We were saddened to hear the news that our friend, New Jersey guitarist, Lou Pallo, who was part of the Les Paul Trio, died on Wednesday, October, 28, at 86.
We first met Lou in 2003 when we were in Nashville for Muriel Anderson‘s “All-Star Guitar Night tribute to Les at the legendary Ryman Auditorium.
Lou was an accomplished jazz guitarist who, along with his lengthy association with Les, recorded with and/or shared the stage with Tony Bennett, Keith Richards, Sammy Davis, Jr. Rickie Lee Jones, John “Bucky” Pizzarelli and many others.
We thought it might be an appropriate tribute to Lou to share the on-air conversation we had with him on WGN radio the night we’d just learned of Les Paul’s passing. That night Lou reflected on his lengthy friendship with Les and the chemistry they had on stage. This conversation is one of many interviews and personal memories found in our book about Les Paul, “A Little More Les.”
The man who sat alongside Les playing at Fat Tuesdays, the Club Iridium and anytime we were fortunate enough to see Les, at the tribute night down in Nashville at the Ryman, at his homecoming in Waukesha and at the Pabst Theater, in Milwaukee is Lou Pallo. Lou joins us now.
SK: Lou, thank you for joining us and first of all please accept our condolences our sympathies on the loss of your dear friend.
Lou: Yes, thank you he was a very dear friend and a great musician.
J: Amen. Lou, how many years did you work with Les?
Lou: I worked with Les 25 years
S: How’d you meet?
Lou: Going back to when I was a teenager I played Les Paul and Mary Ford “How High the Moon” on the jukebox and it just knocked me out. I said, “Wow! What a sound. What a sound! Unbelievable!” And I just played it over and over, maybe 50 times and at that time it was 5 cents to play the jukebox. It was a 78 then. I just idolized him. Then in ‘60-‘61 I was at a bar in Greenwood Lakes, New York and he was sitting at the bar, I didn’t know it was him. He called me over and said “My name is Les Paul” and I said “THE Les Paul?” He said, “Yes.” I said “Oh my God, all my life I’d wanted to meet you.” He gave me his phone number and I went to his house the next day and from then on we became friends. But, to work with someone you really idolize that’s an honor.
S: When was the first time you worked with him professionally?
Lou: I was working a gig in New Jersey in 1975. I was by myself, I was a single and he would come in. In fact, one year he came in eighty something times. We counted. He would come in with his guitar, he lived up the street from where I worked. So, he would bring his guitar and sit in with me and it was just fabulous.
J: I bet you were just pinching yourself saying, “This is just too cool.”
Lou: Oh, exactly. He just knocked me out. He was great. He was a great man. I really feel so bad today.
S: His sense of humor always shone through, not only in the conversations we had with him on the air and conversations he had with other people but, the musical conversations he would have. There were times when he would play these licks and he’d be looking at you and I could tell the two of you had these little musical jokes going on didn’t you?
Lou: Yes, yes we did. I was always looking at him and he’d look at me and I knew exactly what he was thinking of. I knew just where he was going with all the experience of being with him.
J: And, even though he’d done thousands of shows when he was going to do a show he was there for the show. Ready to perform, focused, in the zone.
Lou: Oh yes. Yes, in the 25 years we did two shows every Monday. We’d get to the club at 4 in the afternoon and we’d be on that stage from 4 til show time. We said he was a perfectionist yet, he said he wasn’t. He was a perfectionist.
J: I remember we were sitting in the auditorium at the Ryman for the sound check and even though the man wore hearing aids, he knew the sound he wanted and he worked with the sound crew until he got the sound he wanted. That was his m.o. he came to work and he was going to do his job right.
S: Lou, I know this has been a long day for you but, if you could put into words not only how you think Les will be remembered but, how will you remember Les?
Lou: I’ll never forget him, I can tell you that. Every time I pick up a guitar he’ll be there next to me. Thank you for remembering him in Chicago and continue to do that.
J: We certainly will. Tonight we celebrate his life and you were the perfect person to start out with so, thank you Lou. Good night.
S: I remember when we saw Les in Waukesha I was so impressed with Lou’s guitar and it’s a Les Paul. I got a chance to tell him how much I loved the sound of his guitar and he said, “Les does too! He’s always trying to buy this guitar off me.”
J: Lou was such a big part of the show. Not only because of his skill as a guitarist but, he’s a great vocalist too.
S: One of the fun parts of the show is when Lou sings, “Making Whoppie” and Les would sit with his arms folded over top of his guitar and when Lou got to the line “makin’ whoppie” Lou would stop and Les would hit just the right notes and the crowd would go nuts!
J: Yes! He knew just the right notes for the punch line and the audience would be like putty in his hands.
Following Les Paul’s death in 2009, Lou kept performing at the Iriduim Jazz Club, in New York, and recorded a tribute album titled “Thank-You, Les.” Joining Lou on the album were Keith Richards, Steve Miller (Les Paul’s godson), Slash, Billy Gibbons and others. He also recorded the Jersey Guitar Mafia album with Bucky Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola and Al Caiola.
Lou Pallo may not have achieved the world-wide headliner status of some of his famous on-stage partners but, when he joined them or they joined him, it was on a level playing field. Lou Pallo was the consummate professional and friend who only made any stage partner sound better.
Somewhere there’s music and Lou and Les are reunited. If you listen … really listen … you can hear it … and the resounding applause.
R.I.P. Lou Pallo