By Billy Altman
THANK YOU LES
Lou Pallo of Les Paul’s Trio
Showplace Music Productions/Allegro
While the star-studded CD Thank You Les is quite properly billed as a tribute to legendary guitarist Les Paul, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if you asked Keith Richards, Steve Miller, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jose Feliciano, or any of the rest of the dazzling array of musicians who participated in this collection, they’d probably all agree that it could have also been properly billed as Thank You Lou, as a tribute to Paul’s longtime rhythm guitarist and great friend Lou Pallo, without whom this tribute collection would never have happened.
Having already secured one of the more formidable musical and technological legacies of the 20th century through his invention of both the solid body electric guitar and multi-track recording (not to mention all the wonderful music he recorded with his wife, singer Mary Ford), Les Paul had pretty much retired from performing when, in 1963, he happened to hear guitarist Pallo playing at a resort lounge. Impressed by what he heard, Paul struck up a conversation with the young musician, thus beginning a personal and professional relationship that twenty years later brought Paul, backed by the Pallo-led Les Paul Trio, back to the concert stage.
Promo video for the Thank You Les documentary DVD, featuring Billy Gibbons, Keith Richards, Bucky Pizzarelli, Slash, Frank Vignola, Russ Les Paul Jr., Paul Nowinski, Steve Miller, Nicki Parrott, Jose Feliciano, Melinda Doolittle, Eddie Brigati Jr., Les Paul and Lou Pallo, Johnny A, Nokie Edwards, Blondie Chaplin. ‘Hats off,’ says Keef.
Starting in 1984 and continuing until literally just a few weeks before his death in 2009 at age 94, anyone living in the New York area had the opportunity to see the incomparable Paul, whose once-a-week residencies at the downtown club Fat Tuesdays and later at midtown’s Iridium, were indeed the stuff of legend (and as much for his vaudeville-trained wisecracks between song as the music.) Name any rock, jazz or blues guitarist worth their salt and at some point they showed up to pay their respects and, more often than not, get called onstage to plug in and, if they dared, go pick to pick with the master. Through it all, Pallo would provide backbone support to anyone and everyone from his trusty rhythm guitar/shotgun perch. Any song, any key, any chord progression: Pallo could handle it–and did, while displaying the kind of hail fellow, well met generosity of spirit that, when all was said and done, clearly was as important to Paul as Pallo’s own clearly formidable musical chops.
from 1991, Les Paul and his Trio, with Lou Pallo on rhythm guitar, offer what Les calls ‘a song I recorded with Judy Garland,’ ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’
One of the neater things, then, about Thank You Les is that, in addition to the all the great, and greatly diverse, music coursing through its twenty-one tracks (all drawn from Paul’s longstanding repertoire), you can palpably feel the respect and appreciation that all the featured players have for Pallo–and, in turn, Pallo’s own Trio aides-de-camp: bassists Paul Nowinski, Gary Mazzaroppi, Jay Leonhart and Nicki Parrott, and drummers Victor Ector and Steve Johns. The roster of guests range from the aforementioned Richards (warbling “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”), Miller (channeling a bit of Chet Baker on “Nature Boy”), Pizzarelli (a fittingly classy “Just One More Chance”), and Feliciano (a fittingly fiery “Besame Mucho”) to the likes of Billy Gibbons (a disarmingly subtle “September Song”), Arlen Roth (an elastic “Mister Sandman”), and the Ventures’ Nokie Edwards (a taut “Caravan”). And there a few surprises, too, with notable vocal turns by the Rascals’ Eddie Brigati (a Jersey-centric take on “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You”) and former Beach Boy and Rolling Stone tour player Blondie Chaplin (an achingly gorgeous turn on “Smile”).
At the Iridium, September 9, 2010, Blondie Chaplin joins Lou Pallo, Paul Nowinski and Anton Fig on Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile.’ Blondie’s studio rendering of the tune is one of the highlights of Thank You Les.
In addition to the CD, there’s a DVD available that documents Pallo’s unique relationship with Paul and the making of this collection, and is filled to the brim with great anecdotes and reminiscences by the participants. Given Les Paul’s notoriously wicked sense of humor, many of them are a hoot. (Just one example: When superstar guitarists showed up to sit in but didn’t bring their own instruments, Paul invariably supplied them with a beautiful-looking but horrible sounding “stooge” guitar as devilish punishment.)
So, yes, thank you Les Paul for what you gave the world: As Eddie Brigati notes, “He’s returned to the stardust he came from.” And for being the person primarily responsible for making the last chapters of Les Paul’s life story so fulfilling, thank you Lou Pallo. Arlen Roth says it best: “Such a fine guitar player–but even a better person.”