When I was 15 I was looking to buy a new electric guitar. Until then I had been playing my first, a Peavey Patriot. I was torn between 2 models played by my 2 favorite players: a Fender Stratocaster (Jimi Hendrix) or a Les Paul (Jimmy Page). The father of a classmate of mine was a guitar player from Chicago. He was an early mentor of sorts and taught me a bunch of things about chords, scales and 12 bar blues.
When he heard I was looking for a new guitar, he told me I look like a Les Paul kind of guy, whatever that meant. So I ended up buying a black Les Paul Studio. The main reason I chose it was that, compared to a strat, it stayed in tune. I have been playing that guitar for about 18 years and it shows. It has plenty of nicks and dings, spots where the paint has worn off, spots on the back where various belt buckles have torn it up, a knob is missing, the pickup switch is stuck, the brass plated bridge is worn down to the steel underneath, and it has been refretted twice. It has played blues, jazz, rock & roll, heavy metal, punk, space rock, shoegaze, German schlager, country and more. I have 4 other guitars, but it is my go to guitar. It gets the job done. It can rock your soul and blow your fucking brains out. It is a music machine. And in my younger years, I would like to think, it helped get me laid on more than one occasion.
In 2000, my early mentor, Bob Bonner, was in New York City on business and called us up and invited my father and I down to the city to go see Les Paul at the Iridium Club. It was a great show. You could see that Les’s hands were suffering from arthritis, but he still killed. He had a great band and they were in the pocket, holding it down. He was telling dirty jokes and flirting with his cute female bass player (I like how you handle that bass. Let’s see if you can handle something else after the show. Hey-oh!). At the time he must have been 83, 84. Still working.
After the show, Bob slipped the doorman a Benjamin and we went backstage and hung out with Les for a few minutes. I didn’t really know what to say but he ended up telling me the story about how he saw Jimi Hendrix auditioning in some club somewhere…
…But when I walked in and heard this guy wailing – he had that guitar wide open – I decided to stick around for a while. It was the afternoon; the place was pretty empty, so the bartender was watering down the drinks. I never got Jimi’s name. I asked the bartender didn’t know. Then I realized my son’s still in the car! I go out there and tell him that we’re going to swing back after we finish dropping off records. When we got back to the Allegro, Jimi was gone. I said to the bartender, “Where is that guy? … Did he get the gig?”
“Are you kidding?” the bartender said. “He was too loud. We threw him out.” Luckily the guy had snapped a picture, probably because I was interested. I have the photo on the wall. It took me years to come across him again.
I have an autograph and a picture of us together from that amazing evening. I’m trying to find it. It’s in a box somewhere either here or at my folks. If I find it, I’ll scan it and add it here.
As a recording engineer, I am thankful for his numerous contributions to my trade. Multitrack recording and overdubbing are good starting points. Tape delay, flanging, reverb, humbucker pickups, phasing, the first 8 track tape machine. He did that. Sure, somebody else would have probably done it eventually, but he did it first. He did all of that. He was the Tom Edison of Rock & Roll.
If you turn on the radio right now and listen for 5 minutes, you are going to hear something that he invented.
He is one of the people that made the 20th century what it was. He made it sound the way it did.