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My Les Paul Story -
Tom Peters
McLean, VA 
I lived in Mahwah in the '70s and my father was a metallurgical scientist at a research lab in nearby Sterling Forest, NY. One day, probably in 1976 or so, Les Paul showed up at the reception desk of the research lab asking if he could speak to a metals expert.  This was rather unusual, but my dad was the metallurgist who eventually came out to help.  Les and my dad started talking and my dad found that Les had a lot of interesting questions about a metal alloy that he wanted to use for a new guitar pickup he was designing -- the alloy needed to have certain properties for the pickup to work as Les wanted, but he didn't know which alloys could work.  My dad listened and provided some advice, and Les went on his way.  But Les came back to the research lab a few more times over the next few weeks to follow up, and my dad graciously continued to provide his expertise.

At some point, my dad mentioned this at the dinner table, and mentioned that the guy's name was "Les Paul."  I should explain that my father knew nothing of contemporary music, unless it was contemporary in the 1700 or 1800's.  So when I heard at age 13 that it was the great Les Paul, I said, "Dad, do you have any idea who you're talking to??"  To which he replied, "Yeah, some guy who just wants to pick my brain."  I proceeded to explain who Les Paul was and why he was important, but it went completely past him.

Now here's where the story gets interesting:  A year or two later our next door neighbor, Mr. Morrison, had a health issue and found himself in the hospital in Ridgewood.  He was in pre-surgery and was coincidentally sharing a room with Les Paul.  For this part, I don't fully know what happened and can only repeat what I was told, but the story goes that Les Paul and Mr. Morrison started talking and discovered that they both lived in Mahwah.  That broke the ice, so they were able to go a bit past being just polite "roomies".  As they talked more and got to know each other, Les eventually told Mr. Morrison that the surgery he was about to undergo was extremely risky (I believe his condition was heart-related), and the doctors in Ridgewood were predicting only a 50% chance of success.  Mr. Morrison apparently convinced Les to get a second opinion.  As a result, Les called off the surgery, found an expert in Cleveland, and learned that he had been misdiagnosed.  So Les was eventually fine, didn't have risky surgery, and was forever grateful to my next door neighbor for his potentially life-saving advice.

After that, Les started coming by our neighborhood in Scotch Hills fairly often to visit Mr. Morrison.  One day, he pulled up to the curb in his big white Cadillac, saw my father working in the yard, and recognized him from the research lab a couple years back.  Until that moment, neither knew that the other also lived in Mahwah.  Les was still playing with different metal alloys for his new pickup design, so he made the most of this rather unlikely coincidence -- when he visited Mr. Morrison on weekend afternoons, often he would also stop by our driveway to "pick my dad's brain" a little more.  I would sometimes listen in on the conversations, although I can't say I understood much of what they were saying most of the time.  But Les would often acknowledge me and try to include me in the conversation.  At one point, Les Paul invited my father and our family to his house -- he wanted to show us his studio!  But unfortunately I wasn't listening in on that conversation, so I was not aware of the invitation -- or my father's "no thank you" -- until several years later.  To this day I bring this up with my father, but it's water under the bridge, so all I can do is look at the floor and shake my head.

But I'm pleased to report that my father now fully appreciates the greatness of the man to whom he contributed his metallurgical expertise.  I don't know if any great guitar innovations resulted from their conversations, but at least I can say that I "knew" the great Les Paul, if only briefly.

It sure would have been awesome to have seen that studio, though....

Tom Peters
McLean, VA

(formerly living at 18 Tartan Road in Mahwah)

Eddie Dirr
Jazz Guitarist for 75 Years
Middletown, NY




Jazz Guitarist Eddie Dirr playing a 1953 Gibson ES 295, one of Les Paul's favorites, on Father's Day at the Museum.  Photo by Kathy Ann Weber.

