As 2015 ended we received some sad news.
Some called him Rusty. Some called him Russ. One of his Facebook pages listed him as Russ Les Paul Jr. In announcing his passing, The Les Paul Foundation website lists his name as Lester “Rusty” G. Paul. In the big picture, it didn’t matter. Anyone who was privileged to really get to know him quickly knew they could call him a friend.
Although we had talked to him many times on the phone along with his Dad, Les Paul, our first in-person meeting with Russ was in December of 1996 when his famous father played Chicago’s House of Blues. That night when Les Paul joined us at WGN radio for a 3 plus hour on air interview Russ was quietly documenting the entire evening with his video equipment.
Any time we saw Les, if it was in Nashville at Muriel Anderson’s “All-Star Guitar Night” tribute or in Waukesha for Les’s homecoming or Milwaukee for the House of Sound opening and Pabst Theater concert, Russ was at his Dad’s side, not just as a family member, but as an enthusiastic supporter. In fact, in light of his own recent loss of a few toes to diabetes, Russ thought Les’s Waukesha homecoming concert was just the kind of good medicine he needed.
This gentle man was his father’s biggest fan. We’ll never forget the night we got a phone call at home from Russ, as excited as he could be, because he just had to share the news that his Dad had was going to be inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame. Even with all of the awards and acclaim that Les Paul already achieved, any new acknowledgement of his Dad’s impact was a singular point of pride for Russ.
A 2 hour phone call with Russ would not revolve around him but, rather, the new album, TV show archiving or appearances his Dad was working on. Yes, he had his own band, often performing with artists such as Les Paul’s godson Steve Miller and others and was an accomplished recording engineer, but most important to Russ was making sure Les Paul got the spotlight and attention.
We’ll also never forget the morning of August 13, 2009 the day we woke up to 22 calls on our answering machine. The first of the messages was so soft we both leaned into
the machine to better hear what the caller was saying. It was Russ calling to tell us that his dad had passed away. Russ said,“The news is reporting that Dad died today, the 13th, but he actually died the 12th.” Russ wanted to make sure we heard the news from him first.
The last time we saw Russ in person was at the Club 400 gathering after Les Paul’s funeral, in Waukesha, Wi. We were very touched when Russ told us that he and Les considered us family and wanted us to attend. The Club 400 was where Les Paul and Mary Ford first performed together and it was a fitting location to celebrate Les.
During one of the last conversations we had with Russ he was enthusiastic about our book, “A Little More Les,” and, even though he was still in a rehab facility, he was optimistic about his future. He was excited that Epiphone was going to produce a Rusty Paul signature bass and talked about some of the players he wanted to join him when his band would start touring again and come to Chicago. He suggested the possibility of doing a tie-in with our book at a planned Chicago Theater appearance that would see him returning to the same stage his Dad played in front of packed houses.
Unfortunately, as 2015 came to a close Russ lost his long battle with diabetes.
What a gentle man. What a good son. What a good friend.
We’ll miss him.