A musical legend lived in Mahwah, and this weekend the township is honoring his contribution to the arts.
Nearly 60 years ago Les Paul, fabled guitar virtuoso and inventor, came to the township. Now, Mahwah is honoring his life and achievements with “Remembering Les Paul – A Benefit Concert” at Ramapo College’s Berrie Center for Performing and Visual Arts. The
proceeds will go to the Mahwah Museum, which opens its “Les Paul in Mahwah” exhibit this Sunday.
“Les was a perfectionist, a genius, a great entertainer and he didn’t even realize the talent he had…I learned a lot from him,” said Lou Pallo, guitarist for the Les Paul Trio.
Pallo, who will perform with Bucky Pizzarelli at the benefit concert, talked about how he first met Paul while playing with a group called the Kashmirs in 1963.
“The waitress came up to me and said, ‘Someone wants to talk to you up at the bar.’ So I went over to the bar and it was Les Paul. Les Paul
my idol. I idolized two guitar players when I was young: one was Les Paul and the other was Tommy Motolla.”
After that, Pallo and Paul spent time sitting in at clubs and Paul would attend Pallo’s gigs. Around 1983, they began playing regular gigs at Fat Tuesdays where they played regular gigs for about 12 years, followed by another 14 years of playing at the Iridium. During that
time, they formed the Les Paul Trio.
Pallo said Paul would love the museum exhibit, but he’d “rather have him here in person.” Paul passed away at 94 in 2009.
There’s no doubt that Paul would have loved his museum exhibit according to the stories shared by Charlie Carreras, Vice President of the Mahwah Museum and Chair with the Les Paul Committee.
Even at an age when most kids would be lost in school without a calculator, Les was an inventor, said Carreras. As a teenager. Paul put together his own electric guitar out of an Emerson radio and railroad
“He said, ‘Oh, that sustains the sound.’ That was due to the density of the railroad track. He said, ‘That’s what I need to do.’ He was probably about 17 or 18 when he did this,” said Carreras.
In 1941, Paul used an Epiphone neck and 4x4 piece of wood to make a solid body guitar. But apparently the new invention wasn’t well-received, at first.
“He took it to a club and people didn’t react. So, he went back to the Epiphone factory, according to his story, he cut a guitar in half, put the ‘wings’ on the 4x4 and he went back to the club and the people went,
‘Oh, okay that’s what you’re doing!’ That’s his story. That’s a good story.”
Paul’s guitar designing reached its zenith when he was asked
to create a guitar for Gibson Guitars. They sent him a prototype that he wasn’t too impressed with.
“He didn’t like it so much. He did some modifications. They went back. And then they delivered it and they said, ‘What should we call it?’
and he said, ‘Why don’t you call it a Les Paul?’ And they said, ‘What color should it be?’ And he said, ‘gold, as in rich.’ So, it was the Gold Top. The Les Paul Gibson Gold Top.”
Of course, guitars weren’t the end for Paul. He was an innovator in recording, too. Paul created one of the very first home recording
studios and cut his own records there.
"The fact that he cut the record on his own and sent it to Capitol Records and then they distributed it, that was a pioneering effort. So that meant that musicians and songwriters could do their own material and send it in rather than the recording companies sending material to the recording artist.”
Despite all that Paul did, Carreras considers his stage performances his real genius.
“That’s his greatest gift. He’s an entertainer. Accomplished guitarist, world-class guitarist…he was a composer, he was an inventor and he
was an entertainer. He loved to entertain. And he was great at it.”