talk about whats its going to be on my 90th birthday.
RS: Yeah well well have to put you on the cover of the magazine
again for your 90th birthday. You influenced all those bands like The
Shadows and The Ventures...
LP: Yeah...The Ventures! I remember Johnny Smith wrote that.
RS: Walk, Dont Run...
LP: Walk Dont Run...right. He wrote that and he called
me and said, Ive got a song for you...okay? And he
played it for me on the phone and I says, Johnny, I says,
Ive already got one of them releasing. I says, the
sonofabitch is gonna take off. Whispering, you know?
I says, its so big-hit, its so strong. And I cant
walk on my own records because we got seven of the top ten. So
I says, Im gonna pass on it. And The Ventures got
LP: And boy when I heard that I said, oh jeez... But I had
to do that with Fly Me To The Moon...I turned that one down.
Not that I didnt like it. Its just that I had too many hits
going and too many things happening at one time.
RS: Also dont you have a guitar symposium coming up?
LP: Yeah theres one, I dont know exactly...I think its
next year, isnt it Arlene? (Les speaking to his friend) The one
in Baltimore. 2004 World Congress. Im an honorary chairman. And
theyre doing a big event with all the greats, all the great guitar
RS: Really? Who else is going to be there?
LP: Oh, God...everybody that plays guitar. All the great ones.
RS: If its not too difficult a question, where do you see the
guitar moving to in the future?
LP: Oh boy, thats a tough one to answer...thats tough one
to answer right now. Well, Ill say one thing. The guitar is sure
number one. Thats for sure. I knew way back that piano was never
going to beat it. It was number one when I started and when I got that
electric guitar going I says, its going to walk all over
the piano and itll be the number one instrument. But I never
thought that it would just continue to go on and on and on. And who
knows what tomorrows going to bring? But you know that somethings
going to happen.
RS: At the show, there were two people sitting next to me from Holland.
And they told me how much they love your music. People love your music
from all over the world.
LP: Isnt that something?
RS: You created a whole new lexicon...like the announcer on the California
Melodies CD said, a lexicon of swing...
LP: Boy...its scary...but its good that...were all
lucky to be here to begin with. And not only are we here, but were
free to do what we wanna do. And if youre lucky, why...you might
get a brass ring. By the way...when we did all that stuff on Northern
Blvd. (in Queens) and Jackson Heights, right up the road, Louie Armstrong
used to drop in and then hed go home. He lived on Northern.
RS: He lived on Northern Blvd. near Jackson Heights?
LP: He lived at 200 something (street). We were 81st, 82nd. We were
there three different times. Four different times! When we landed in
New York, Id say, well lets go out and look at Jackson
RS: Yeah...you never made it out to Little Neck?
LP: Well, (laughter) its changed hasnt it?
RS: Well Northern Blvd...where I live you gotta read Korean or Chinese
now to get down the road there I guess...
LP: Oh jeez...its wild!
RS: And thats heading east on Northern from Flushing. If you head
west towards Manhattan I thing it like changes to like Little Havana...
LP: Boy, its changed. Cubas in there. Colombia, I meant.
RS: Also at the Iridium shows I see your son, Rus with a video camera.
Are you filming those for future release. It would be great to see and
hear you play some of those tracks on DVD or something.
LP: Well, were getting there. Were getting a little more
organized all the time... Oh my goodness, can you imagine how much material
we have from all the shows we do? Two every Monday for twenty years?
RS: Theres enough stuff for like six box sets!
LP: Can you imagine how many guests weve had?
RS: Thats what I mean! If you put Paul McCartney on one of those
box sets, youre gonna get a whole different generation...
LP: (laughter) Oh, my god...
RS: Even watching you play with Jon Paris (at the December 15th, 2003
show) doing Blue Christmas. That was so cool...
LP: Wasnt that cool?
RS: Speaking of Christmas, youre instrumental version of Jingle
Bells from Christmas of 1951 has to be the best version I ever
LP: Well, you know that was number one?
RS: Number one?
LP: I never, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I...anybody!...I
dont care who! I didnt think anybody could ever take Jingle
Bells and make it number one.
RS: Back in the 50s and 60s everything was so much more
innocent and everyone was so much more in sync with each other...
LP: You know where that was made?
RS: Jingle Bells?
RS: Whered you make that one?
LP: It was made at Horn & Hardardts.
RS: Over on 57th St.?
LP: No, near 42nd St.
