Les was always involved with new projects. That was one of the fun things about spending time with him. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got a call in 2005 that Les had told a film crew that I would show them Waukesha. That’s how I met John Paulson, Jim Arntz, Meg Farrage, and Sully, who I later learned was Robert Sullivan. They were working on a documentary about Les.
Les and I talked about sites the crew should visit. Waukesha has stretched and evolved with strip malls and big box stores in its outlying areas since Les lived in the city. But buildings in the heart of Waukesha have changed little. Standing in downtown Waukesha it’s not hard to picture a young Lester Polfuss riding his bicycle down the street, walking to school, or directing his buddies to help him acquire a piece of train track rail for one of his first experiments with solid body guitars.
The crew arrived and we shared tales about Les and his days in Waukesha. Les’ friend Paul Vrakas interviewed Fred Rosenmerkel, a Waukesha resident who had played briefly with Les. The meeting was in a building from Les’ time, a restaurant the Vrakas family had owned for years. We drove around the city, taking in Les’ stomping grounds as the crew filmed. We drove slowly past the Indian mounds where Les stuffed his newspapers before delivering them and built his first crystal radio set.
They filmed the park with the mounds and the Les Paul Performance Center. As the stories and the camera progressed it was like stepping back, experiencing Les’ childhood. We ended at The Club 400, which Les’ father and brother owned, for a lively chat with current owner “Poky” (Daniel Pokwinski.)
In 2007 the film was complete. The Premier was at Milwaukee’s historic Downer Theater, one of those wonderful buildings filled with the charm of an earlier time, yet in great shape. Blues Rocker Jon Paris was among the fans that flocked the Premier.
It was a privilege to sit next to Les as he saw the show in its entirety for the first time. He was absorbed. As the credits rolled Les turned and asked, “What do you think?” To which I responded, “Les, it’s YOUR life. What do YOU think?” He was quiet a moment then said, “They did a nice job. I like it.” I agreed. Director John Paulson talked to the packed theater and brought Les to the stage to thunderous applause. It was a wonderful evening and best of all Les was thoroughly involved in the process and got to see the finished film.
In 90 minutes, John Paulson and his crew captured the essence of Les Paul. The title is perfect. “Chasing Sound” is exactly what Les did his whole life.