Featured Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein for 
mwe3.com and 20th Century Guitar 



THE BEAT IS THE THING!!

an interview with

LES PAUL

 

 

Part 2
continued from previous page

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...I’m sorry. That was the radio show. The TV show was in ‘53. You’re 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, ‘I’ll call them and tell them you’d 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 we’re going to broadcast from our home, we surely can’t 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, we’ll do whatever you want, well, we’ll work it out.’ So, we worked it out, so Listerine found this place where I live. It’s 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?

LP: 140.

RS: 140?

LP: Uh-huh.

RS: Will they ever be reissued in any form?

LP: I have ‘em and we’re getting them to reissue them and they’re just great. They’re just great. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see ‘em. What we’ve done is we’ve 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 yourself?

LP: Well we haven’t made a deal yet to market, of which company we’re going with but there’s 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 didn’t make it onto the unreleased rarities CD, disc four?

LP: Oh yeah...fifty percent. There’s fifty percent more not released. They were released at one time but they’re not in the box set. In other words, fifty percent more we couldn’t get in that box set and it was a question of just saying ‘hey! If we put this in, we can’t put that in.’ And so we says, ‘well, we’ll wait and we’ll put the other one out later.’

RS: And that’s more unreleased stuff right?

LP: Yeah...there’s 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...they’re masters but they’d never been pressed and they’re all sealed in the container and filed and have never been played since they were made.

RS: I would love to hear those. I guess I’ll have to wait.

LP: I would too! (laughter) And I wanna play ‘em but you don’t want to damage them. And so what I’m doing is, we’re 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 they’re 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 wasn’t there another guitarist there, I don’t 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 ‘Wire’s 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 it’s all intermingled. We’re all one big family.

RS: I haven’t seen any of his stuff around at all.

LP: He’s still around, he’s alive. He loves ham radio. He lives out west. I don’t know just where he’s at now. But no, Alvino Rey is a very dear friend, I just haven’t seen him in a long time. But I hear from either one of his wife's sisters, y’know, ‘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.

LP: Yes.

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 it’s 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 it’s gets stored away and it’s lost. It’s not lost, it’s just buried. And we found it the other day and we’re 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 Steve’s 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 mother’s 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...he’s 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 that’s gonna be around! It’s 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...he’s 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 guitar’s all over but...things go through cycles. All of a sudden you will find that there’s 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 Beck’s 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. It’s great that you’ll see the wide variety of music that you got to choose! You could listen to anything you wanna hear! It’s out there. That’s why down at the club, I enjoy playing there is because it never ends, that who’s 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 it’s the toys that they’ve got to play with! That they didn’t 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, he’s 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 it’s 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, it’d 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, we’ll make it a three CD box set.’ So Capitol agreed with that. So then I thought, ‘well I’ll dangle a few over...the radio shows and things. I will give ‘em some goodies and make it a four CD box set and I’ll be damned if they didn’t 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 don’t 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 you’ll never see again. And that doesn’t 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 wouldn’t even blink an eye of spending half a million dollars before you make the first record! And now, it’s the other way around! You could be the best there is and walk up to a record company and you’re lucky if they even listen to you!

RS: It’s unfortunate but it’s true.

LP: Yeah! Well right now it’s at a time when every record company is just in a state of shock because they just don’t 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 in it!

LP: (laughter) Now I tell ya, I haven’t played that in a long time down at the club. I just didn’t get around to it, so I’m glad you brought that up. I’ll 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: That’s right.

RS: And there was some drunk guy in the audience that said, ‘play something about Rock Island..

LP: Yes...

RS: Then you said, ‘I don’t 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 it’s amazing because you say you carried your tape machine on the road with a little mixer, two guitars and a microphone...

LP: That’s all!

RS: I’m amazed. The quality...I mean people can’t even do that today! That cool sounding stuff...I mean they can come close now because of...

LP: Yah..ya..Well they have too many toys and that’s dangerous too because sometimes if it’s 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 didn’t 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 I’m 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, there’s 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, ‘I’d 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, y’know? Then I began to realize what the president was...I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t need to put it in, don’t put it in there. It’s like Count Basie playing the piano. If you have the ability...if you’re put in the position where you have a choice of playing anything you want, but it’s got to go in this little space, and then he picks one note...and as long as it’s the right note, and he puts it in the right place, well God bless him. He’s a winner. And that’s 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 it’s the same way musically. There’s places where you should say, ‘it doesn’t need anything, so don’t put it there.’ That’s a talent all of it’s own. Is not to overdue it. And that’s what you do, like on Monday night, we do that all the time. We’ll say, ‘let’s try it this way. We’ll try it and see what the audience reaction is.’ Another example, a better example was, when I first started with Mary, I said, ‘look, I’m 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t 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 that’s the hardest thing in the world to do, is to please the majority of people, y’know?

