LES PAUL MADE IT COOL TO BE A GUITAR player, and caused the world to take notice of the instrument. (When I began to play guitar the most popular instrument was the accordion!) But to me, Les was much more than a guitar player—he was my guiding light for living. And I’m not alone. For example, John Wayne once said that as he waited hours in his trailer on the film set, he listened to Les and Mary’s records because they gave him inspiration to act. And at a Gibson party in New York celebrating Les’ life, an outstanding doctor who is also is a fine guitarist told me that before he went into surgery he listened to Les’ records because they inspired him.
Les always had a great sense of humor and loved to play practical jokes. Like Walt Disney, he was a frisky, inquisitive brat who simply refused to grow up. And you can hear that in his playing. As he would often say, “I’m just having fun.”
Les had multiple-bypass surgery during the early ’80s when it was risky—but he was very positive when he called me from the hospital. After his car accident in 1947 he was told he would never play again, and later arthritis took over his hands and body—but in both cases he managed to play again.
Here are a few things I remember Les saying when I first met him at 15 years old at the Chicago Theater:
“Anyone can be successful—it’s just being there at the right time with the right thing.”
“Don’t touch it if it gets complicated.”
“It’s what you do with what you got that counts.”
Many people asked Les for advice on myriad subjects and he always gave them the right answer. —Del Casher