The Les Paul Estate, the Les Paul Foundation and Russ Les Paul Jr. tied in with Julien’s Auctions in downtown Beverly Hills on Friday and Saturday, June 8-9, for a marathon auction of guitars, amps, recording gear, memorabilia and lots more from the electric guitar and multi-tracking pioneer’s personal collection.
Click here for my full text, photo and video coverage of that historic auction, which raised nearly $5 million for the nonprofit Les Paul Foundation.
On Saturday, what would have been Paul’s 97th birthday, I had the opportunity to talk with one of his sons, Russ (“Rusty”) Les Paul Jr., who I met along with his dad in May 1991, when I visited the Pauls’ home and studio in Mahwah, N.J. and interviewed Les for the book that accompanied his Capitol Records boxed set, “The Legend & The Legacy,” released that October but now out of print.
Russ was his dad’s right-hand man for years, and as a musician and bandleader in his own right, and a member of the Les Paul Foundation board, is on a mission to make sure his father’s legacy remains viable for generations to come.
Stephen K. Peeples: Russ! How are you?
Russ Les Paul Jr.: Pretty good. How are you doing, Steve?
Peeples: I’m doing great. We’re at the Les Paul Julien’s Auction here in Beverly Hills, Day 2. How’s it going?
Paul: Excellent, excellent.
Peeples: How did you do yesterday?
Paul: Excellent. It was a very big turnout, and there was excellent bidding. Everyone else was very proud of it, but it’s tearing me up inside, ’cause it’s like a big family, and they’re just pulling all of my little children away. But I know where most of it went and where it’s going, so it’s going mostly to museums. It will be put out where Dad would like to see it.
Peeples: That’s good. I did notice there were a lot of museum representatives, collectors, people who care about Les and want to really take care of this stuff.
Paul: Big-time museums were all here. If they’re not here, they’re online.
Peeples: Now, the touring rig or his playing rig — tell me who bought that and how much that went for.
Paul: I don’t believe that did come up yet.
Peeples: It didn’t?
Paul: No. Are you talking about his pedal box and stuff?
Peeples: Not that — the one that Cary bought yesterday…?
Paul: Oh, you mean the road equipment.
Peeples: Yeah, yeah.
Paul: With the Nakamichi.
Paul: That’s part of the stuff that (Les Paul and Mary Ford) used. A couple speakers, a head and a Nakamichi, which they used to play along with. The Nakamichi would be having the tracks on it, and then Mary and Dad would play live, and then it would be fed to the band, (and) the band had a chart and then they’d along with it. So, that’s what made it so big.
Paul: They started something there that, later on, everybody tried to do it. The Ramones, all of them tried to copy that kind of thing. That’s really hard to do.Peeples: As much stuff as is here — I remember when I visited the house, there were like stacks of guitar cases and rooms full of…
Paul: Most of them are all here.
Peeples: …and most of them are all here. Do you have any idea or (can you) quantify how many guitars were part of this particular auction?
Paul: Probably 200 or 300 guitars.
Peeples: And what’s not here? I mean, there are other items going to other places.
Paul: We kept that stuff for the museums, like the 8-track, the console, sound-on-sound, a few of Dad’s guitars, Django Reinhardt’s guitar — the Selmer, stuff like that we kept because it was so important to keep those. A couple of the mics with NBC on them, for history purposes, we kept. That’s what we take around to the different museums and stuff like that, and they’ll be in Grammy museums, they’re going to be all over the place.
Peeples: Now, the expectations have been exceeded, as far as what the auction was going to generate for the Foundation.
Paul: There’s a huge amount of collectors. I’m with one of them from New York, who came here with me. And the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame was here. Hard Rock Cafes, the guy who builds all those, I was talking to him today — yesterday, rather. He’s here. There’s a couple of other museums, one from Nashville.
There’s a couple of guys that I know from Japan who were very good friends with Dad. They’re multimillionaires and money is no object. They really go crazy over this kind of stuff. Dad was over in Japan about nine times, so he got to know these guys real well. They just sit up there with their computers, boy, and they go after this stuff. But most of the guys who are buying this stuff, I noticed, are guys that respect Dad for what he was, and the others are museums, which will make sure this is exploited and people see it, and that’s what Dad wanted.