RS: I know you were telling me how long it took to convince Capitol to release “How High The Moon”. It’s 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 President’s 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, you’re right, that thing’ll never make it!’ And he says, ‘No, I disagree with you (laughter).’ So Mary says, ‘why do you tell him not to release it. You’ve 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 album...

LP: That’s 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 I’d 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 didn’t 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 they’re not needed. It’s 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, ‘I’m just going to mention one thing to the group. Just remember the melody.’ Just remember there’s a melody. If you wander too far from it...if you do wander from it just make sure it’s something better. Otherwise, leave that melody! The guy worked like hell “Over The Rainbow” right! Or “Stardust” or “Can’t Get Started”...”Sunny Side Of The Street”...you can’t do any better than that. You can play different versions of it, y’know? But always make sure that that audience...I want ‘em that if they come down those stairs, that they say, ‘Wow, they’re playing “Little Rock”'...he’s 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 that’s important that you’re labeled so that you have your own distinction. And that same thing applies when you’re walking down the stairs, that you know what song they’re playing. You’ll 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, it’s not what you put it, it’s sometimes what you leave out.

LP: Yeah, sometimes. But then there’s other times when you’re playing the blues when there is no melody! You’re playing the blues, the people love the blues. But then you get a message of your own. You’re making up your own mixture of notes into this melody that you’re creating right there. And that goes when you go in and you’re a guy playing the blues...like Stevie Ray Vaughan or something. He’s 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 don’t remember it, but I wrote it.

RS: Also the song “Five Alarm Fire”. Do you remember that song?

LP: Yeah sure!

RS: There’s some opening lick from that song that sounds like the Vanilla Fudge stole for their opening to “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. I don’t 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 hadn’t even stopped the tape machine yet.

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 did it.

LP: Yeah, I would give him a list of maybe ten songs that I wrote and I’d say, ‘put some titles on there, will you?’ And then after he puts the titles on then we’d have to get some guy to write lyrics, a melody to it. We’d have a song with no melody, no lyrics.

RS: Was there a lot of pressure from the record companies back then. You’d have a great instrumental and they’d say why don’t you put lyrics to it or something. Did you ever have that artistic dispute with them?

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 wouldn’t allow them to release it. I says, ‘no, I’ll give you another song.’ And I wouldn’t 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 there’s 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, let’s say it’s “World’s 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 it’s a damn good song? A damned good recording. And that’s 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 that’s gonna get airplay?... That the announcer can talk over anytime he wants to, he can fade it anywhere he wants to, and it’s a perfect...you can’t hurt it. And I said ‘I’ll put “Chicken Reel” there.’ And I put Chicken Reel” there...or I’ll put “Little Rock”, y ‘know? And I’ll put that on the B-side, okay? And I’ll be darned if those sonofaguns didn’t go up like the A-side!

RS: So “Little Rock” was the B-side of “Tennessee Waltz”?

LP: Yeah...

RS: That’s 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 didn’t want that to happen so I had to make sure that it didn’t 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 it’s 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! Don’t you want to plug your own song?’ (I said) ‘No in this case, I don’t 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 wasn’t completely finished. When I dug it out, I found it wasn’t 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 hadn’t played guitar...with the arthritis...I’d given up at least twenty years! Y’know? 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 you’ll be my friend and secondly, that you’ll 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, ‘that’s it, I’m 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 I’ll see if I can still play this guitar. By then, arthritis had taken most of my fingering away. And I said, ‘well, I don’t even know if people want me. I don’t even know if they’ll 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, ‘I’d 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 I’ll seat you in a minute.’ ‘No, no’ I say, ‘I don’t want a seat I want to talk to you about a job.’ (laughter) And he’s (laughter) looking at me like I want to wash dishes. So...(laughter) (I said) ‘My name is Les Paul, I play the guitar.’ And he’s looking at this old man, y’know. So he says, ‘well, we’re 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 name’s 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, ‘You’d play in this joint?’ and I said, ‘Yeah!, we’re looking for a little joint to play in’, so I said, ‘but I only want to work on Mondays.’ He said, ‘we’re not open on Monday’, but I said, ‘I’ll work for nothing.’ He said, ‘we’re 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, there’s 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, you’re the king of the whole thing in alot of ways...

LP: You know what’s great...is that people are there next Monday, they were there last Monday. There’s people still coming from Fat Tuesdays, coming to The Iridium. They’re still loyal to us and that’s 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 back?’ (laughter)

RS: It’s just a cool show, you know? It has the humor that so much music just doesn’t have anymore.