LP: Just 44th St...Horn & Hardardts, next to the Paramount Theater?
They wouldnt allow me to bring my equipment in and so we went
over there at 2:00 Oclock in the morning and set it all up in
the corner and recorded it.
RS: I remember the Horn & Hardardts over on 57th and 6th...that
was a big one...
LP: Well, that was...sure! That was Jazzbo Collins! WNEW was upstairs...
RS: On 57th Street?
RS: The radio station?
LP: Yeah! Thats when NEW was number one.
LP: Yeah, sure.
RS: That was before they went FM I guess, in 68...
LP: You must have been just a little kid...
RS: I remember when Scott Muni went from WOR to WNEW...I guess that
was the 68 period...
LP: Ya...those were very precious days.
RS: In the article Im planning to feature several great guitar
players talking about your music. I hope you dont mind...
LP: I dont mind...theres alot of great ones. Theres
alot of great players.
RS: I was trying to get a quote from Paul McCartney but they said he
just had a new baby, so...I guess Ill have to wait for the next
issue or something.
RS: Well, well have to say something for the Les Paul 90th birthday
issue of 20th Century Guitar. I hope by then maybe therell be
some new releases like the TV shows or a CD compilation of the Iridium
or Fat Tuesday shows.
LP: Well, were planning on this big TV special. So that one is
in the works. We just havent come to all the agreements...
RS: Les, youve also worked with some of the great comedians. W.C.
Fields and even Groucho Marx loved your radio shows.
LP: Oh, my God...
RS: I was going to ask you who your favorite comedian is...
LP: Well, I made an album with W.C. Fields, which I have.
RS: He recorded it at your Hollywood bungalow?
LP: Ya, yeah...He was the first one to hear Lover.
RS: Really? From The New Sound.
LP: Yeah, The New Sound. And he come over and he just sat out
on a swing in the back patio. And Im in the grass playin
and Im stripped to the waist and layin my parts down and
making this thing. And all of a sudden I go, I look out there and I
see W.C. Fields. I says, by God, why didnt you tell me you
were here? and he says, Im just sittin here
enjoying this thing. He said, you sound like an octopus!
(laughter) So I named the machine, The Octopus!
RS: The eight track...?
LP: The eight track. Yeah... So it says, in gray writing, OCT1, OCT2...(laughter)
All the technical guys come over...they all ask what OCT is! But they
dont want to be caught dumb! So they hesitate to ask what oct
stands for, what the hell that is! It was cute, but I name everything,
I name everything. So I can remember, you know?
Closing...written by Eric Bazilian
There have always been Fenders. Strats, Telecasters, Jaguars,
etc. Gretsch always made their Tennesseans and Country Gentlemen,
Rickenbacker made their 330s, 360s, Capris, etc. But Gibson stopped
making Les Pauls in 1960. In 1969 Gibson became the first guitar
manufacturer ever to realize the value of a classic and became the first
ever to "reissue" an instrument, thus beginning the concept
of the Vintage Guitar. The Beach Boys used Fenders. The Surfaris used
Fenders. The Shadows used Fenders. Hell, Gary Lewis and
the Playboys used Fenders. They all had a nice clean sound and
twanged real nice. But Eric Clapton played a Les Paul in Cream. And,
read my lips, Fresh Cream was the first time anyone ever heard the sound
of a fat pickup overdriving an amp without the fuzz boxes that had become
the Psychedelic Badge Of Freak Out. And this is what forever changed
the way we see guitars. Yes, Hendrix played Strats, and, yes, Jeff
Beck and Clapton eventually switched over to them, but, let's face it,
the work they did on their Les Pauls was by far the best. Even Eddie
Van Halen, arguably the most influential post-English '60s Blues Invasion
guitarist, played guitars which, even though they looked like Strats,
had the guts of a Les Paul and the sound pushed to its limit. The Les
Paul gave the guitar its rightful place as a sound that could not only
twang but scream, cry, and moan. I may own many guitars, but without
my '56 and '58 gold tops I would have no guitar to call my own...
Thanks to Les Paul - www.redhotred.com
The Iridium Jazz Club - www.iridiumjazzclub.com,
Joe Horn, Rus Paul, Tom Doyle, Chris Lentz, Wayne Wesley Johnson, Richard
Cervone and Larry Acunto @ 20th Century Guitar - www.tcguitar.com. Special
thanks to Pete Townshend and Nicola Joss at www.eelpie.com
and Eric Bazilian @ www.ericbazilian.com