In 1943 at the age of 14 I somehow got wind that my idol, Les Paul, would be appearing with the Andrews Sisters at New York City's Paramount Theater. I had been playing guitar since age 8, studying with my father who was Middletown, New York's first distributor/dealer of Gibson guitars. I had just begun playing gigs and was copying the gypsy jazz rhythm of Django Reinhardt and the hot licks of Les Paul and would be traveling alone from Middletown by train. Just to sit in the audience and see my idol on stage would be a thrill. But a supportive uncle with a "why-not" attitude threw caution to the wind, called backstage, and brazenly asked to speak with Les Paul. Les, being Les, came to the phone. And Les, being Les, told my uncle I was to come backstage at show's end. That's how I found myself at 14 in the great Les Paul's dressing room talking music, guitars, and technique. He was down-to-earth, kind, encouraging, and, amazingly, invited me to accompany him as he walked back to his hotel. It has been nearly 70 years, and I no longer remember the name of the hotel, nor do I remember precisely what was said. It doesn't matter. I walked the streets of New York City with Les Paul. It's rare to meet one's idol. It's rarer still when he lives up to your expectations. Les, being Les, surpassed every one of mine.  

Tony Mottola, Jr.
Jersey Jazz
New Jersey Jazz Society

My Les Paul Story

 Les's 86th at The Iridium“The Guitar Mafia” from left to right, Lou Pallo, Les Paul, Al Caiola, Tony Mottola,  Paul Nowinski, Vinny Bell and Bucky Pizzarelli at Les Paul’s 83rd birthday at the iridium, NYC. Photo by Christopher Lentz  

For years Les had been bugging my father to come to one of his shows at the Iridium. They were old friends, and mutually admiring guitarists since the 1950s. Jazz guitar players are like a brotherhood; maybe that’s because they all share a magical gift. So when Les’s 83rd birthday was coming up my dad phoned me and said, “Why don’t you come pick me up Monday and we’ll drive into the city, have dinner at Patsy’s and go see Les.”  At the time, one of my nieces and one of my nephews were living in Manhattan. Another niece and nephew came in from Connecticut and they all joined us at the club. Les was very solicitous of my dad and they sat together at the front table chatting about old times while an amazing guitar quartet of Al Caiola, Bucky Pizzarelli, Vinnie Bell and, of course, Lou Pallo, opened the show — cutting each other up with smiling faces and hot solos — until Vinnie blew the house down.  

 After a while Les got on the stand and single-noted his way through a couple of tunes. His chops were pretty shot with arthritis by then, but he still played with deep feeling and his trademark distinctive tone. He was always a great melody man, something my father really admired in a player.  

Now Les was what my dad would call “a salty guy.” So he went into his schtick, kibitzing with the audience, and at one point he launched into a pretty randy joke about oral sex. 

Once he got started my father waved his hand and said, “Hey Les, give me a break.  I’ve got my grandchildren here!”  

Not missing a beat, Les looked down at him with a grin and said, “Don’t worry Tony, They’ll explain it to you later.”

— Tony Mottola, Jr. 

Originally published in Jersey Jazz magazine, October 2009.


 Scott Gordon

Audio and Recording Consultant,
Franklin Lakes

As I was always a fan of any kind of good music, I listened to not only the popular music of my peers, but to the music of the classics and the music of my parents on WNEW-AM.

While listening to that station, I was enthralled by a sound. The sound of a guitar that had been layered upon itself a multitude of times. The intensity and the clarity of the sound was a revelation to my young ears. This was the art of Les Paul.

When I was 13, my parents moved everything, including us kids, to Mahwah, where we lived on the banks of the Ramapo River on Ramapo Valley Road. Imagine my excitement when I found out through speaking with neighbors (who were very few and far between), that the man who made this incredible sound lived within a bicycle ride of my house. And not only did he live there, that was the place that he made this incredible music. Having just taken up the guitar a couple of years earlier, I was fascinated by what he could get out of my instrument.

Well, with the brashness of youth, I took off on my bicycle and rode the slightly overgrown path along the Ramapo River Valley to the road that would lead to his door. Standing there and shaking, I knocked. From within I heard a muffled, “Yeah, OK, just a minute." When the door opened, there stood a man who was older than my father, who looked at me and said, 'What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Paul?" I said, my voice cracking slightly, "My name is Scott, and I live down the road. I like your music, and I was wondering if there is anything I can do for you to help out or something."

I never really expected anyone to answer the door. I think.

