TRIBUTE TO LES PAUL
Richie Sambora – November 19, 2009
I could tell you about Les Paul, the innovator, the visionary, the vanguard or Les Paul, the musician, the guitarist, the artist.
I could tell you about his place in musical, and American pop culture, history; the instruments he’s responsible for creating; and the impact he’s had on the music industry and upon those of us, past, present and future, who make music. But I want to tell you about Les Paul, my friend.
More than anything, I considered Les a dear friend. I first met Les in 1988. We were in the studio, working on what would become the New Jersey album. And I was beat up, exhausted, having a hard time getting all the guitar work done. But the band took a break to celebrate my 29th birthday. Imagine my shock when Les Paul (Les Paul!) walked into my house. He handed me a white guitar with gold pickups he’d strung for me himself and told me, “Son, here’s a sword – now go cut through that shit.”
From that moment on, Les Paul, the man, became an ever-present part of my life. He’s attended our concerts and shared in our celebrations; I’ve been honored to share in his as well, be it a birthday party or a black-tie induction ceremony. Les became a source of encouragement, insight and inspiration to me. Over the years, I had the honor to join him on stage, jamming in small clubs and large venues, sharing our love of guitar and creating magical moments together. I feel so privileged to have experienced my time with Les.
Les had a bit of the vampire in him; he slept during the day and stayed awake all night. Sometimes, at the oddest hours, he’d ring me up just to chat. He was funny. He was sweet. He was timeless. There was a father-son element to our friendship, and a mentor-student relationship as well but mostly, we shared a bond through music that defied age and time.
Les loved music, loved the craft of making music and the craftsmanship it took to make the instruments. Anyone who has ever and will ever pick up a guitar, cradle it and create music has been forever influenced by this man.
Les was lucky enough to have lived long enough to realize his undeniable role in music history. He was able to bask in the much deserved accolades and praise but did so with such humility and grace that, more than anything else, it is the deep love and respect those of us who knew him had for him that will remain the truest testament to his legend.
Les Paul’s legacy is that of a gifted musician, selfless teacher, gentle soul and beloved man – goals I can only aspire to reach as an artist and a man.
They say you should never meet your heroes. I’m forever grateful I did. My life has been blessed because I called Les Paul my friend.