Richie Sambora has played all kinds of gigs over the course of his 30-year career, and since the release of Bon Jovi's 25-million-copy-selling album Slippery When Wet, in 1986, most of those shows have been of the sold-out arena and stadium variety.
But the three shows that Sambora will perform at the 170-seat Iridium in New York City, on July 22 and 23, in honor of his late friend, guitar pioneer Les Paul, just might eclipse anything he's ever done before in terms of sentiment. The gigs will raise funds for the Les Paul Foundation, and for fans who aren't able to make the trip into Manhattan, they'll still get a chance to see them on Public Television's Front And Center this fall.
“To say I'm looking forward to these shows is a huge understatement," Sambora says. "Les was truly a great friend to me; the arc of our relationship was pretty deep. We shared so many experiences and talked about... you name it, anything and everything. I’m just so blessed to have known him and to have had so many beautiful times with him."
Sambora sat down with MusicRadar to talk about the great Les Paul and the upcoming Iridium performances, along with some of his recent activities which include playing alongside Dolly Parton and Stevie Wonder, as well as his newfound partnership with Australian guitar virtuoso Orianthi.
Tell me how you met Les Paul.
“When I met Les... It was back when I was working on the New Jersey album, which was supposed to be a double record – not an easy thing to do, let me tell you. When you’re trying to make a double album and you’re a guitar player, a writer, an arranger and a singer, you’re doing all of this stuff, wearing many hats. The whole thing can really wear on you.
“At one point, I was starting to think that the record wouldn’t get done. So I said to my manager, ‘I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. I’ve gotta go home. I’m going to see my mom and dad. I’ve just gotta chill out.’ We were cutting 25 songs, which meant that I had to do five guitar parts on each one, play solos on each one, and sing on them and everything else – the whole bit.
“I felt as though nobody was backing me up. So I was talking with Dennis Berardi of Kramer Guitars about it. Dennis is dear friend of mine – Kramer was the first guitar company I ever worked with as an endorser. He understood where I was coming from.
“So I went home and had a small birthday party, maybe 30 people or so. Suddenly, Dennis walks in with Les Paul. I was like, ‘Really?... You’re kiddin’ me!’ I mean, when does happen in life, ever?’ I grabbed Les, and he and I went out to the dock. I told my assistant, ‘Nobody gets past this point until I’m done.’ Les and I stayed on the dock talking for, like, two hours. It was the best. If we had grown up together, we would’ve been friends. Which is a weird thing when you think about it, him being the father of the electric guitar and the inventor of multi-track recording. Somehow, I was able to distinguish that line – ‘There’s the legend and there’s the man.’
“He said to me that night, ‘Here, I brought you something.’ And he hands me this white Les Paul. I was just struck – ‘You’re kidding.’ He said to me, ‘Yeah, I’ve been listening to what you’re doing. I get what’s going on.’ I couldn’t believe it. And then he said, and this is the quote, ‘Son, here’s the sword. Go cut the shit.’
“It was such a pivotal moment, especially for where I was at in that place in time. It was like an angel came down from heaven and tapped me on the shoulder, like, ‘OK, here you go. Keep going, man.’ Him giving me that guitar was like giving me the sword that saved me.”