They’ve got a big museum up in Milwaukee at Discovery World, so Discovery World has the biggest layout right now, and the next one to that would be Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, second floor.
Peeples: When are the items going to go to the Smithsonian, officially? (Les told me in 1991 that the Smithsonian wanted the 8-track, the disc-cutting lathe he built with a Cadillac flywheel, The Log, and a few other ultra-historic items, but not all of them.)
Paul: I don’t know if they’re going to be going there, because the problem was with the Smithsonian — they want to own it, for one. The other one, they want to put one piece out, put the rest in the warehouse. Dad says, “No, I don’t want that.”
Peeples: I remember him telling me it’s all or nothing.
Paul: It does no good to be in a warehouse. Nobody learns from it, nothing. So, he said, “I want to have it out, otherwise I don’t want to put it there.”
Peeples: What’s coming up as far as (Les Paul) Foundation plans? I know there are some projects in the works and releases coming up.
Paul: There’s a lot of projects in the works. I can’t talk about those yet.
Peeples: What can you talk about?
Paul: None of it at the moment, because they’re in the works, but they’re big. They’re real big. I’ve been approached by the Rock of Ages to work on the New York side. They’ve been approached by other people on the West Coast side, and it looks like we’re going to have a real big, big thing coming up.
So, that’s good.
But I’m getting ready to take my band out on the road, and we’re going to be promoting Dad, and we’ll be playing in Nashville and all over the place. And we’re going to do master classes at schools and stuff like that, colleges. Talk about him, keep the younger set aware of what’s going on with Les. So, this is important, you know? You guys gotta get out there and promote it, and I’ve got all of the musicians, the major guys — Slash, Ace Frehley, Robert Randolph, they’re all willing to pitch in with me. Richie (Sambora)’s supposed to be here today sometime with me, and he’s called me and talked to Robert not long ago.
I’m doing a big show in New York in October with Best Buy, and I’m going to have most of the guys there for that, but they all want to get in on this with me.
Peter Sherman: What about Page?
Paul: Jimmy? I got word, he says to say hello, and I got people getting me his phone number so I can get in touch with him. He was the main one I was worrying about, because he wasn’t playing. And I said, “Of all people, Jimmy should be out there playing, because he’s as important as Jeff Beck.”
Peeples: I was just going to mention Jeff, yeah.
Paul: Beck, I’m on top of him all the time, too. In fact, I saw his manager yesterday, and he’s going to get word to Jeff to call me. He’s home right now, in the U.K. He is a wonderful guy and (I) was with him in the past year, now, probably about five times.
Peeples: One thing I noticed when I walked in, obviously, is just the array of guitars is almost overwhelming, and they’re just beautiful. Even if you don’t play guitar, you still have to appreciate the beauty of the instruments and the variety of them.
But one thing that doesn’t come across in video and photographs and so forth is the smell. I don’t mean that in any kind of negative sense, but when I was at the house, there was a certain aroma, I guess, that was — I’m not exactly sure what it was, but I think it had a lot to do with the gear, and the guitars, and a little dust here and there. But, as soon as I walked into these back rooms here…
Paul: You noticed it.
Peeples: …I smelled it. It was like, wow, it’s like smelling bacon when you go home, when you were a kid. That was my take. What do you feel about it? I mean, you’re obviously much closer to it.
Paul: I agree with you 100 percent….
It turned out to be a beautiful guitar from that little “log” (he made with) the Epiphone. (Les was living) in New York, on 14thStreet, when he first built that, and the headless guitar at that particular point also, which people didn’t know.
I was talking to Johnny Winter two weeks ago, and Johnny and I sat and talked for an hour before he went on the show, and we got talking about The Log and the headless guitar. And he says, “I didn’t know your dad did the headless guitar in ’41, too.” And I said, “Yeah, he was way ahead of himself.” And (Winter) didn’t tell me, but he ended up playing the first show with a headless guitar, and he didn’t say anything about it. I noticed it and I said to him, “Well, I see you’re playing a headless, right?” By the way, he’s playing real good. He’s straightened his act up and he feels a lot better. He’s doing a lot better.