A small smile moved across his face, and he said, "Well, kid, if you can handle a broom, my studio can use a sweeping out."

Of course I accepted. Just the chance to see where the magic took place.

So for a few years, once in a while I would show up at his door and say, "Hi, Mr. Paul, it's me, Scott. You need your studio swept out or anything?"

In that time, I learned what tape recording was, how multitrack worked, what a mixer is and other things of which no one else I knew had knowledge.

At one point, Les was playing something on his guitar, and he said to me, "Hey, kid. You know how to play a 12-bar blues?"

I replied that I did, and he asked me to pick up a guitar that was sitting there and play it in A. Nervously, I did what I was asked. As I was young, I had the feeling that I couldn't disappoint this man.  If I disappointed my father, I would have felt his wrath, and I didn't know if Les was the same.

After playing for a couple of minutes, he said, "OK, you take one."

Nervously, I played the best blues improv that I could. During it, Les said, "Hold it. What did you just do there?"

I showed him what I had played and he said, 'What a great idea. I never thought of that." Then he repeated what I played on his guitar and showed me what I could do to enhance it.

I was on a high for several weeks after. 

Years have passed since then. I've played in too many bands to remember, roadied for several others (including one that had Les' son, Russ, in it), made a mark as one of the founders of a worldwide performers' association, been one of the stars of a syndicated television program, formed my own corporation (an audio consulting and recording firm) and worked in a dozen or so "day jobs."

Once at a club where Russ Paul performed, I heard a well-known guitarist at my table tell his story of Les saying to him, "What a great idea.  I never thought of that." I smiled. I realized that was Les' way of encouraging a young guitarist.

You may hear stories of how opinionated and gruff Les Paul could be, or what a perfectionist he was or some other such thing.  Don't disbelieve them - he was all of that.

But remember, Les Paul was also a kind, gentle and, in his own way, nurturing mentor for, at least, one overweight kid from Mahwah in the early 1960s.

This article first appeared in The Record on August 18,2009, shortly after Les Paul's death.  It has been formatted for this page.


Lucille Joyner
Piano Technician
Franklin Lakes, NJ

A man with a name that sounded like Polfuss called for a piano tuning.  He lived in a private community that could only be reached by crossing a narrow bridge over a river.  His home appeared to be anchored on a mountainside with rock blasted away for parking.  As I pulled up in the back, an elderly gentleman with blue eyes, wild wiry white hair, and one arm in a sling came out to greet me.  This was already unusual, as people seldom go out of their way to greet the piano tuner.  We're lucky if they answer the door.  I followed him through a side entrance of an addition that may have been a garage at one time. He turned right and led me along a corridor to a thick door that looked like it belonged on a bank vault.  The corridor had no furnishings except for a long counter that you might see in a department store, but there was nothing in or on it other than a phone.  This was a far cry from the standard tuning job where the piano is in the living room.

  I was somewhat apprehensive about stepping through that ominous door into a pitch black room.  Right about here, my years of watching The Twilight Zone kicked in.  Was I about to enter another time period?  Was this man a mad scientist who needed one more person on the space ship?  Did he really have a piano?