LP: Well some people are very serious, you know. And we’re 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 wouldn’t play with him. And there was a big ka-doo (laughter) down there. And I don’t give a damn who walks on the stage. We’ll welcome them and let the public decide!

RS: That’s 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 I’m gonna come see you play more often...

LP: Yeah...

RS: I was reading you’re planning a book on your life...

LP: Yeah...I set up the desk and I set up the recording device and I said, ‘well, I’ll 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, I’ve sure seen alot and been through alot and have alot of stories to tell that are funny or serious. They go both ways, and they’re both great because there’s such a variety. You can’t live 88 years and not (laughter) have something to talk about.

RS: You’ve seen it all...

LP: Well, I’ve 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. That’s one of the reasons he was there...was to talk about what’s it’s going to be on my 90th birthday.

RS: Yeah well we’ll 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, Don’t Run”...

LP: “Walk Don’t Run”...right. He wrote that and he called me and said, ‘I’ve got a song for you’...okay? And he played it for me on the phone and I says, ‘Johnny’, I says, ‘I’ve already got one of them releasing.’ I says, ‘the sonofabitch is gonna take off.’ “Whispering”, you know? I says, ‘it’s so big-hit, it’s so strong. And I can’t walk on my own records because we got seven of the top ten.’ So I says, ‘I’m gonna pass on it.’ And The Ventures got it.

RS: Wow.

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 didn’t like it. It’s just that I had too many hits going and too many things happening at one time.

RS: Also don’t you have a guitar symposium coming up?

LP: Yeah there’s one, I don’t know exactly...I think it’s next year, isn’t it Arlene? (Les speaking to his friend) The one in Baltimore. 2004 World Congress. I’m an honorary chairman. And they’re doing a big event with all the greats, all the great guitar players.

RS: Really? Who else is going to be there?

LP: Oh, God...everybody that plays guitar. All the great ones.

RS: If it’s not too difficult a question, where do you see the guitar moving to in the future?

LP: Oh boy, that’s a tough one to answer...that’s tough one to answer right now. Well, I’ll say one thing. The guitar is sure number one. That’s 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, ‘it’s going to walk all over the piano and it’ll 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 tomorrow’s going to bring? But you know that something’s 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: Isn’t that something?

RS: You created a whole new lexicon...like the announcer on the California Melodies CD said, ‘a lexicon of swing’...

LP: Boy...it’s scary...but it’s good that...we’re all lucky to be here to begin with. And not only are we here, but we’re free to do what we wanna do. And if you’re 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 he’d 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, I’d say, ‘well let’s go out and look at Jackson Heights somewhere.’

RS: Yeah...you never made it out to Little Neck?

LP: Well, (laughter) it’s changed hasn’t 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...it’s wild!

RS: And that’s heading east on Northern from Flushing. If you head west towards Manhattan I thing it like changes to like Little Havana...

LP: Boy, it’s changed. Cuba’s 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, we’re getting there. We’re 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: There’s enough stuff for like six box sets!

LP: Can you imagine how many guests we’ve had?

RS: That’s what I mean! If you put Paul McCartney on one of those box sets, you’re 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: Wasn’t that cool?

RS: Speaking of Christmas, you’re instrumental version of “Jingle Bells” from Christmas of 1951 has to be the best version I ever heard!

LP: Well, you know that was number one?

RS: Number one?

LP: I never, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I...anybody!...I don’t care who! I didn’t 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”?

LP: Yeah...

RS: Where’d you make that one?

LP: It was made at Horn & Hardardts.

RS: Over on 57th St.?

LP: No, near 42nd St.

RS: Wow...

LP: Just 44th St...Horn & Hardardts, next to the Paramount Theater? They wouldn’t allow me to bring my equipment in and so we went over there at 2:00 O’clock 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?

LP: Yeah...

RS: The radio station?

LP: Yeah! That’s when NEW was number one.

RS: WNEW?

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 I’m planning to feature several great guitar players talking about your music. I hope you don’t mind...

LP: I don’t mind...there’s alot of great ones. There’s 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 I’ll have to wait for the next issue or something.

LP: (laughter)

RS: Well, we’ll have to say something for the Les Paul 90th birthday issue of 20th Century Guitar. I hope by then maybe there’ll be some new releases like the TV shows or a CD compilation of the Iridium or Fat Tuesday shows.

LP: Well, we’re planning on this big TV special. So that one is in the works. We just haven’t come to all the agreements...

RS: Les, you’ve 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 I’m in the grass playin’ and I’m 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 didn’t you tell me you were here?’ and he says, ‘I’m 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 don’t 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 / www.rhubarbred.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

 

 


 

 

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