Peeples: He seems to be playing out a lot. He’s got a new album out, too. So, it’s a good time for him.
Paul: Yep. I got him, too. I’m trying to book him into Iridium (the Times Square nightclub where Les played Monday nights for the last 14 years before his death, on Aug. 12, 2009) for three days, too. That’s going to be a good one. We just had Mick Taylor in there for six days. He did 12 shows, packed the place out every night. And he’s going on the road too again, from what I hear. So, I’ve got a lot of good friends out there…all the guys, they’re all ready to go out there.
I left an open invitation. I says, “I’m not going to announce you to come up. I’m going to have the amps sitting up on the stage, they’ll ready for you. You just walk up, plug in.” And whether it’s Billy Gibbons, Beck or Richie Sambora, it doesn’t matter. I said, it says it’s just going to be a family affair, and the first thing I’m preaching out on that thing is “Friendship first.” Friendship is more important than the music. Music is the second. But for friendship, you can’t buy that, you can’t sell it, you can’t manufacture it. It’s all got to come from the heart.
And that’s why I want to get this to go on the road, and do this, and have these guys get together with me and make it one massive thing across (the country), and just have everybody talking about Dad and let them know. The guys…when they get up on that stage, they know the story, but the public doesn’t. But when the (audiences) find out why they’re in with me and why they’re up there on that stage, then it’s another story, because now they’re going to hear, right from the people they appreciate seeing, whether it’s Richie qith Jon Bon Jovi, or Ace, .
Ace Frehley said, “I did a surprise for you.” And I said, “What?” I just saw (Ace) in New York with B.B. King. He said, “I put you and your dad at the end of my book.”
(End of Part 1; TRT: 10:39)
(Part 2 picks up with the Ace story…)
Paul: And I said, “Thank you very much for doing that.” And he says, “Look…” and I says, “When you asked me to go do the New Jersey Hall of Fame for Dad — and Dad didn’t know anything about that, actually, that happened after he passed away — so now I said, “They asked me to do the New Jersey Hall of Fame.” And I brought my band down, and I brought Robert Randolph, Brad Whitford, and Ace Frehley with me. And who shows up but Bruce Springsteen, Frankie Valli, Jack Nicholson, DeVito, al of them came in, so it was kind of really a terrific show, and it was sold out. So, ever since then, the CEO of the New Jersey Hall of Fame says, “I want you to be representing your dad there every year.” I couldn’t be there tonight — I was supposed to be there. I was here at the auction.
Peeples: So, today is a very special day. It would have been his 97th birthday, right?
Paul: And August the 13th of this year will be three years he’s passed away already.
Peeples: Doesn’t seem that long, does it?
Paul: No. It sure… I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to handle. People say it goes away; I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Not somebody that’s that strong. There was so much of an influence with him on everybody, and I talk to all of the musicians and the guys, and they all feel the same way.
Peeples: Does that help you to deal with your dad’s passing, to know that he was so revered?
Paul: I’ve got a lot of friends, yeah. Definitely. It does help.
Peeples: ‘Cause there’s a lot of love for him. There’s a lot of love for you, too.
Paul: They turn to me now, since Dad left.
Peeples: You took good care of him in the later years, you know?
Paul: We tried to do as best as we could. Time comes, it comes, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s why I want to go out and do it now when I can.
Peeples: You told me a moment ago a funny story about Little Richard, how when you guys came to L.A. and would play there. You’d ring him up… Tell us about that.
Paul: We used to come in and play the House of Blues over in L.A., and every time we’d come in, Little Richard would be sitting in the lobby, across (Sunset Boulevard) in the hotel he was staying at up on the penthouse (the infamous Continental Hyatt House, aka the “Riot House”). He’d be waiting at the door for Dad to step through there so he could say hello before Dad came in and settled down.
The friends that were here said that (Richard) moved to Nashville, so I said, “Well, gee, that’s interesting.” He said, “Yeah, we contacted him and let him know that you were going to be here,” and he said, “Richard said to say hello and he’s going to be playing up in the New York area in July.” So he said, “I set it up for you to go see Little Richard, and see how he’s doing.” I try and keep in contact with all the guys that I can, just to be general, and we keep our hearts together, and that’s important.
