Les Paul died and I couldn’t help but smile. Not because he died (duh) but because one of my most memorable “hollywood nights” was at a tribute to Les Paul. I don’t know that I’ve ever documented it anywhere so here goes…..
It was 1994 and I was living in L.A. working at Capitol Records. Les Paul recorded the majority of his records (yes, that’s what we called them back then) for Capitol and there was going to be a Tribute to Les Paul night at the House of Blues. I managed to score 3 tickets so I invited my music loving pal, Jennifer. If I recall correctly, this may have been in the plan all along but it sounds so random now, I decided to invite Spencer Davis to come along with us. For all you kids, Spencer Davis was the founder of a 60’s group called The Spencer Davis Group (natch) that also featured, among others, Steve Winwood. They had a big hit with “Gimme Some Lovin'” (look it up) which I licensed on a pretty non-stop basis as part of my job at Capitol. We had become friendly and when I extended the invite, he was thrilled. Needless to say, Jennifer and I were more thrilled. We were going on a date with a legend and we were on cloud nine. Little did we know that was just the beginning of what we still to this day refer to as the “pinch me night”.
We met Spencer at Barney’s Beanery for dinner. We got to know each other better and were off to a great start laughing, drinking and hearing stories from him about our favorite rock stars. We then headed up the hill to the HOB (House of Blues people, stay with me). The parking lot was jammed as the crowd from the first show left (talking about how Eddie Van Halen and Peter Frampton had been on stage moments ago) and the crowd for the later, much cooler show moved in. As we made our way to the entrance, we ran into the first of our many rock stars – Robby Krieger from The Doors. He greeted Spencer with a hug and our date was quick to introduce us. Turns out Robby needed some help getting in as his name wasn’t on the list. We got him in and made our way to the bar for a drink. Then Spencer mentioned that he had never met Les Paul and would love the opportunity to do so. I put on my hollywood hat and went up to the beefy bouncer at “the” backstage door. (the inside of HOB is a maze but having been there a few times before, I knew my way around cuz that’s how I rolled in those days). I tried to convince explained that I was a hot shot at Capitol Records, Mr. Paul’s label, and I was escorting THE Mr. Spencer Davis and Mr. Davis would like to come up and say hello before the show. He walkie talkied with upstairs bouncer and I nervously sweated patiently waited all cool until I eventually got the “yeah, send ’em up”. I gathered the troops and we made our way up the winding stairs only to be greeted by Graham Nash of Crosby Stills & Nash fame (look them up kids, they’re kind of a big deal). He was thrilled to see Spencer and Spencer quickly introduced us to Mr. Nash as well as to his good friend, Dave Edmunds (google him). At this point Jennifer was nearing heart attack stage with all the excitement. (I was too but really, she was dying!) Les was out on the balcony having his dinner all alone. I poked my head out and asked if I could bring Spencer out to say “hi”. He was more than happy to have us all join him at his table while he continued to have his dinner and the four of us just chatted it up for a bit. It was thrilling for all of us, but Spencer was BEAMING and it made me so happy to have not only been there for it but to have helped to make it happen. A photographer inside got wind of the legend meeting the rock star and came out and snapped this pic (which I later had Spencer autograph for me):
The night could have ended there and all three of us would have been more than happy but alas, it was just beginning. We went back down to the main room for the tribute show. The place was jammed and there wasn’t an inch of space to be found. That is until Stephen Stills spotted Spencer and waved him (and his two dates!) into the VIP area. There were only two seats next to Mr. Stills (and Mr. Nash who also joined us) so they asked this super cute guy if he could move down one seat. He was more than happy to so I moved in and sat next to him and Jennifer sat between me and Spencer who sat next to his CS&N pals. One by one guitar legends got up and jammed with Les Paul (oh God, was he on stage all night or just at the end?? I can’t even remember). Robby Kreiger, Johnny Rivers, Dave Edmunds, Jeff Healy, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. It just kept going getting better and better as they went. Slash and Gilby Clarke (Guns & Roses! Finally someone you’ve heard of!) and their two bimbos were sitting directly in front of us and were drunk, obnoxious and annoying (not necessarily in that order). They talked through most of it and I was filled with hate for them for tarnishing our perfect night. Then all of a sudden super cute guy sitting next to me asked us to excuse him so he could get out. I assumed to go to the bathroom and thought he was nuts because who knew what he might miss! Two minutes later the guy on stage said “ladies and gentlemen, Steve Vai”. And there he was, super cute guy. Up on stage tearing up the guitar like nobody’s business!! The old guys were great but this guy blew the roof off. Do a search for him on youtube and you’ll see what I mean. And the best part? Slash finally shut the hell up. I mean he was speechless. Until Steve super-cute-guy Vai finished and he said “I can’t follow that”. HA! That right a$$hole!! When Steve Vai returned to his seat (next to me!!) everyone in the VIP section was patting him on the back telling him how awesome he was, including me. When Slash got up to play, I told Steve what what Slash said and he chuckled and thought I was kidding but Jennifer backed me up and told him it was true. I think he really liked that!
The night ended with everyone that had played gathering on stage for one last super jam. The stage was filled with everyone I’ve mentioned above plus Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Doobie Brothers & Steely Dan) and Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats on drums.
Spencer gave Jennifer and I a hug and a kiss and we parted ways. I’m sure he went home straight to bed but me and Jennifer? We sat up for hours recounting every second of the night squealing like school girls after holding it in all night in an effort to be cool. But really, after a night like that? We were cool. At least for this one night.
Thank you, Les Paul. For creating the guitar and the music that paved the way for rock & roll as we know it. You are a true legend and will be sadly missed.