Lou Pallo may not be a household name but if you are a Les Paul fan, then he is instantly recognizable as the longtime rhythm guitarist of his backing trio. He met Les Paul during 1963 and they formed a music relationship shortly afterward. Beginning in 1984, until 2009, he took the stage with Paul every Monday night; first at Fat Tuesday’s in Greenwich Village and then for the last 15 years at the Iridium Jazz Club in Times Square.
He has now put together a new album which is a tribute to his former friend and mentor. Thank You Les gathers a number of Les Paul’s classic tracks, plus a few more songs from The Great American Songbook for a grand total of 21. While he may not be a household name, most of the cast of supporting musicians are very well-known. Steve Miller, Keith Richards, Billy Gibbons, Jose Feliciano, Nokie Edwards, Slash, Johnny A, Bucky Pizzarelli, and a number of others were all willing to lend a hand to honor one of music’s brightest stars and guitar/recording innovators. Also contributing were other long time members of his trio, including pianist John Colianni, guitarist Frank Vignola, and a trio of bassists: Paul Nowinski, Nick Parrott, and Gary Mazzaroppi.
The album begins appropriately with former trio members Vignola, Pallo, and Nowinski just being backed by drummer Vince Ector. It makes one quickly realize just how much talent the trio members had in their own right. “Avalon” is a good introduction of Pallo’s style and technique and he demonstrates his ability as both a lead and rhythm guitarist. His lead guitar work on “Tennessee Waltz” has a soulful jazz feel to it.
When guest stars are present he is wise enough to step into the background to provide rhythm support unless called upon to share the lead guitar chores once in a while.
Steve Miller is the vocalist and lead guitarist for the medley of “Mr. Day/Tell Me What’s the Reason.” Les Paul was Miller’s Godfather and here he reaches back to the early blues era of his career. The old Duke Ellington tune, “Caravan,” features fine interplay between Pallo and Nokie Edwards of the Ventures and even includes some scat vocals. They return for an encore with “Out of Nowhere.”
Keith Richards shares the guitar spotlight and vocals on “It’s Been a Long Long Time.” It’s interesting in that it takes him out of his comfort zone and far from the music of the Rolling Stones. “September Song” with Billy Gibbons is the only performance to fill in the gaps with some brass, which gives it a very different feel from the music that surrounds it. Perhaps the best guitar work is Slash’s interpretation of Paul’s own composition, “Deep in the Blues.” Melinda Doolittle brings the album to a satisfying conclusion with a simple rendition of “Over the Rainbow” backed by a trio and highlighted by Pallo’s subtle riffing.
Lou Pallo has created an entertaining and fine tribute to the music of Les Paul. The different musicians make it an album full of surprises as they interpret his music rather than just play it note for note. It is an album worth exploring for fans of the old master while serving as a good introduction to guitarist Lou Pallo.
Article first published as Music Review: Lou Pallo – Thank You Les on Blogcritics.