Lawdy mama, light my fuse: “A Tribute To Les Paul: Live from Universal Studios Hollywood”

By on May 18, 2018

On February 8, 2006, a star-studded lineup of classic rockers came together at a Universal Studios concert venue — then called the Gibson Ampitheatre — to pay tribute to the great guitarist, inventor and innovator Les Paul.

This 80-minute concert DVD — imaginatively titled A Tribute to Les Paul: Live from Universal Studios Hollywood — is now streaming, along with additional live concerts, on Night Flight Plus.

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This special evening — co-produced by the digital cable TV network HDNet, now called AXS TV, owned and operated by Mark Cuban — was also used to raise funds and awareness for A Place Called Home, a South Central L.A.-based charity which helps to provide at-risk youth a safe and secure environment they can thrive in.

As you might expect, the main focus here is on guitarists, since Les Paul’s experiments with multi-track recording and creation of the Gibson Les Paul were seen as key to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll as we know it today.

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Guns N’ Roses guitar-slinger Slash partners up with Toto’s Steve Lukather and Edgar Winter for their version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Lukather also ably takes solo flight with his cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Little Wing.”

Joe Satriani performs “Watch Boogie” and “House Full of Bullets,” while blues great Buddy Guy pairs up with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on “Going Down” and “Hoochie Koochie Man.”

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Robben Ford tackles “Lovin’ Cup,” while Journey’s Neal Schon doubles down with Shayna Steele for “I Wanna Know You,” and Kenny Wayne Shepherd is joined once again by Steve Lukather and Edgar Winter for a show-stopping finale of the Rick Derringer hit, “Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo.”

Read more about Les Paul below.

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Paul enjoyed a legendary career as a hit-making musician, a solid-body electric guitar trailblazer, and the inventor of unprecedented recording techniques impacting and influencing the entire music industry, and not just the rock ‘n’ roll sector.

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on June 9, 1915 — he began playing the harmonica at age eight, and later took up banjo and guitar. His desire to play the guitar and harmonica at the same time led to him inventing a neck-worn harmonica holder (it’s still used today).

He began playing semi-professionally in country bands as a teen, and later, as a solo artist, used the stage names Rhubarb Red and Red Hot Red.

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He created another invention by taping a phonograph needle to it and running it back through a radio speaker, amplifying his guitar.

After dropping out of high school in the 1930s, he moved around the country and ended up New York City, where he became inspired by jazz guitarists, particularly Django Reinhardt.

Paul formed the Les Paul Trio with bassist Ernie Newton and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Atkins, sometimes sharing the stage in Harlem nightclubs with Louis Armstrong and Art Tatum.

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He continued experimenting with ways to make his guitar sound louder, including stuffing towels in the instrument’s F-holes in order to reduce feedback.

In 1941 made his first big breakthrough with a device he called “the Log,” a four-by-four solid piece of maple wood, strung with steel strings, with a bridge and pickup attached to his Epiphone hollow body guitar, creating what was essentially the first solid body electric guitar.

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In the early 50s, after serving in World War II, he moved to Hollywood, and was finally able to convince Gibson Guitars to produce a solid body guitar based on his design.

Paul also began building a home recording studio, experimenting with multi-track recording on acetate discs,  and later began recording on magnetic tape, which made multi-tracking even easier to accomplish.

He also pioneered the use of “close micing,” allowing voices to sound louder and more intimate.

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Les Paul ended up recording several Top Ten instrumental hits (including “Nola” and “Meet Mr. Callaghan”).

He then paired up with singer Iris Colleen Summers, better known as Mary Ford (they later married), for twenty-two gold records for Hollywood-based Capitol Records, including eleven #1 chart-toppers, including his huge hits “Vaya Con Dios,” “How High the Moon” and “Mockin’ Bird Hill” — selling more than two million records.

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Their popularity led to them hosting their own television show, beginning in 1953, a career that was stymied and eventually shut down with the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll. His marriage to Mary Ford ended in divorce in 1962 (she died in 1977).

By the early Sixties, British rock guitarists had discovered the possibilities available with Gibson-made Les Paul guitars, allowing them to play quite loudly with lots of distortion.

The Rolling StonesKeith Richards began playing a 1959 Sunburst model Les Paul once he returned with one from the Stones’ 1964 U.S. tour. Within the next decade, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were all playing Les Pauls, which led to their immense popularity.

Towards the end of his life, Paul was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

At age ninety, Paul ended up winning two Grammys for his Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played album. He continued playing right up until his death from pneumonia at age 94, on August 13, 2009.

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A Tribute to Les Paul also features rarely-seen footage from one of Les Paul’s final interviews at NYC’s Iridium jazz venue, as well as footage from Paul’s home in Mahwah, New Jersey.

Watch A Tribute to Les Paul: Live from Universal Studios Hollywood on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.