Of the many musicians that Les Paul mentored, influenced and inspired, Steve Miller has the deepest and longest-running connection to the late artist.
Miller’s father, a Milwaukee-based physician who loved music and had a passion for home recording, befriended Paul when the artist and his musical partner, Mary Ford, spent a few weeks in town in 1949 after recovering from a serious car accident. Miller was 6 at the time, but he vividly recalls watching his father record with Paul in the basement of the Miller home.
“I got the whole picture in 1949. Multitrack recording, speeding up and slowing down the tape, fooling around, electronics, having fun. Les was my inspiration and an indelible stamp on the way I looked at things,” says Miller. “I wanted to be just like him because he was so much fun, he was so good. He made it look so easy, you thought you could do it.”
Artists who met Paul as adults also recall his paternal, nurturing side. “I loved Les almost like a second father,” says Slash, who in January received the annual Les Paul Award bestowed by the Technical Excellence & Creativity Foundation. “I first met him at Fat Tuesday’s in New York back in the late ’80s or early ’90s. He asked me if I wanted to jam, and I was always up for a good jam. But I got onstage with him and I just couldn’t keep up. It was a very humbling experience, but he was very sweet and took me under his wing, and we became friends from that point.”
Joe Satriani, who was born in 1956, remembers riding in the back seat of the family car as a child and hearing Paul and Ford records on the radio. “I heard Les long before I knew there was an actual person attached to the genius behind the music,” he says.
“It was just the sound of my youth. As I got interested in guitar, I wound up being introduced by the later generation of players who always mentioned Les Paul as the innovator and their main influence,” says Satriani. “So as a young player I was like, ‘Oh, that’s who Jeff Beck is talking about,’ and all the pieces fit into place. He was a wonderful personality and a loving, giving musician. For all that he did, he helped promote just about everybody else.”