Bon Jovi's Sambora on Les Paul, “A Legend in His Own Lifetime” - Rolling Stone
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Bon Jovi’s Sambora on Les Paul, “A Legend in His Own Lifetime”

As the rock world continues to mourn the passing of electric guitar groundbreaker Les Paul, one of his friends, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, offered to share his memories of this music legend. “He was obviously an innovator and a revolutionary,” Sambora tells Rolling Stone. “For all intents and purposes, he invented the electric guitar, and also, multitrack recording. He used echoes and sound effects back in the ’40s. He was the Jimi Hendrix of his day. The first time you saw Jimi, you’d be like, ‘What the hell was that?!’ And the same thing with Les. The first time you heard Les play, you’re like, ‘That’s from another planet.’ So he was way ahead of his time.

Les Paul’s life in photos: Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and more stars with the father of the electric guitar.

“All of us have to thank him for giving us a job, man,” Sambora adds. “Because let’s face it — without the electric guitar and multitrack recording, where would musicians be? Everybody should give a big thanks to Les for that, for sure.”

Sambora also reflected upon when he first met Paul, when Bon Jovi was struggling to finish work on the follow-up to their commercial breakthrough, 1986’s Slippery When Wet. “A mutual friend of mine invited him over my house. It was my birthday — it was 1988. I was making a record with the band, and we were [planning] a double album. For guitar players, it’s quite arduous — especially if you’re writing the songs and also doing all the guitar parts. So the first time I met him, he comes over my house — we’re in the middle of a party — and I’m like, ‘What the hell are you doing here?!’ It was unbelievable. And he hands me this guitar, and it’s this beautiful white Les Paul, with gold pickups that he wound himself. He said, ‘I put these together especially for you. I heard you were having some problems because you have a lot of stuff to do. Son, here’s a sword — go cut the shit.’ “

The result: “New Jersey [trimmed down to a single disc] was a huge success — we had five Top 10 singles off of that record, and sold 15 million records or something like that.”

Since then, Sambora recently inducted the electric guitar groundbreaker into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was part of a performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in honor of Paul. Sambora also played guitar with Paul many times onstage when Paul would regularly play such New York nightspots as Fat Tuesdays circa the late ’80s to mid-’90s, and most recently, at the Iridium. “We were really close friends. He would call me up in the middle of the night, because Les was nocturnal — I don’t know if anybody really knew that. He slept during the day, and he was up all night. So he’d call at all hours of the night.”

Watch Sambora honoring Paul at the Rock Hall with Slash and Billy Gibbons.

Lastly, Sambora explained how for decades, Paul was a true living legend. “That’s the unique thing about Les — he was a legend in his own lifetime. He realized it. He understood what he did and what he had done for the world and our business. That really satisfied him. Right now, I think I’m sad for myself and the rest of the world, but Les realized his goals in his life, and really reached a lot of his goals and dreams.”


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