The Year was 1970, I was a very young Teenager growing up in England, I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg via my one tiny earpiece until the very early hours, mum and dad never knew!, this is how I heard that the Beatles had broken up, April 10th 1970, my young life was shattered, it is also how I first heard “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne, way back then I couldn’t conceive of the notion that if I time travelled forward 50 years I would find myself sitting in the guitarist’s living room in MI and I would be buying the very guitar that he used on that recording, and yet that is exactly what happened just this year.
The guitar has a much bigger story to tell however!
Back in 1961 Ray Monette was a 14 yr old guitar student at Wellesby House of Music in Farmington MI, one Saturday morning word quickly spread that Les Paul was coming in that day to demo his new line of Gibson Guitars, in fact, Les had just loaded a white 1961 Les Paul Custom and a cherry Les Paul Std into his car at the Gibson plant in Kalamazoo, a two hour drive away, he was on his way.
It is worth taking a few moments to look at the tumultuous changes taking hold within the Gibson Guitar Corp at the time, the iconic Gibson Les Paul Standard that was in production from 1958 to 1960 had not been a commercial success, (hard to imagine today with values being anywhere in the $200.000 to $1m range) however, it was true, the guitar was deemed by many as being two heavy, other players preferred the double cutaway of the market leader, the Fender Stratocaster.
It was also unknown to Gibson at the time that the change in design of the guitar & other factors would annoy Les Paul to the extent that he would instruct Gibson Guitars to terminate the agreement to use his name on the guitars.
Les arrived at the store and was greeted by around 25 fans & players, he demonstrated both variants, the 3-pickup White Custom with gold hardware and the 2-pickup Cherry Standard with nickel hardware. Ray was simply blown away, he couldn’t stretch to the custom but his dad was happy to pay for the Standard using Ray’s LP Jnr as partial trade, Ray and his dad did the deal with Les and the guitar went home to Ray’s house and not back to the Gibson plant.
Ray is a supremely talented musician, he used this Les Paul from 1961 and onwards through his time as a session player for Motown, playing on many hits written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, the guitar can be heard on “Want Ad’s” by Honey Cone:
Also on “I Got a Thang” by Funkadelic, just listen to the guitar playing on those tracks!, most players would rely on a Fender Strat to pull that style off, not Ray he just carries right on with his Les Paul and totally nails it.
Phil Collins tracked Ray & the rest of the Funkbrothers down and reassembled the band to record his 2010 album “Going Back” Ray and this Les Paul traveled to Switzerland to record the album. The list of recordings of this guitar is just about endless, but let’s close with a rarity that introduced Meatloaf to the world and also propelled an upcoming actor Mike Campbell into the movie “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Ray had formed a band called “Scorpion” (not to be confused with the European band “The Scorpions”) they recorded one album “Scorpion” it is a vinyl rarity for sure, the band also worked on the Detroit production of the musical “Hair”, Meatloaf & Mike Campbell were both involved in an acting & singing role, moving on from this Ray played guitar on the rare track from the lp “Stoney and Meatloaf” released in 1978, possibly the turning point in Meatloafs career with the industry at last beginning to take him seriously. Ray cut the solo in one take, no rehearsal.
If this guitar could talk there would be much more to tell, given that the guitar was created amid much turmoil within the Gibson company together with the fact that Les Paul hand delivered and demonstrated the guitar himself and that Ray went onto to use it so effectively on so many musical greats, what we have is a legendary guitar in the hands of a legendary musician.