Keith Richards (left) and Lou Pallo, recording at Showplace Studios, in Dover, NJ.
When recording Thank You Les, a new tribute CD to music legend Les Paul, engineer Ben Elliot had to dig through his collection of vintage mics and recording devices to get the perfect sound.
“I decided because Les was so instrumental in multitrack recording that it was only right to do everything in analog,” Elliot said. “We tried to use a lot of techniques that Les Paul perfected. He was one of the first to use close miking and we had all the musicians in the same room. We had very little overdubbing.”
What started as a collection of Paul’s favorite songs performed by a number of musicians who had worked with him, turned into a feature length documentary of the recording sessions and interviews with those musicians. The project—packaged as a CD and film—was co-directed by Elliot and producer Joni Forte, and stars Les Paul’s close friend and guitarist, Lou Pallo. Musicians including Keith Richards, Steve Miller and Slash make guest appearances, contributing stories about Paul and performing in the recordings.
The recording sessions for the film took place in Elliot’s facility, Showplace Studios, in Dover, NJ. Elliot, a collector of vintage recording equipment, said he specifically wanted to use his RCA 77 mic to produce a sound similar to the music of Les Paul’s era.
“I think (the microphone) imparts more character,” Elliot said. “It’s a more natural-sounding microphone. Mics today are a lot more hyped up to be brighter, clearer and handle more sound pressure levels. (The RCA 77) is designed to sound natural. I think it sounds larger than life.”
Elliot said he had a RCA 77 mic available, and had it repaired by Clarence Kane, a former employee of RCA, who now restores RCA mics at his New Jersey shop, ENAK Microphone Repair.
Jose Feliciano and Lou Pallo, recording for Thank You, Les.
Because the documentary filmed the musicians performing in the studio, Elliot said sound quality preceded visuals for importance.
“I didn’t compromise to move the microphones so they could get a better shot. The sound came first,” Elliot said. Forte said the entire project took 10 months to complete, and captured the stories of Les Paul from other musicians, with specific emphasis on the friendship between Pallo and Les Paul.
“The documentary is more about the story of Lou and Les, and the people close to Les talking about what it was like working with him,” commented Forte. “When Lou first met Les, Les was already his idol. The two ended up becoming friends and played together for many years.”
In fact, Pallo played with Les Paul for almost four decades, and after the latter’s passing in 2009, he wanted to create a tribute to his friend, Forte said. And because Forte was familiar with Pallo’s relationship with Les Paul, she and Elliot agreed to help produce the album and film.
“Ben and I wanted to do something with Lou for the tribute, and we said let’s film it,” said Forte.
Thank You Les