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Nov 19 Les Paul Memorial tribute concert at the Ryman "win tickets"

Mark Blackburn

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Ah how I wish I were eligible for the "tickets to the Les Paul Memorial Tribute Concert later this month at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Alas, I am a resident of the Great White North -- and thus not eligible. I'd like to think that Les will be looking down (perhaps with Chet at his side) when a host of great guitarists, headed by Steve Miller, pays tribute on the stage where Chet if not Les, appeared so many times.


So fitting (I think) because my favorite Les Paul album is the one (two actually) that Les did with Chet -- their Grammy-winning duets in the 1970s. I wrote a review for that one at the world's biggest website. If I may, I'll share it with those at the Gibson Forum, including the lucky pickers who will be there at the Ryman on the 19th of this month: (5 stars and titled, "If you can only afford one Les Paul album")



Les Paul died today. And all the television networks ended their nightly news with tributes to "the guitar legend." [CBS I think, did the best tribute; followed by NBC's (slightly longer) appreciation; the ABC News tribute to Les Paul was shorter, but well-done too.] All three networks spoke dutifully about his two technical achievements: the Les Paul signature model electric guitar(s) and of his pioneering work in multi-track recording (the first 'AMPEX' 8 track, built to his specs).


The most endearing comment (I thought) came from 70s rocker Steve Miller, who recalled the time when he was "only five years old" and Les Paul (who knew his parents) showed him some licks on the guitar: "He and Mary Ford BOTH showed me (some chords). I never forgot that!"


Les Paul's recollection (of same): "One day -- he must have been 5 years old -- Steve said to me, 'Are you Mr. Paul?' I said yes. He was looking at my guitar and I asked him, 'Do you play guitar?' And he said, 'A little bit.' So I handed him my guitar and he played it and I said, 'Gee, you're good. Someday you'll be doing what I'm doing.' I was his mentor . . . but then I watched him take everything he admired and copied and learned and become Steve Miller. He's a very, very good blues guitarist."




Chet Atkins, who lured Les Paul back into the studio for these Grammy-winning recordings, said he and Les were influenced by the "fire" of the Belgian jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt; Chet (who told this reviewer during a 1971 radio interview, that "the only person I ever asked for an autograph was Django,") Chet always insisted that, from the start of Les Paul's career in 1937, "Django had something to do with the fire -- the Gypsy fire, with which Les plays."


Chet recalled (with a laugh) his own "first (1940s) meeting" with Les Paul: "I was working in Springfield, Missouri, on (radio station) KWTO . . . playing a (live) show around noon, when people were allowed to gather around the studio to watch us.


"I noticed an awfully nice looking guy watching me like a hawk. I thought he was a fan, so I decided to knock him out with a few hot licks - licks I'd `borrowed' from Les Paul (radio performances). I admired Les Paul very much, and when I started to show off in those days, I'd usually play some of his licks. And so I started playing Les Paul licks for this `fan.'


"After the show went off the air, this guy came into the studio and said, "Are you Chet Atkins? I'm Les Paul!"


It took another thirty years before the two men went into the recording studio together to make this album: included were songs each had recorded independently, in the intervening decades. One of Amazon's editorial writers, Rich Kienzle, summed up (a decade ago) what made this album Les & Chet's finest hour:


"In some cases, such as `It's Been a Long, Long Time' for Les, and `Hot Toddy' for Chet, they revisited songs they recorded years earlier. Les, downplaying his electronic wizardry, proved that he didn't need it to dazzle. Chet, who'd come to favor sterile perfection over passion, unleashed his old intensity in the presence of a fellow virtuoso."


In his original vinyl album liner notes (you'd need a microscope to read them on the CD) jazz writer Nat Hentoff recalled the "infectiously informal aura" of this recording session - "conceived some months before this recording in Nashville, while Chet was in New York for a tour by Arthur Fiedler.


"Les was also in the city and the two enjoyed a long afternoon (playing guitars) in a room at the Hotel Warwick. So good and fulfilling a time was had by all, that this album was the logical (outcome)."


Prophetically, (his notes were written in 1976) Nat Hentoff concluded that,


"What's happening here is a high-spirited jamming - the meeting of two mighty peers, each of whom has helped expand the possibilities of the guitar.


"I expect there are going to be young pickers, in different towns and countries, playing parts of this set again and again so they can steal the licks. And that, after all, is how culture is transmitted.


"Meanwhile, for all of us who aren't pickers, the kicks are also found in the wizardry of it all - hearing the sounds of surprise [in] the regeneration of these tunes."


NOTE: This album "Chester & Lester" -- and its follow-up, "Guitar Monsters" -- was briefly available as a 2-in-1 `import' CD from BMG Japan; it's worth paying twice the money to get yourself that album, which has double the fun!


A personal favorite (a very funny song) was co-written by Chet, titled, "I'm Your Greatest Fan," with spoken introductions to snatches of popular songs played by guitarists OTHER than Chet & Les; the two ridicule each other's playing, pretending to recall famous, best-selling melodies (made popular in the 60s by others -- but never recorded by EITHER Chet or Les; so each plays fractured versions of songs like "Guitar Boogie" and "Raunchy" - while claiming to have "loved your version of that one!"


Mark Blackburn

Winnipeg Manitoba Canada

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