More of Les: Famed Musicians Pay Tribute To A Guitar Legend

Celebrated musicians come together in New Jersey to create a tribute album in honor of guitar legend Les Paul.

Jose Feliciano, left, and Lou Pallo in the studio working on one of the 21 tracks of the Les Paul tribute album, Thank You Les.
Photo by Arnie Goodman.

Getting rock stars to commit to a day of recording in Dover, home of Showplace Studios, isn’t easy. Even for a guy with connections like Lou Pallo’s.

“They’re so busy—we had to work around everyone’s schedule, fly them into the studio when they had a day off,” says Pallo, 77, of Wanaque.

Keith Richards, predictably, rolled in at the last minute—his rendition of the 40s-era hit “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” recorded with Pallo, a singer and guitarist, ended up being the final track to make it onto “Thank You Les” (Showplace Music Productions), a tribute package issued Sept. 10 honoring the late guitar innovator Les Paul.

Pallo, Paul’s longtime sideman and the leader of Les Paul’s Trio, the jazz group that carries on the tradition Paul started of playing every Monday night at Iridium in Manhattan, coordinated “Thank You,” aptly, out of a sense of gratitude to Paul. “I like to keep his name out there, make people aware of all he did,” he says.
He also knew he was the only person with insider knowledge of who, among Paul’s star-studded acolytes, would be most willing to make their own debts of gratitude known.

Twenty-eight years of playing behind the same guy will do that, he says: “I know who loved him, who’d come in and see him” at Iridium prior to his death in 2009 at the age of 94. “I started making phone calls. And everybody really wanted to do it.”

Steve Miller, Billie Gibbons of ZZTop, and Jose Feliciano wanted to do it enough to make a detour to New Jersey for the 2011 sessions. So did Slash and Bucky Pizzarelli, plus around a dozen other artists. The result is “something I think Les would have been really proud of. You look at the DVD” —a 105-minute behind-the-scenes film shot during the recording of the 21-track album—“and everyone is praising him. They all mention what a genius he was, what a perfectionist. Everyone learned something from Les.”

Some, like former Young Rascals front man Eddie Brigati Jr., of Boonton, were so eager to participate they showed up prior to their own sessions with Pallo just to be flies on the wall. 

“Les created a whole arm of our musical history,” says Brigati, who met Paul for the first time in 1965, when the Young Rascals were playing at the now long-shuttered Choo Choo Club in Garfield, their hometown. “It was a real experience walking into that studio, watching other people rehearse. You could feel the love, the admiration.”

Pallo, who lives eight miles from Paul’s Mahwah home of 50-plus years, chose the songs on “Thank You Les.” Some, like “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You,” which Brigati sang with Pallo and Pizzarelli, are from the Great American Songbook. Others were Paul favorites.

No one, he says, had a problem with what he picked. “I chose ‘It’s Been a Long, Long Time’ for Keith Richards and he said, ‘Fine! Let’s do ‘A Long, Long Time.’ I chose ‘Caravan’ for Nokie Edwards of the Ventures and he sat down and did a warm-up and said, ‘Fine!’ Even when people didn’t know the songs, they were happy to do them. ”

Brigati is no exception.  “Being around Les Paul was like being around the wizard,” he says. “I was so thrilled to be involved, it was such an honor to be asked to do this, that the hair on my arms is standing up just talking about it.”

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