Peeples: What was the relationship between Richard and your dad?
Paul: Just friendship, just friendship. Just like he was with Elvis Presley and Neal Schon and Richie Sambora and all of the other guys. Whether it’s jazz or rock, he was very close with a lot of them. The public doesn’t know that, and that’s what’s going to be nice when we go on the road, because people are going to hear right from the artists — they’re going to tell them, “Hey, we miss the guy that’s really an influence.”
Peeples: I think that’s really what’s amazing, is that you have people in all different genres that looked to him, and he was able to interact with everyone from jazz people to hard rock people, and everything in-between, classical and so forth, and still find value in the music, and they found value in what he did and applied what he did to their particular styles of music. It really is all pervasive, his influence, and it’s quite a legacy.
Paul: Just before he passed away, within a month before he passed away, they had three important guitar players that came into the (Iridium) club on the same night. That was Joe Satriani, that was Zakk Wylde, and the other one was Eric Johnson. And all three of them came on the same night. The club owner was saying, “Do you know any of these guys?” I said, “I sure do. Get them down here.” They’re top-notch guys.
A couple of days ago I was here, and I ran into Ace. Ace had to come over, he says, “I split from my video that I’m doing to come over and say hello to you.” Then Richie called me, says he’s coming.
I was with Dweezil Zappa, and my drummer that plays with me at home used to work for Zappa for three or four years after(Dweezil’s dad Frank) Zappa passed away. And then I talked to Steve Vai at the NAMM show (in January 2012), and I gave him the Les Paul TEC Award from the Foundation and everything, and found out that he worked for Zappa for six years. So, I’ve got a Zappa family going now.
So, now (Dweezil’s) going to be playing Terrytown (New York) shortly, so I want to go up there and see him, ’cause I never saw him or his father play with a band live. I’ve always heard the music in records, but never saw him. There’s another talented guy.
Peeples: Dweezil is an amazing guitar player, and Zappa Plays Zappa is really faithful to Frank’s charts. In fact, they opened for Jeff Beck at the Wiltern a couple of years ago, and were just incredible. It was really, really, really heartwarming to see this portion of the rock ‘n’ roll musical legacy being exposed to younger people and a wider audience and carried on in his dad’s name, because Frank was a genius also. Those arrangements and stop-on-a-dime things are the kinds of things that musicians really appreciate, and music fans who appreciate good musicianship appreciate, and that’s kind of my game.
Paul: It’s like Jeff (Beck). Everybody I talk to, Jeff is the Bible. There is the guy that leads the pack. And Dad always appreciated that and noticed that he had that talent, and I’m sure if he would’ve been alive to see (Beck) do the tribute album (the Grammy-nominated “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul” in 2011) that he would be down on his knees bowing to him because he respected him so much, and vice-versa with Jeff.
I’ll never forget the TV show he did with Billy Crystal and a couple of others on the show, and Jeff was going to do his solo, so Dad reaches over and pulls the cord out of Jeff’s guitar, and he says, “Go ahead.” (laughs) So, Jeff’s standing there, and he says, “I can’t do anything, you pulled the cord out!”
Peeples: Wasn’t that because Jeff was playing a Strat?
Paul: Right, I know. (laughs) I was on the bus with him, we did the PBS special at Iridium together, and he did a hell of a job. I don’t think there’s anybody that could’ve got any closer (to the original sound of Les Paul & Mary Ford) than what he got.
Peeples: And (singer) Imelda (May) was great, too.
Paul: Excellent, excellent. She was phenomenal. I don’t know where they ran into her but she is really good. She did all those vocal parts herself and sang to herself, and her husband played guitar and he was excellent too, so it really was a good, good show.
Peeples: Well, Russ, I really appreciate your time. Any parting shots to tell the Les Paul fans around the world about the auction, about the Foundation, about the future of the legacy and how the proceeds here are going to be benefiting the world?
Paul: They’ll all be posted, and everybody will know when we’re about ready to strike with it. A good thing from the Foundation, everybody will be notified and they’ll know all about it. It’s something that we’re very proud about, and we just want to make sure that everybody will know when we’re doing things — and they will, because they’re pretty big.
