Aug 17, 2009 2:51 PM
I remember the day I met Les Paul like it was yesterday. Actually it was in 1959. I was at Universal Studios, located at that time at 46 East Walton in Chicago, working with Quincy Jones on Dinah Washington’s “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” album. Les Pauls' new Ampex 8-track recording machine was just being delivered. The machine was absolutely enormous! It was based on the big, rugged Ampex Model 300 tape deck with eight Ampex Model 351 electronics units.
I was with my old pal Les Paul again in 2003 at the big AES event in New York. I had just released my new book "Make Mine Music". Les had come along to lend credence to my book's arrival on the scene. Look at him helping me hold my stomach in! What a guy!
I love ya' madly Les Paul!
I used to tour with George Benson and he was the only player that even
came close. My folks knew Les Paul and held him in high regard. I met
him in NY and he played a great show. He will be greatly missed by
the music and sound community.
Production mixer The Ellen Degeneres Show
As I was always a fan of any kind of good music, I listened to not only the prevalent music of my peers, but to the music of the classics and the music of my parents (WNEW-AM). While listening to that station, I was enthralled by a sound. The sound of a guitar which had been layered upon itself a multitude of times. The intensity and the clarity of the sound was a revelation to my young ears. This was the art of Les Paul.
When I was 13, my parents moved everything, including us kids, to Mahwah, NJ, where we lived on the banks of the Ramapo River on Ramapo Valley Road (Route 202). Imagine my excitement when I found out through speaking with neighbors (who were very few and far between, like maybe a half-mile), that the man who made this incredible sound lived within a bicycle ride of my house! And not only did he live there, that was the place that he made this incredible music! Having just taken up the guitar a couple of years earlier, I was fascinated by what he could get out of MY instrument.
Well, with the brashness of youth, I took off on my bicycle and rode the slightly overgrown path along the Ramapo River Valley to the road that would lead to his door. Standing there and shaking, I knocked. From within I heard a muffled, "Yeah, OK, just a minute".
When the door opened, there stood a man who was older than my father who looked at me and said, "What can I do for you?"
"Mr. Paul?" I said, my voice cracking slightly, "My name is Scott and I live down the road. I like your music and I was wondering if there is anything I can do for you to help out or something." I never really expected anyone to answer the door. I think.
A small smile moved across his face and he said, "Well, kid, if you can handle a broom, my studio can use a sweeping out."
Of course I accepted! Just the chance to see where the magic took place!
So for a few years, once in a while I would show up at his door and say, "Hi, Mr. Paul, it's me, Scott. You need your studio swept out or anything?"
In that time, I learned what tape recording was, how multi-track worked, what a mixer is and other things of which no one else I knew had knowledge.
At one point, Les was playing something on his guitar and he said to me, "Hey, kid. You know how to play a 12 bar blues?" I replied that I did and he asked me to pick up a guitar that was sitting there and play it in A. Nervously, I did what I asked. As I was young, I had the feeling that I couldn't disappoint this man. If I disappointed my father, I would have felt his wrath and I didn't know if Les was the same.
After playing for a couple of minutes, he said, "OK, you take one".
Nervously, I played the best blues improv that I could. During it, Les said, "Hold it. What did you just do there?"
I showed him what I had played and he said, "What a great idea. I never thought of that." Then he repeated what I played on his guitar and showed me what I could do to enhance it.
I was on a high for several weeks after.
Years have passed since then. I've played in countless bands; roadied for several others (including one that had Les' son, Russ, in it); made a mark as one of the founders of a world-wide performers' association; been one of the stars of a syndicated television program; formed my own corporation (an audio consulting and recording firm) and worked in a dozen or so "day jobs".
In that time, I've run into Les' son, Russ, and stopped into the clubs to see him play (graciously, always at the VIP table). At one of those performances, I heard a well-known performer who was also at the same table tell his story of Les saying to him, "What a great idea. I never thought of that." I smiled. I realized that was Les' way of encouraging a young guitarist. I said nothing at the table.
So, you may hear stories of how opinionated and gruff Les Paul could be, or what a perfectionist he was or some other such thing over the next few weeks. Don't disbelieve them, he was all of that.
But remember, Les Paul was also a kind, gentle and, in his own way, nurturing mentor for, at least, one overweight kid from Mahwah, NJ in the early 1960s.
Rest well, my friend. Rest well.
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