On the Town: Les Paul in Japan
June 9, 1965
YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT, but Rhubarb Red is in Japan.
Of course he's actually better known as guitarist Les Paul, the master musician-electrician whose numerous recordings ("Nola," "Lover," "How High the Moon," "Whispering") have sold in the millions.
When Paul steps into the spotlight he looks like a cross between a happy hound dog and a mischievous little boy who just got caught in Farmer Brown's apple orchard.
And the constant twinkle in his eyes seems to admit that he did, indeed, swipe his share of apples when he was a barefoot boy back in Missouri.
We caught Paul's one-night stand at the Copa, and to say that the Japanese were flabbergasted by all his electronic gimcracks (he carries 900 pounds of equipment with him) would be an understatement.
While his personal engineer (Earl Davis) mans a control board behind the curtain, Paul explains how his sound system works. Attached to his guitar is a little black box ("The Les Paul-verizer") and by turning knobs and flicking switches he can produce the sound of four guitars playing simultaneously.
Three of the guitars are pre-recorded and Les plays the lead. He also uses this complicated gimmick to make singer Arlene Carrol sound like a harmonizing quartet. One of their funniest bits: Arlene opens her mouth to sing and out comes Bing Crosby's voice.
But this tall, stately vocalist doesn't need any switches to register on the applause meter. Her voltage is just fine.
Accompanying Paul on drums is his fast-moving, 20-year-old son Gene, a lad who shows signs of developing into a top-notch drummer.
Following military club dates in Japan, Les Paul and company are slated for bookings on Okinawa (June 15-20), Taiwan and in the Philippines. Don't miss them.
NOTES ON A SHABBY CUFF — Paul, who got his start as Rhubarb Red when he was teamed up with lightning-fingered Joe Wolverton ("Joe taught me everything I know"), is as down-to-earth as the country music he used to play.
Over a cold beer or two he's more than happy to thumb his nose at the critics who knock him for going "commercial." Since the Les Paul Trio won more than its share of Jazz polls in its heyday, the purists were aghast when Les went electronic.
"I did it for a very good reason," " says Les. "Money."
The 49-year-old musician also delights in spinning tales about his years on the road. Like the time he and his former wife, Mary Ford, fled the scene at a state fair when Paul's sound system burned up two speakers.
"It was our crowd," says Les. "We could do no wrong. But after those speakers blew I was left standing in the middle of an outdoor stage with this dead hunk of guitar in my hands. What did I do? I had the audience rise and sing `The Star-Spangled Banner.' While they were singing — we ran out the back."
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