Peeples: Best way to find out? Give us the website address.
Peeples: Very good. Well, we’ll see you on Facebook and see you around.
Paul: Thank you! I appreciate it.
Peeples: Thank you, my pleasure.
Paul: Thank you, Steve.
(After we wrapped, photographer Peter Sherman took a few photos of Russ in front of a large blow-up of his dad. Then Russ sat down on a nearby chair and we just kept talking, so I started rolling again. A few seconds in, Michael Braunstein, Les’s longtime manager and now an exec with the Les Paul Foundation, shared some good news.)
Paul: …threw stuff together, and that would be a perfect thing to do.
Peeples: For Rock of Ages?
Paul: No, this is another situation.
Sherman: For the Foundation.
Paul: And yeah, but I’m setting this one up. How you doin’, Michael?
Michael Braunstein: Doing well. The Waukesha Museum bought the (Gibson) L-5.
Paul: They did get it? Ah, good. I’m glad they got it. What did it go for?
Braunstein: Like 25 grand. It was cheap, but it’s good it’s going where we would’ve put it, where we wanted it to go anyway.
Peeples: Hey, Michael, Stephen Peeples.
Braunstein: We’ve met before!
Peeples: Yeah, we met the last time you guys were out here. Nice to see you. And Peter Sherman shoots for Getty and works with me.
Braunstein: All right, perfect. Great. Are you getting interviewed, is that what this is?
Peeples: Yeah, we’re just wrapping it up, actually. This is like the post-script part. Good to see you again, Michael.
Braunstein: Good to see you, too.
Paul: So, we got several things dealt with. I ran into a another guy who does master classes over here, and I talked to Sam Ash and we had a two-hour conversation the other day, and he says, “Look, I want you to do some big projects with me. I’ve got some big stores – Nashville, Las Vegas and other things. Let’s set them up and we’ll do them.”
Peeples: I know it’s not guitars, but Remo Drums — Remo Belli, the guy who founded it. Do you know him? Did Les know him?
Paul: I know of him.
Peeples: He is deep into music in education…
Paul: This is where it’s at.
Peeples: …and is promoting and has, for the last 50 years, been involved in providing resources for — and curriculum, even — for classes in schools, both from the K-12, elementary through high school, as well as adults.
Peeples: And it seems like you guys ought to hook up if you’re going to be doing…
Paul: I want to do (music education), but I want to go back into the analog days, because people have got to know where the digital comes from. If you deal with any pro guys — I’ve got two of the top pros in here right now.
Peeples: Speaking of analog, OK, how about this, right? Love that…
Paul: MM-1000 Ampex.
Peeples: Yep, there you go.
Paul: The kids have got to know. Right now, they’re totally upset by anything that moves. Anything that moves, they don’t want to have anything to do with, and they’ve got to know that all of this stuff that’s happening today, with the digital recording and everything, all came from analog. And they don’t know all that stuff. They only know from digital on in, and they’ve got to know that because right now, these guys in the recording studios, half of the recording studios are digital, half of it’s analog.
Paul: And they’re very deep in the analog here.
Peeples: There’s a recording studio that’s owned by some young people up in our area that’s purposefully only analog. It’s a real retro kind of… and that’s all they do. They do not do digital. However, the producers go there, they record analog, but they will go to a digital facility to transfer, because it’s a lot easier to edit and so forth.
Paul: With the video, they use to go and record on film, and then drop the film over to D2, and then from D2 they could do all the editing in digital. But they got the film look.
Peeples: Speaking of which, all of the (Les Paul & Mary Ford) TV shows…
Paul: We have those and we’re going to be putting them out.
Peeples: When I was there in 1991, you guys were looking at the films and stuff.
Paul: They’re all on the computer now, 140 of them.
Peeples: Yeah? What’s going to happen with them?
Paul: They’re going to be coming out. We’re going to be working on that as soon as we get this and we get the other stuff going to the Library of Congress, then we start working on the films.
Peeples: ‘Cause that’s just priceless stuff, and some of the radio shows are out already.
