We lost one of the all time music greats last week with the passing of guitar legend, Les Paul. Few have made the contribution to music that he has.
Les was not only an amazing player but an innovator and inventor. He had his hands in everything from the design of the electric guitar to multi track recording. Try asking a youngster these days about Les Paul. They might not know who he was but they certainly know of the Les Paul guitar. His name will live on forever.
I was fortunate to have been invited to his 93rd Birthday party last year. It was held at the Iridium in New York City. I got there early with Frank Vignola and Tommy Emmanuel. Both Frank and Tommy had been good friends with Les for a long time. Frank played with Les every week for six years and was one of his closest friends.
As a Birthday gift, Frank and Tommy had prepared a little mini concert for Les in the green room back stage. It was just Les, Tommy, Frank and me. For an hour and a half, I sat in amazement listening to these two amazing guitarists paying tribute to their mentor. They played many of the old songs from the Les Paul and Mary Ford era - like “Mr. Sandman.” They also played songs from the famous Chester and Lester recordings by Les Paul and Chet Atkins. They would each take turns playing Les Paul licks and Les would get a huge smile on his face and chuckle. At one point, Tommy played a fast run and hot lick and said “I learned that one from Chet.” Les interrupted and said “...hell! I taught Chet that lick.” They continued to play tunes celebrating the long career of Les Paul. I was able to take pictures but boy do I wish there was a recording of it all.
After the back stage party, the entertainment and party then continued on stage. Many of Les Paul’s friends that he had played with through the years were invited. One at a time, they came on stage to do a tune with Les. Each had a story about their days playing with him.
It was a night I will never forget. I got to spend some time talking with Les Paul that evening…about music, the music industry and his love…the guitar. At 93 years old, he was still sharp as a tack and still playing music on stage. I asked him what his secret was. His answer was “Love what you do, do what you love and forget about retirement.” We should all take a lesson in that.
So while there is sadness with the passing of Les Paul, there is also much joy and happiness for me. We should all be so lucky. He played his music, did what he loved, and he shared it with the world until the day he died. Yes, he had lots of money from his inventions and his prosperous music career but it was really all about the music. He didn’t need any more money and certainly couldn’t take it with him. He just wanted to play his guitar, and that he did. What more could a person want? I can only hope and dream to be able to play my guitar until I’m 94.
Thank you for all you have given us, Les! We will miss you.