The Les Paul and me

By RICK WATSON
Posted 8/18/19

Jilda and I married in May of 1974. My job at the time paid the minimum wage, which was $2.10 an hour then. Jilda only made $1.50 an hour. After cashing both our paychecks on Friday, we barely had …

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The Les Paul and me

Posted

Jilda and I married in May of 1974. My job at the time paid the minimum wage, which was $2.10 an hour then. Jilda only made $1.50 an hour.

After cashing both our paychecks on Friday, we barely had enough money to buy food and keep the lights on. Even though our money was thin, I did something that would have made a financial planner scratch her heads. I bought a cherry-colored Gibson Les Paul guitar on the installment plan.

The Les Paul cost more than the car I drove, but the guitar was beautiful, and the car was – well, it was a 1968 Plymouth Valiant. It had been white at one time, but the paint had turned the color of freshly churned butter.

We lived in a 12 x 60 foot house trailer that wasn't air-conditioned. It got so hot one August day that the candles on our living room coffee table melted. I worked at The Community News then. Each day I loaded my guitar into the Valiant and took it to work with me. It was cool at the office and I didn't have to worry about someone stealing the guitar. My thinking at the time was - burglars can have the TV or the lava lamp but no one else will be strumming my Les Paul.

The payments were low, and I paid it off in three years.

It was a beautiful guitar. The design of the neck and the fretboard made playing the guitar feel almost like cheating. 

The Les Paul made even cheap amplifiers sound great. My pickin' pals all drooled. It was a piece of melodic art. 

A few years later, I got a job with the phone company, and our prospects became brighter. We still weren't "in the money," but things were looking up.

 As often happens when you live close to the edge, our car started guzzling oil. The engine on the old Valiant was shot. We still couldn't afford a new car, so I did something that I still regret. I sold the Les Paul to a guy that worked with me at MaBell.

That trip to Birmingham the day I sold the guitar was a sad one. I didn't cry, but I felt heartsick.

I remember saying to the Valiant when I picked it up from the garage after having the motor rebuilt – YOU BETTER LAST UNTIL I RETIRE!

Each time I walk into a music store these days, I always linger around the Gibson section. The one like I had now goes for over $7,000. You have to get permission from one of the store clerks to play a few chords. 

I find myself thinking – now if I sold my cameras, three pints of blood and a kidney, I might be able to buy this baby. Of course, I would then have a divorce to finance.

Scanning through some old photographs today, I came across a picture that Jilda took of me playing the Les Paul and I felt a twinge of sadness.

 Did I mention that I loved that guitar?

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, "Life Goes On," is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@rickwatson-writer.com.