American Music Masters Moments: Les Paul is the first installment in a series that shares stories from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's American Music Masters® events through the years. Beginning in 1996 with a tribute to Woody Guthrie, the American Music Masters series has honored artists who've been instrumental in the development of rock and roll with a range of events celebrating their careers. Each AMM brings together musicians from around the world, setting the stage for special, once-in-a-lifetime moments. These are those stories.
From their inception in 1996, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s American Music Masters programs have been sensational, but the one that I have the fondest memories of is the 2008 tribute to Les Paul. One of the great highlights of my job is the fact that I was lucky enough to get to know Les. In 2004, I worked with Les to put together and exhibit The New Sound: Les Paul and the Electric Guitar. When the exhibit opened, Les and his trio came to Cleveland and performed on the main stage in the museum’s lobby. That exhibit is still up on the second floor of the museum, in the Architects of Rock section. So, I was delighted when we decided to honor Les as an American Music Master in 2008.
When we started putting the all-star tribute concert together, the reaction from other guitar players was amazing. Virtually everyone we contacted wanted to come to Cleveland to pay tribute to Les. The lineup included Slash, Billy Gibbons, James Burton, Duane Eddy, Richie Sambora, Lonnie Mack, Lenny Kaye, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Steve Lukather, Jennifer Batten. . . and on and on. Because he was in declining health, there was some question initially whether Les himself would be able to make it to Cleveland. Finally, he said he was coming. On Saturday afternoon, Les made an appearance at the conference at Case Western Reserve University. Then, on Saturday night, he came out for the concert. The show got off to a great start with Barbara Lynn’s and Billy Gibbons’ performance of “New Dupree Blues.” The intensity continued to build as James Burton, Duane Eddy, the Ventures and Dennis Coffey pulled off fantastic, back-to-back guitar instrumentals. Jennifer Batten’s solo performance of Les’ classic version of “Lover” enthralled the audience and Les, who was watching from offstage. And then, to bring the weeklong series of events to an unbelievable end, Les and his trio took the stage and performed a set of classic tunes. (pictured above: Les Paul performs at 2008 American Music Masters event)
It was a brilliant night. Unfortunately, less than a year later, Les Paul passed away. It makes me extremely happy that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was able to honor him in such a way, and that he was able to come to Cleveland to take part in the ceremonies.
This year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to Aretha Franklin, including a tribute concert on November 5, featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Dennis Edwards (of the Temptations), Ronald Isley (of the Isley Brothers), and Spooner Oldham, as well as 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee Chaka Khan, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Jerry Butler, Patti Austin, Kris Bowers, Carla Cook, Melinda Doolittle, Mike Farris and Cissy Houston.. For more information about the exciting week of events, click here!
Richie Sambora discusses performing with Les Paul and other world-renowned guitarist at the 2008 American Music Masters tribue to Les Paul.