The Great Les

Going to see Les Paul during his final years, playing every Monday night at the Iridium club just north of Times Square in NYC was always a good time, not only for the music—and to be truthful, by then Les’ arthritis had robbed him of his best chops—but also for his playful, well–meaning, semi–lecherous sense of humor. It’s a point made by many of the interview subjects in Thank You Les, a new CD/DVD package that celebrates not only Paul who died in 2009 at age 94, but also his longtime sideman, guitarist Lou Pallo. Keith Richards, Billy F. Gibbons, Slash and Steve Miller are the more famous players who play on the tribute CD and also comment in the film on Paul’s musical influence as well as his unforgettable personality. Not to spoil the surprise entirely, but to recount just a few classic moments from the film, Nikki Parrott, the Australian standup bass player in Paul’s later bands says Paul knew all the old show business tricks. That’s followed by a bit of film shot in the club where Paul gazes at the very attractive blonde Parrott and says he feels like “a condemned building with a new flagpole on it.” Paul’s piano player in his later years, John Colianni, remembers once asking Paul what he thinks about while he’s playing a solo and a non–plussed Paul cracked, “I think about my wife’s sister.” Paul’s humor could also have an edge as it did when Jimmy Buffet sat in with the trio one night. When the audience began calling out for Buffet to play “Margaritaville,” Paul said he didn’t know the tune because at the time when the song was released, he’d been too busy “counting his money.” Keith Richards even recalls a show in England, after which Les asked Keith’s mother to marry him!

The film is an affectionate, low key affair that has lots of fun moments. The record that comes in the package has the advantage of, for the most part, being recorded live in the same studio. Only the Slash and Billy Gibbons tracks were recorded elsewhere and mixed in, so the sound is consistent and very listenable. The song list is heavy on the standards that were part of the Paul band’s book—”Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Over the Rainbow” and “Mister Sandman.” The album too is a very heartfelt tribute to a man beloved by many. In the film DJ Joey Reynolds may have said it best: “Les Paul was an experience. He was a ride.”