In honor of Les Paul: A Q&A with Richie Sambora

When you ask Richie Sambora about his memories of Les Paul, you immediately get the sense that their relationship went beyond the realm of just music. So it’s only fitting that the former Bon Jovi guitarist will honor Paul with two sold-out nights at the Iridium Jazz club this week. amNewYork had a chance to chat with Sambora about the highly anticipated performances, and more importantly, what Paul meant to him as a friend.

How did you first meet Les Paul?

Les and I go back a real long, long way. A good friend of mine, Dennis Beradi, the owner of Kramer Guitars, [introduced us]. I was making the “New Jersey” album. There’s a little bit of stress when you’re trying to follow up “Slippery When Wet” [laughs]. Through the middle of that record I went home to be with my mom and dad for my birthday. All of a sudden Dennis walks in with Les Paul. I was like “Oh my god!” [Paul] and I went out to the dock [behind my house] and we plugged in and [it was] just one of those things where you just get along and have this amazing friendship.

And now you’re in town in honor of Les Paul’s birthday. Talk to me about this upcoming performance and what your relationship with Les Paul meant to you.

The thing that I have with him, I have a lifetime of our story that goes back from when we met in 1987 until he died when he was 93 a couple years back. I’ve been very busy lately and there’s a mission that I think I have to do and Les is a part of that. He was like a father figure to me. So I think it was a different type of relationship that we had. In a weird way I was able to separate the genius and legend from who he was as a guy, you know?

What kind of show should fans anticipate?

I think about how this show’s going to go and what stories am I going to tell…I’ve got a million of them! Every time I played with him, and it must have been over 40 times, it ended with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. I’m going to end the set with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”…and I hope I get through it!

You recently performed alongside another legend, Dolly Parton, at the Glastonbury Festival. How did that come about?

One day Dolly Parton calls and says, “You want to come play Glastonbury?” Glastonbury is a cultural event with over 300,000 people. It’s like Woodstock, but every year. So Dolly calls me to come play and I say of course! This is the queen of country music. So I come out there and she’s playing one of my songs, “Lay Your Hands On Me.” She put it on her record [“Blue Smoke”] and she plays it every night. So it was pretty symbiotic. And we blew the roof off the place.