The Elder Statesman of Popular Music
But by the late 70s and early 80s, his current career as an elder statesman of popular music in general, and the electric guitar specifically, began to blossom.
In 1975, he officially came out of retirement with a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall. In 1977, he released a Grammy Award winning record with Chet Atkins, called Chester and Lester. And in 1984, Paul began his regular gig playing every Monday night in New York, first at a club called Fat Tuesday's and since 1996, at the Iridium Jazz Club, originally across from Lincoln Center, and now located at Broadway and 51st Street.
It was at the Iridium where we interviewed Paul, a week before his 87th birthday. Looking at least 15 years younger than his actual age, he's also one sharp interviewee, as befits the godfather of popular music and its most popular instrument.
Between his soundcheck and our interview, a Gibson representative asked Paul to sign a Les Paul guitar that would be given to a leukemia fund. And after a 1998 concert at the Iridium, Paul spent a good ten minutes talking to a guitar-playing child who was attending via the Make a Wish Foundation. Paul asked him what kind of guitar he plays. When informed that it was a cheap imitation of a Les Paul, Paul asked the parents for the child's address. It's a safe bet a real Gibson Les Paul guitar arrived shortly thereafter.
The Quotable Les Paul
Once Paul finished signing, we began our interview. Because I play one his guitars, and use it to record my own music (when I'm not writing articles for magazines and the Internet), I was thrilled to be about to talk to the man who literally made it all possible. After a lengthy discussion about the history of the guitar that bears his name, I asked him what he thinks of today's home recording boom, which allows virtually anyone to record their music on equipment ranging from four-track cassette recorders to computers equipped with special music recording software? "Well, that's how I started, so I thought it was a very good idea! I'm sure the studios didn't like it, but then they've never liked the idea."
Paul says that in the 1950s, recording studios (perhaps via record labels or the various musicians' unions) had created a rule that stated that if a musician was within 35 miles of a legitimate recording studio, he couldn't make a record without a professional recording engineer from a studio there. "I lived 33 miles from New York, and they made me have an engineer. I said 'unless he wants to sleep over, and wake up at five o'clock in the morning and go to bed at six pm....holy Cripes!'"