Remembering the Genius and Soul of Les Paul

Fond Reflections of Les Paul — from the Desk of the Executive Director

In the fall of 2007, I was fortunate enough to attend the Mix Foundation Tech Awards that are held each year in conjunction with the AES show in New York City. I was fortunate enough to be invited as the guest of my  friends at Steven’s Institute of Technology . As luck would have it,  I wound up accepting the award for Technical Acheivement in Musical Instrument Technology on behalf of Moog Music, Inc. for the Little Phatty. It was a great evening all around, but the highlight for me, after receiving the award, was meeting Les Paul, inventor of the electric guitar and multi-track recording.

I already got a sense of who Les was from his time  up on stage presenting the Les Paul Award to Al Kooper. Les was more interested in the attractive brunette holding the award than the happenings on stage. When he got up to the mic, he said something along the lines of “I feel like a broken flag pole standing next to her”. The whole room erupted in laughter — at 92 years old, the guy had an incredible amount of spunk.

I was sitting with Steven’s talented faculty, of which guitar wizard Carlos Alamar was a member. Carlos offered to introduce me to Les, so up we went to the front of the room. Les initially looked a little distracted with all of the comotion going on in the room, but when Carlos said “Les, this is Bob Moog’s daughter, Michelle” Les’s face lit up, he gave me a huge smile and a hug and said “Oh, I just loved your dad.”

Dad and Les knew each other quite well from their years under Norlin Industries, Inc. Norlin was an umbrella organization that owned several music companies in the early to mid-70s including Sennheiser, Lowery Organs, Maestro Foot Pedals, Moog Music, Inc. and Gibson Guitars. Apparently, neither Dad nor Les were too fond of the way their parent company handled things and they bonded as two inventors facing the realities of being part of a large corporate organization. At one point around 1975 Norlin asked Moog Music, Inc. to make a guitar amp, the LAB Series Amp, to go with some of the Gibson guitars. Dad was in charge of designing that product, the prototype of which is part of his archive.

In the fall of 2008, I was in NYC on business and met up with a friend to go see Les perform at the Iridium Club in Manhattan. His set was a mixure of music, humor and nostalgia. At 93 years old he still had the chops of a virtuoso, the spirit of an innovator and the heart of gold. I went back stage to see him we spent some time talking about music and Les’s fondness for Dad. People wandered in and out to pay their respects to Les and he was always warm and animated. I was struck by his humility and open spirit, two things people always tell me they admired about my father. I could certainly see that Les and Dad had easily been kindred spirits.

Commenting on the link between the two men, Colby Cosh recently wrote:

Two men, Les Paul and Bob Moog, stand above all others as creators of the musical environment in which our brains are all now marinated.”

Les invited me to come interview him at his home the next time I was in town; I was really looking forward to that. I’ll be in NYC in October for AES once again, but this time my second favorite music pioneer will be playing a tune somewhere else………hopefully in the company of my father.

Les Paul was a brilliant maverick inventor, a great musician and a hell of a nice guy. He is deeply missed by many here at the Bob Moog Foundation and around the world….