Tony Mottola Jr.-My Les Paul Story

“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

“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.

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