Paul: Oh, I know that. But they’re always spotted because you can return them and that kind of thing. We understand what that is. There’s a lot of things like all of the shows that we recorded at Fat Tuesday’s, Iridium One and Iridium Two. We have all of those shows. There’s maybe 40 years’ worth of stuff there, so if we put one out a year, it still keeps Dad on the beat of what’s going on.
Peeples: You could put one out a week.
Paul: Well, no. We don’t want to do that because now you’d flood it out for a short period, and now you have nothing.
Peeples: Aw, I know. I’m being facetious.
Paul: You want to spread it out enough to where people realize you have an activity, have audio-video out, and you have this and you keep…
Peeples: Connect it with a special event of some kind.
Paul: … you keep things going all the time. I’m out with a group promoting it, (The Les Paul Trio) is out promoting it, so forth and so on. There’s enough to keep activity all the time. That’s what you need. You don’t want it to be where it’s quiet and everything swishes under the rug, and in five years they say, “Who’s Les Paul?” “I don’t know, I think he played guitar.” Don’t want that. We want them to say, “Oh, yeah, we know about him. He was a great guitar player and he did this, he did that, he invented…” This is what they’ve got to know.
Peeples: What’s really cool, I work with some young kids at the radio station where I work, and I mentioned that I was coming to do this, and they knew exactly who he was. I didn’t have to go into a whole explanation, which was very nice.
Paul: There are a few that are like that. And that’s good, but we’ve got to let more know.
Peeples: I wanted to ask, just out of curiosity, because obviously all of this stuff came out of the house and out of storage… What’s left at the house?
Paul: Oh, there’s a few things left at the house, yes.
Peeples: I mean, not the stuff that we talked about that you haven’t donated already, but I mean, it must look kind of naked.
Paul: It’s kind of naked out there now, yeah. A lot of the things aren’t there. It’s hard to see something he put together all his life, and then have it all tore apart in front of your face. You lose him first, and then everything else falls apart.
Peeples: You guys going to keep the house?
Paul: That’s up to the Foundation later. We’re not done yet. We’ve got to finish up…
Peeples: He left it to the Foundation, basically.
Paul: Yeah. Basically, yeah.
Peeples: Very good.
Paul: Everything went to the estate, and then from the estate to the Foundation. But we got a lot of good things that we’re involved with, with the Foundation, and it’ll be very educational for everybody. We’re going after the young people. We’re going after the younger set to let them know what’s going on, have them educated, have them know the music.
Dad’s music, even today, is not dated. You can play it and say, “Gee, was this recorded yesterday?” It’s 40, 50 years, 60 years old, but the way he did it is just phenomenal, and it’s not dated. You could take Benny Goodman and play that today, and you’d say, “Oh, that’s an old record.” Can’t say that about Dad’s. That was one good thing that he had going for him that was different.
Paul: Really different. It’s not dated anytime.
Peeples: Well, thanks again for spending a couple of minutes with us.
Paul: Thank you.
Peeples: We’ll talk to you real soon.
- Peeples Place Q&A: Russ Les Paul Jr. Pt. 1, Julien’s Auction, June 9, 2012
- Peeples Place Q&A: Russ Les Paul Jr. Pt. 2, Julien’s Auction, June 9, 2012
- Peeples Place: Les Paul Auction, Pt. 1: The Scene, Tour
- Peeples Place: Les Paul Auction, Pt. 2: Touring Rig; Amps
- Peeples Place: Les Paul Auction, Pt. 2a: Plank Guitar, Sound Wall
- Peeples Place: Les Paul Auction, Pt. 3: Martin J. Nolan, Julien’s Exec Director
Return to the Peeples Place at KHTS front page.
In addition to his “Peeples Place at KHTS” blog, Stephen K. Peeples is a writer/reporter for KHTS News (www.hometownstation.com) and SCVNews.com, and host, writer and co-producer of the weekly “House Blend” music and interview television show on SCVTV, community television for the Santa Clarita Valley (www.scvhouseblend.com). A former SCV music/entertainment columnist for The Signal newspaper and website (2004-2011), Peeples is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992), an award-winning radio producer (“The Lost Lennon Tapes,” Westwood One, 1988-1990) and an award-winning online editor (The Signal website, 2007-2011). For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.stephenkpeeples.com.