It was the mid-1940s. Les was living in California, playing with his trio. He had just agreed to recreate the country act he had used in St. Louis and Chicago. His trio was set. Les had all the songs, but he wanted a female singer for his show. Just as Les was pondering all of this, he ran into his old friend from his Chicago radio days. It was Gene Autry. The singing cowboy had a radio show in the Windy City. In fact, when Gene decided to move to California in the mid-1930s, Les took his place at WLS.
When Les shared with Gene that he was looking for a female singer Gene and his singing partner Eddie Dean told Les to step inside their studio to see the Sunshine Girls trio. “Watch the one in the middle,” they told Les. It was Colleen Summers and Les was impressed.
Les called her the next day and was amused that Colleen’s response was, “Not the Les Paul.” Turns out Colleen was a fan and had heard Les on the Fred Waring Show as well as his recording with Bing Crosby.
Les invited Colleen to audition at his studio. As Les was cutting his lawn, dressed in baggy pants and an old shirt, Mary pulled into the driveway and asked where the Les Paul Studio was. “Just go to the end of the driveway,” Les responded. However, he didn’t let on who he was.
Keep in mind that Les had boarded up the overhead door and the side door of his garage to create his recording studio. The only way in was to climb through the garage window. Les’ buddies lifted Colleen into the studio and assure her that Les would be there soon. As Les entered the control room Colleen insisted he was the gardener. It was only after Les picked up his guitar and played that she was convinced. Her audition went well and so began a major chapter in Les Paul’s life.
Several years later Les gave Colleen Summers the stage name “Mary Ford”, but that’s another story.