Denny Carleton

A Conversation With Les Paul

I am fortunate enough to be able to say I met Les Paul. With his passing we,have lost a true pioneer who brought in multi-track recording and the electric guitar.

During the time I was working for Cuyahoga Community college in 1987, someone decided to have a music seminar at the Statler-Hilton in downtown Cleveland for which they brought in Les Paul. When I got to the conference, Les was surrounded by business people handing him cards and trying to make deals. Les was there promoting Gibson guitars, I believe.

My former wife (Theresa was also my singing partner and remains a friend) and I went up to Les Paul and told him we sang together. Les of course had spent many years singing with his former wife, Mary Ford. Theresa said to Les, "Denny and I like to make tapes together, but sometimes it's hard to operate and figure out how to record." Les Paul smiled (he had invented multitask recording) and he just said, "Yes, it can get difficult at times." We talked a little bit about our music, playing out and how my music had been played on WFMU Radio in New Jersey. Since he lived in NYC he, was familiar with the station.

As the conversation continued, I mentioned that my father had Alzheimer’s and I had to check to see if my mother and father were doing ok. He then shared with us about his Father, who had recently passed and that he had to go back after the conference and attend the services. This led Les to confide in us and tell us how grateful he was to the Cleveland Clinic and their heart doctor who had saved his life with a heart operation. He went on to say that after his operation, he was thinking of quitting music. But his doctor said take out a piece of paper and draw two columns with the pros and cons of performing music and see what wins out. Playing music won. [Les Paul website]

After that privileged encounter, I found a book about les Paul. As I read about his marriage it seemed as if it was a mirror of my own. He and his wife did a wide variety of music, putting conflicting styles back to back in their set.. As I read that, I recalled that many had seen Theresa and I perform in the same way. Les was eager to play at an intense pace; his wife loved the music but was a bit divided wanting to do other things, which is also something we shared in common. He has a quote in the book saying that what he enjoyed doing the most was recording music at home while eating popcorn. Amen to that..