Aug 17, 2009 2:51 PM
Les Paul and I met through a mutual friend, Mike Dorrough. Mike told Les that I was a ribbon mic guy. We talked about the RCA 44, my favorite ribbon mic. Les told me his RCA 44s were his favorite mics. He went on to say that he had once borrowed eighteen more RCA 44s so he could do a session with nothing but the 44s. Having these heavy microphones overhead worried some of the string players, but the session sounded great.
Les Paul was an American original and one of my heroes. As I grew older, he seemed to grow younger. When in New York City on a Monday night I would visit him at the Iridium. Hanging out backstage with him and a changing cast of characters was always fun.
Les was a night person. When I told Mike Dorrough that I couldn’t reach Les on the phone, Mike said to call Les at midnight LA time, 3 AM in New Jersey. When I called at 3 AM Les always answered on the second ring and was happy to talk. Industry historian and photographer Mr. Bonzai describes Les as “The original night owl”
Les loved life, and had a great time holding court at the Iridium on Monday nights. It was a family affair, as his son Rusty was always there. Musicians in the audience would be invited to come up and play. This was sometimes impromptu, and other times by arrangement. You never knew just what you might hear spending a night with Les.
Les was not shy. He wrote the forward for Ampeg: The Story behind the Sound. When presented with his copy, he then suggested that Ampeg should give him an amp. One evening I handed Les an AEA R44 to check out. Les said he liked the feel and look of it, and then asked if he could have it as a gift.
My favorite memory is when one of his Les’ friends brought a woman and her son backstage to meet him. Les was told that the boy was a Les Paul fan and that his father had recently died. After a few minutes of conversation with the family, Les asked the boy if he owned a Les Paul guitar, and, if so, did he have it with him? He admitted that he owned one of the later Les Paul guitars and that it was nearby. Les offered to autograph it. Afterwards Les advised him to sell his autographed guitar, buy two more, and then bring them to the club so Les could autograph them too.
Les was both a legend and an everyday guy. What brought that home for me was the night he couldn’t find the cleaning kit for his hearing-aids. As with in-the-ear stage monitors, working hard under bright stage lights causes ear wax to vaporize and then condense again on the hearing-aids. We wound up improvising a cleaning tool from a baggie tie-wrap wire I had in my pocket.
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