It was around Christmas Time, several years ago, and I was off from my usual Monday night gig at B. B. King’s. So of course, I headed straight to the Iridium to see Les Paul & Company. “This is Jon Paris,” Les said as he called me up, “he’s gonna play some harmonica for us. Hey, Jon, ya got a Christmas song?!” I replied, ” I do, Les …but I play it on guitar.” Les turned to the audience and started ribbing me, “Oh, he wants to play the guitar now! Well, OK, grab the guest guitar there.”
As I started to play Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” Les began to hit some beautiful guitar riffs behind me. It felt like Bing Crosby on “It’s Been a Long Long Time” …it was magical. When we finished the tune, Les turned to me, “Jon! That was actually pretty good… do another one.” Well, I pulled out Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph,” and it was swingin’. As the audience applauded, Les turned to them, “Jon Paris, let’s hear it for him!” I took Les’s cue, thanked him and the crowd, and walked off. As I was heading down the stage stairs, I was surprised to hear Les announce, “Hey, we got a harmonica player out there, Jon Paris, c’mon up here!” So, back up I went… to play harmonica on “Merry Christmas, Baby” by Charles Brown!
Now, the following Christmas Season when Les called me up to sit in, I started thinking that maybe we could pull off the same routine. “Can we do that Christmas tune, Les?” I asked. “Sure, Jon, do that one.” I plugged in the guitar and tore into “Blue Christmas” again, but this time I didn’t hear any beautiful Les Paul riffs… instead I heard Les laughing and goofing on me, “Bum-ba-da-bum, Ba-da-bum-ba-da-bum …” I didn’t know if I should stop, or…well, the show must go on.
I went right into “Run Run Rudolph” before Les had a chance to jump on me, and I was relieved to hear him playing some tasty riffs on this one. But when we finished, he started in on me, “Jon, you’ve got a lotta nerve comin’ on my stage and playin’ that kinda music… that Rock’n'Roll music. Bing Crosby called me up in 1956 and said, ‘Les, you hear that garbage they’re playin’ on the radio? They’re gonna put us outta business!’ And you come on my stage and play that?!” (Luckily, this was not the first time that I’d been on stage with Les, or I probably would’ve been so humiliated, I wouldn’t have had the capacity to speak.) I managed to fire back, “Wait a minute, Les. I think you know why I like to play this kind of music with you. It’s because if it weren’t for Les Paul, there wouldn’t BE any Rock’n'Roll!”
The whole audience erupted with, “Yay, Les Paul!” “Rock’n'Roll!” “We love you, Les!” And Les responded, “You’re right, Jon. Slash comes down here, and Jeff Beck… Steve Miller, Paul McCartney… you’re right!”
All roads lead to Les Paul… Happy Holidays, everyone!