Les Paul’s Son Gene Gives Me a Guitar Lesson

Two days ago, I dropped a hard drive off at my mixing and mastering studio for my upcoming Michael Jackson Guitar CD. Time to mix & master…I start tomorrow!

The “engineer” is more than just an engineer. He’s the one and only Gene Paul – son of guitar and recording legend, Les Paul.

Gene played drums in Les Paul’s working band for years, and of course was privy to Les’ genius, since Les was his dad. Later on, Gene became a top notch enginieer…now he primarily does mastering.

Gene Paul, Mary Ford and Les Paul

Gene Paul, Mary Ford and Les Paul

I was only there for about an hour, but I took a gander at the gold records on the wall. Does “Kiling Me Softly” by Roberta Flack ring a bell? Well, he was the engineer on the session. I’ll try to remember the others and post an update here…

As we chatted, he asked what I had been up to since the last CD. I told him: touring, practicing and perfecting the show and arrangements as best I can, so that I can provide a great night of enjoyable music for an audience.

Gene Paul in 2012

Gene Paul in 2012

That’s all he needed to hear, and my music lesson started. (I wish I had recorded him….I’ll see if I can get him to do an interview.) I sat with ears and eyes like sponges for soaking up his masterful words.

He went on to tell me stories of how his dad – every night – either audio taped or video taped his show, and then listened, and analyzed. He said that Les particularly paid attention to timing, the interaction with the audience…seeing what worked and what didn’t. It was all about the show.

Watch Les in action, how he communicates to the audience through the eyes, the music…watch what he does at the end. What a showman! So much is said with this simple tune…

At one point he told me Les got a Django record (yes record…LP…played with a needle) and worked on a Django lick for days. Suddenly, on the gig Gene heard this lick fuse into his Dad’s playing and asked him about it. Les would say “It was Djangos, but now it’s mine…”

A week between gigs? No problem…Les would take other gigs, even if they just covered hotels (between good paying gigs) just to keep the band and stage show razor sharp.

The point being that well into a ripe old age, Les Paul never stopped learning, studying, practicing, analyzing.

This should serve as inspiration to us all! It never ends…and if you ever saw the youthful life in Les’s eyes (I got to play with him when he was well into his 90’s and did see it – watch that video if you haven’t) you’d know…that youthfulness was surely due to an inquisitive, active and intelligent mind!

Ok. Time to stop blogging and start picking…Happy Monday!

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I’m Adam Rafferty – a guitar player born and raised in New York City, and currently spending most of my time on the road playing concerts and doing workshops. I am a lover of all things groovy and love spreading musical knowledge!
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  1. Jay whitham says

    One of the musical highlights of my life was sitting at a table in the downstairs room at Fat Tuesday’s in NYC when Les used to play there each week (Mondays if I rec if recall). Les was a major hero for me my whole life and my seat was literally 5 feet from him. He was in his late 70’s at the time and absolutely played his heart out and his ass off. I was transfixed. He was so funny and engaging, and made it all look so easy – the result of a lifetime of work making it all so flowing and effortless. I had a chance to chat with him between shows and he was as warm and friendly as could be.

    I have a photo with him that was taken that night that is one of my most prized possessions. I keep it in my studio and look at it often for inspiration and as a reminder to work a little harder. I can always do better. You, Adam my friend, provide the same type of inspiration and motivation – thanks for that and for posting this story. Can’t wait to hear the results of all your hard work on this project. Be well, travel safely, and keep kicking it! See you at Swannanoa if not before.

  2. Rob Steinhardt says

    Good post AR. I love how LEs PAul was so didicated to staying sharp all the time and constantly improving….learning new stuff all the time. I bet Chet had similar sentiments.

    A funny quote from Jerry Garcia, when asked if he has any goals to achieve before he dies….Garcia said:
    “yeah, I’d lvoe to learn how to play guitar!”
    Again, this comes from a guy who played hours and hours every day, and was constantly learning new things and applying that info to his own playing.

    Good luck with finalizing the CD…the world waits its release!

  3. Joe says

    Excellent article. I record on my smartphone on a daily basis and can attest that it really works.

    There are 4 phases:
    1. Record
    2. Playback
    3. Cringe
    4. Figure out what’s wrong and do it again

    Step 3 is essential because you think you’re wailing but, upon reflection, something is wrong. It takes listening and figuring out what’s off-kilter: whether it’s the timing, the attack, the vibrato, or maybe the idea needs itself needs to be reconsidered. Once I think I’ve ironed out the problems, it still takes a few cycles till I’m happy with the result. A new idea could be 15 seconds long but it could take 20 minutes until it becomes presentable.

  4. Janis Liacos says

    Hi Adam!
    I learned about you while watching “So You Think You Can Dance” last year. One of the performers danced to your arrangement of Superstition and I loved it! I downloaded the song and then googled you. I was amazed that there was only one guitarist! I’m 61 years old and have been playing about 5 years (better late than never!) Your arrangements are amazing…it must be so much fun to be able to play like that! I’m working on Superstition… slow going, but it will be a good retirement project! You’re so generous with your lessons. Thanks for sharing!!

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