Archive for August, 2009
By George Petersen
LES PAUL, THE AVIATOR??? Here’s another astounding story about a side of master guitarist/inventor Les Paul that’s never been referenced anywhere and here it is for the first time. Interestingly, the link to this whole episode starts years ago in my studio. Stay with me for a bit and enjoy this amazing revelation about a side of Les few people know about…
In 1988, I was recording Greetings from Ariel, the debut album with my band, ARIEL. It was a fun rock excursion and featured a number of well-known guitar players doing guest solo spots. We had already recorded tunes with Ronnie Montrose, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Brad Gillis, Bill Spooner, Danny Kalb and Craig Anderton-all monster players in their own right, but I wanted to record something with Les Paul as well.
I called Les, asking if he’d be interested in doing a session. I told him we could do it any way he wanted. We could do it at his house, or at a studio in New York, or I’d fly him out to California and we could do something in L.A. during Winter NAMM, or we could do something in my place near San Francisco. He said no, because he was retired from that and if he consented to do my project then he’d have to do a lot of explaining to Lionel Hampton’s manager, who evidently had been calling fairly frequently, trying to get Les to do a project with Lionel.
Les started asking about my studio. Thinking that this meant he was perhaps warming up to the idea of doing something for his old pal George Petersen, I gave him a detailed description of the gear, which included an Akai ADAM digital 12-track, a highly modified 56-input Soundcraft 600 analog desk and a homemade digital 4-track mastering system made from interlocked Nakamichi DMP recording processors-essentially hotrodded Sony PCM-F1 units.
My studio, circa 1988
Next, Les asked where the studio was and I said it was in Alameda, California. Then the bombshell hit. “ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA!” Les shouts. “Years ago I swore I’d never return to that &%#$$ Alameda, California!” The immediacy (and vigor) of his response made me think of the Three Stooges’ “Niagara Falls” routine, where Curly goes berserk whenever he hears the phrase “Niagara Falls.” Something was going on here, and I wanted more information.
I asked Les for some extra details and he told me the most amazing story. At some point during his Army stint during World War II, he was flying in a two-seater Army Air Corps plane over the San Francisco Bay Area.
During the flight, the plane developed a massive hydraulic leak, started losing control and spraying fluid all over the cockpit. Les said he was soon soaked with the fluid and evidently “some other fluids” (thankfully he didn’t elaborate about the “other” fluids) as the plane suddenly starts losing altitude.
NAS Alameda, circa mid-1940′s
Fortunately, down below, the two spotted the Alameda Naval Air Station with its long, clear runways reaching out into San Francisco Bay. Somehow the pilot manages to make it to the runway, but the plane hits hard, bounces up and on second impact, the wings snap off.
This leaves the two occupants wheeling down the runway in the fuselage, with little control while trying to stop before the plane ends up in the bay. Just before the breakwater, they finally manage to stop the plane, but getting out, Les and the pilot face the mile-plus walk back to the control tower.
Off in the distance, the pair noticed a jeep heading towards them. Salvation at last! And after surviving a harrowing landing, at least they won’t have to walk back. The jeep pulls up with a sailor/driver and a furious officer, who screams “You have no right to land an Army plane on a U.S. Naval facility!”
Les never did tell me what happened next, but he concluded by saying, “That’s why I’ll never return to Alameda, California.”
And after that experience, I’m not sure I’d blame him for feeling that way.
George Petersen is an independent journalist/author/producer. Visit him on Facebook or at www.audioinfosource.com.
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By George Petersen
HAVING BEEN A FRIEND OF LES PAUL FOR 25 YEARS, I have many good memories about him and I’d like to share a few of these.
I called Les up once in April, 1994 (for some reason I still don’t remember) and as we made some small talk, I asked him if he heard the news about Richard Nixon, who had passed away the weekend before. As soon as I mentioned the name “Richard Nixon,” Les suddenly became very belligerent, and started screaming “Richard Nixon—that good for nothing &%#$$!!!” Once I got Les to calm down somewhat, I meekly asked “so I guess you didn’t like that guy?”
In some very strong words, but in a far calmer voice, Les finally replied that he hated Richard Nixon. I asked why and he said it went way back to the days when that &%#$$ Nixon was vice-president—and before, when he was known as Richard Nixon, “commie fighter.”
Les explained that back in 1953, he got a phone call from Richard Nixon. Once he heard the voice say “This is Richard Nixon,” Les muttered (expletive deleted) and hung up. A minute later the phone rang again, Les picked it up and the routine repeated. Finally the phone rang a third time, with Nixon saying “Les, this is really Richard Nixon,” thinking the reason for the earlier hang-up was because Les assumed it was a prank call.
Figuring he wasn’t going to shake the VP, Les asked why he called, and Nixon explained he was calling to ask whether Les and Mary Ford could play a command performance at the White House for (the new) President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Although Les didn’t think much of Nixon, he was definitely in the “I Like Ike” camp, and immediately agreed to do the gig.
