Songbirds Guitar Museum is offering local guitar enthusiasts a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Friday, March 13 — the chance to play a guitar owned by the legendary Les Paul.
And it's free!
Jim Wysocki, a close friend of the late Paul when he lived in New Jersey, will bring his personal collection of Paul memorabilia to Songbirds for a presentation on the life and legacy of the man.
"We put all the guitars onstage and all the gadgets (amplifiers, inventions) on two 8-foot tables," says Wysocki in a phone interview.
"I start off with a Powerpoint presentation that covers from the day he was born to the day he died, which takes about an hour. Then we open it up and let people pick up the guitars and plug them into his amplifiers."
Wysocki says he's bringing 10 or so guitar models with him; among them, a 1950 L-48 acoustic Gibson guitar and a 1968 Les Paul custom guitar, the first Gibson made after Paul came back to the Gibson company in 1968.
"They made it for him personally; it has no serial number on it," Wysocki describes.
Someone in the audience will win a keepsake souvenir that was a Les Paul invention.
"It might be one of his actual guitar strings from the old days or maybe one of his handmade guitar picks. He made his own guitar picks because of his arthritis," says Wysocki.
If you go
› What: “Les Paul — From Start to Finish”
› Where: Songbirds North, 41 Station St.
› When: Noon and 3 p.m. Friday, March 13
› Admission: Free, but registration required
Paul was a jazz/country/blues guitarist, songwriter, luthier and inventor. He helped pioneer the solid-body electric guitar and his techniques inspired the Gibson Les Paul. He is credited with recording innovations such as overdubbing, tape delay and multitrack recording.
The musician is one of an elite few artists with the distinction of a permanent, stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wysocki says he first met Paul in 1981 when the musician called the police department, where Wysocki was an officer, asking for someone to plow the snow out of his driveway. Wysocki went. He had no idea who Paul was, but says they hit it off.
"He called me back to the house a week later. Said he wanted to give me something. He gave me some cassette tapes, a guitar and a bottle of champagne (that had been a complimentary gift of British Airways). He said, 'Open it on a special occasion.'"
By now wondering who Paul was, Wysocki went to the library and looked him up. It took reading articles from two sources for Wysocki to believe his new friend was such a famous musician.
Wysocki says Paul tried to make a guitar player out of him — "Taught me the A and D chords. He said you can make a thousand songs out of the A and D chords" — but the policeman never had time to pursue playing the instrument.
Wysocki says that by 1984, he was visiting Paul two to three times a week. Paul continued to give him memorabilia, and when Wysocki would demur and suggest Paul keep them for a museum, the musician just replied, "You'll do the right thing when the time comes."
And he has.
Since his retirement from the police force, he makes 15-20 stops around the country each year sharing his personal stories of Paul and keeping the musician's legacy alive.
"A lot of people don't know the history of Les Paul and what he did. Our goal is to come out and tell his story from start to finish with all the personal stories in between."
Friday's programs are free, but registration is required.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.