Back in 1986, Edward Van Halen and Les Paul had the pleasure of meeting each other at the opening of Guitar Center in Los Angeles. Thankfully, the long talk that they had together that night was recording and transcribed. Enjoy.
Rock Chronicles. 1980s: Les Paul
By Steven Rosen
In 1986, Guitar Center opened the RockWalk, their version of Mann’s Chinese Theater, where musicians would press their handprints into cement. Les Paul was one of the first inductees. I met him there (though we’d run into one another at some other function a little earlier). He was amazing and remembered me and the Jeff Beck book and everything. Edward Van Halen was there that evening for the unveiling of the RockWalk. I had the rare opportunity to introduce the guitarist to the guitar maker. They knew about each other, of course. Seizing this one-in-a-million chance, I escorted the legendary pair to an upstairs office (Guitar Center honcho Dave Weiderman was instrumental in putting this meeting together), pulled out a cassette player, and started asking them questions. I’m also including that conversation here (which did appear originally in Guitar World Magazine). Here is that one (questions in bold are mine):
It was a rare meeting, a unique sharing of ideas and ideals, a baring of emotions. Edward Van Halen and Les Paul were communicating for the first time on the occasion of the opening of the new Guitar Center, a mammoth music store located on Sunset Boulevard in the center of Hollywood. Van Halen and Paul were being honored along with other notables like Stevie Wonder, Jim Marshall and Remo Belli, as part of the RockWalk, a celebration where the participants placed their hands in cement a Ia Graumans Chinese.
Edward was agreeable to the meeting if, he said, Les was amenable (he was), and so I sequestered the two along with Donn Landee, Van Halens engineer, in one of the vacant rooms in the complex. From the moment the pair sat down there was an immediate rapport and a flow of information. In fact, Edward virtually conducted the questioning. Following the talk, he chirped, “I ask better questions than you, don’t I?” No argument there.
Donn Landee, an integral part of the Van Halen sound and a rare face when it comes to interviews, had talked to Edward about the contributions Les had made.
“Slowly but surely I’ve told Ed just a little bit about him,” explained Landee. “But I don’t even know the half of it. It was not just guitars, not just a musician, not just a producer—but a real visionary in all facets. I was pleased that Ed knew and was aware of him. Their respect for one another came across after just 10 seconds. Edward knows something a lot more important now. He knows how he thinks and how he feels.”
Certainly, that feeling was mutual and by the end of the talk the pair acted like old friends. Unfortunately, the conversation could not have lasted longer—Les had other plans—and I only hope those reading these words derive just a part of the breathlessness which came over me when I recorded them.
Have you two ever met before?
Les Paul: Never
Les, do you know about this guy sitting across from you?
Paul: I know all about him.
Do you listen to his music?
Paul: Of course. How can you not? And enjoy it.
Edward Van Halen: Is that good or bad?
Paul: It’s good. We had a mutual friend and he used to bring Eddie’s records over to the house, so I kind of heard Eddie. And then my daughter used to live a short distance from where Eddie used to practice with his band out in Arcadia…
Van Halen: Pasadena.
Paul: Pasadena, yeah. Well, anyway my daughter used to live right near there and I said, ‘‘Who’s the guitar player over there?” And so I heard Eddie before Eddie knew I was listening to him.
Van Halen: Can I ask you a question?
Van Halen: Did you design all the Les Pauls?
Click “Read the rest” for the full interview