The day of the show came and everything went fine—at least until halfway through the show, when Nixon jumps up on stage between songs and asks Les to play a request for the First Lady. At this point. Les starts worrying, because he and Mary are playing to backup tracks with Les using a footswitch to trigger the start/stop cues on a tape recorder/amplifier hidden in a box he sits on during the show. The tape has rhythm guitar and Mary’s harmony parts sequenced on the tape. There’s no way to change the order of the songs during the show and he doesn’t want to reveal that their amazing full stage sound comes from taped tracks—a common practice now, but certainly a rarity in 1953.
Finally, Mamie Eisenhower thinks about the request and says she’d like to hear “Vaya Con Dios,” which was on the charts at the time. Les says “I think we can do that,” clicks on the footswitch and begins playing. Coincidentally, “Vaya Con Dios” was the next song on the tape! So there’s you explanation of why Les always hated that &%#$$ Richard Nixon.
The NAMM Connection
Flash forward 49 years later. In 2002, during Summer NAMM in Nashville, Sony was hosting a special event for a limited number of members of the music/audio press—a private dinner with special guest Les Paul. I was among those few chosen to attend, and as I was friends with Les, Sony’s Paul Foschino asked me if I would do an interview-style conversation with Les after the dinner, which everyone would listen in on. I gladly accepted the offer and also encouraged them to videotape Les’ stories for posterity, which they did.
As the moderator/interviewer, I asked Les about his early days, developing the solid body guitar and his experiments with sound-on-sound recording and multitracking. Towards the end of the evening I threw in this zinger: “So Les, I understand you once had a chance to meet Richard Nixon.” I figured that would add some spice to the conversation, but was surprised when the wiley Les—knowing the cameras were rolling—wasn’t wrinkled at all. In a very matter-of-fact tone, he calmly explained that he was very excited about the propect of playing for President Eisenhower, and at one point Mamie asked for a request, which happened to be in the order of the sequence was playing.
No screaming. No expletives. But now you know the real story.
Hopefully, somebody at Sony still has the tapes from that evening. And hopefully those tapes don’t have any unexplained gaps.
But you never know…
—Thanks to Rick Clark for the photo above of Les and I from that Sony dinner.
George Petersen is an independent journalist/author/producer. Visit him on Facebook or at www.audioinfosource.com. George also performs with the SF Bay Area-based rock band ARIEL, and produces records, such as “Voodooville: A Celebration of New Orleans” by Chelle & Friends. Click here Voodooville video and check it out.
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By George Petersen
WE OFTEN GET A LOT OF STRANGE ITEMS IN THE MAIL at the Mix offices here, but the other day we were intrigued by the arrival of a rather odd parcel. Within the ordinary-looking outer packaging was an unmarked black box (somewhat reminiscent of the black monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001-A Space Odyssey) and within that was a Mackie Onyx 820i analog mixer with FireWire interfacing, a copy of Pro Tools M-Powered software, a DVD marked “Insert Me” and a page of instructions printed using ransom note-style cut-out letters. The outside of the mixer’s box (shown in the photo below) touts a large notice saying it’s COMPATIBLE WITH PRO TOOLS M-POWERED in large letters with the words “and Logic, SONAR, Cubase, etc.” listed beneath in smaller type.
In true Mackoid tradition, the DVD had a short video clip of a Mackie employee with an altered voice, wearing a stocking (actually it was a pair of pantyhose) over his face to conceal his identity. The mystery spokesperson explains a few people were chosen to receive this “top-secret” parcel and then goes to play part of a Pro Tools session through the 820i. More mysterious perhaps was the other file on the DVD–an installer for the “Mackie Universal Driver Version 1″ that would let Mackie products act as an audio interface/front end for Pro Tools M-Powered software. If so, it’s a big deal–a lot of impact for a relatively few lines of code.
Assuming this isn’t simply a case of reverse-engineering on Mackie’s part, this development is significant for several reasons. Up until this point, Digidesign has been exceedingly protective about its hardware, with the only sanctioned deal being certain gear from sister company M-Audio working with the specially branded Pro Tools M-Powered software. So this is either the first step (admittedly, a small step and not a leap) toward penetrating Digidesign’s “software curtain” on Pro Tools hardware, or simply opening the market somewhat on the M-Powered side to bring more users into the Pro Tools fold. And once there, some of these users would, in theory, eventually upgrade to Pro Tools LE or a full-bore Pro Tools HD system, making it a coup for Mackie and a win on Digidesign’s part.
Yet, other than a mysterious note, a new FireWire-enabled mixer and a driver with a LOT of potential, there are many questions and few answers–at least so far. What other products are planned? Will/can other manufacturers join in the fray? Will this lead to third-party openings for other Digi products, such as Pro Tools HD or Pro Tools LE? In all, quite a mystery. However, more information should surely come on September 9–Mackie’s “official” launch date for the 820i. But one thing’s for sure: This story ain’t over yet. Not even close. Stay tuned to mixonline.com for more developments.
We’ll be watching this one!
When not working on Mix stuff, George Petersen records and performs with the SF Bay Area-based rock band ARIEL. Click here www.jenpet.com/ariel.html and check ‘em out.
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