He disappeared and I stood silently in the dark until a few lights came on.  The lights were so high up, they looked like stars and did not cast much light, but only shadows that made the room look sinister.  As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I began to make out forms strewn about the large windowless room.  In the center was the biggest form of all.  Flashlight in hand, I discovered that it was a Steinway B, one of the finest I have ever seen.  Astonished, I turned to the man and said, "Gee Mr. Polfuss, you really DO take your music seriously, don't you,?"
As I was inspecting the piano by flashlight, he disappeared once more to put some lights on in what was obviously a control room.  Imagine, I thought, this old coot had his own recording studio right in his home.  I was impressed.  I figured that he must be an eccentric old millionaire with a passion for music.
 As I tuned, Mr. Polfuss stood near me and carried on a nostalgic soliloquy about the good old days.  He dropped so many famous names, I figured the man was delusional from watching too many old movies, or that he was in the early stages of something or other. At one point, he mentioned that his house was used to televise The Ozzie and Harriet Show.  Yeah, and I'm Cleopatra.
 It was a struggle to tune while Mr. Polfuss continued this biographical drone about the famous people he knew, such as Bing Crosby and Judy Garland.  By the time he got to Claudette Colbert, I'd had enough.  I put my tuning hammer down and said, "This is all very interesting, Mr. Polfuss, but would you please go into the other room so I can tune this piano?"  Somewhat startled, he stopped talking, looked at me for a moment, and then left the room.  The rest of the job was uneventful. 
On my drive home, I got to thinking about this old man.  There was something familiar about that face.  Remembering that in his stories he was called "Red" by all the famous people he mentioned, I tried to visualize Mr. Polfuss with red hair.  Then it dawned on me.  I know who this man is.  He is the music legend Les Paul, the guitarist who invented the multi-track recording and the solid body electric guitar.  This is the man who single-handedly launched the Rock Movement, much to many people's chagrin (including mine, speaking as the mother of a rock musician).
 I really didn't expect to hear from him after that, but he did call again, thankfully under better circumstances.  The sling was gone and he was once again a recognizable redhead.  Once I knew who he was, though, it was OK if he talked a lot and stuck his head in the piano with mine.  As a genius inventor, he is compelled to see how things work.  In fact, I let him help me fix a broken agraffe on his magnificent Steinway B.
Written by Lucille Joyner, Piano Technician for Les Paul for the last  15-20-yrs of his life.
Chris Hagens
Rochelle Park, NJ

In light of the recent (and pending) floods, I can't help but think of Les.

Shortly after moving to the flood zone in Oakland, NJ in the early eighties, I addressed the Town Council regarding some suggestions for flood control. After the meeting, a neighbor (who was a long-time resident) and I decided to celebrate what we thought was a good session, by stopping in to Molly's Fish Market for a drink at the bar. As we took off our coats I commented that there was good, live guitar coming from the bar area, to which Ruth responded very matter-of-factly, "yea, that's Les Paul." Not knowing much about the area, I naturally thought she was kidding and we walked in. There HE was!

Long story short, I sat at a barstool right next to him, was mesmerized, never said a word to my neighbor, and "a drink" turned into quite a few! It's been almost 30 years now, but I will remember that evening and experience like it was yesterday. I suspect for the rest of my life.

Jen Weinstein
Norristown, PA

I was probably in my early twenties when my friend and band director, Harley Streiff, told us of a small concert that Les Paul was playing at McDougal's Restaurant in Ramsey.  I did not have a lot of money at the time, so I took a chance there would be space that evening at the door.  When I arrived, there was not tickets left.  I did what any gal would do in this predicament.  I begged..."but my friends are all going to be there...Charlie, Paul, Harley...." at that moment a kind old gentleman said., "what name was that?"  I said, "Harley. Harley Streiff".  The old gentleman then told the guys to let me in and waved me off when I presented my money for the ticket.  I told all my friends when I got in what had transpired in the lobby with the nice old guy who let me in. Imagine my surprise when the old guy was Les Paul himself!!!  We all got a pretty good laugh from that!!!

Mike Kupfer
Tuxedo, NY 
While working as a Sales Director at Sharp Electronics back in the mid 90's, I attended a fund raising dinner for the new Mahwah Library at the Sheraton Crossroads, where I meet Les briefly. I told him about my brother, who received a brand new Les Paul Jr. guitar for his 9th birthday back in 1957. I told Les that my brother still has that guitar! "His eyes lit up and he said " tell him to hold on to it it is worth a lot of money!" I asked Les to autograph the invitation and he was happy to do so.
I sent my brother the autographed invitation and his wife had it framed. He displays it with two photos, one of him holding his new guitar in 1957 and another, posed the same taken 40 years later!
 My brother is still the original owner of that 54 year old Les Paul Jr.


 Lisa (Dator) Hough

I remember when Les Paul used to come to visit my grandfather, Frank Dator, at his office in Mahwah to discuss insurance.  Such a gentleman!
Tom Dunn
Mahwah, NJ
When a group of us met with Les Paul in the Mayor's office about at month before he died, Les was intrigued with the idea of using a karaoke machine as a do-it-yourself demonstration of multi track recording.  Unfortunately he died before we could get his creative mind to work on that concept.