By Scott Shaw
I have noticed that there has been a lot of discussion about the evolution of the Kris Derrig Les Paul on the Internet. Much of this discussion is speculation and incorrect. As such, I thought I would write a few words on the subject as I was an actual friend of Kris.’ I knew him when he was happy and healthy and I sadly watched him fade away into sickness and death.
For the record, Kris’ name is sometimes spelled Chris in the media and on the Internet. But, this is incorrect.
The Kris Derrig Les Paul
The story of Kris’ Les Paul creations, (in California), occurred when he was hired in the mid 1980s by my long-time friend, Jim Foote, (who is every bit the luthier that Kris was). At that time, customizing and creating custom guitars was a common order of business. Jim, who was then working on guitars for many of the top rock stars of the era, hired Kris to help him refinish and customize guitars. In fact, many superstar bands of the era, such as Ratt, Great White, Dokken, and Guns and Roses, commonly rehearsed at Jim’s shop, the Music Works, which had a rehearsal studio set up in the back building. From this, many of the bands had much of their guitar work done at the Music Works in association with their rehearsals.
Kris’ Les Pauls have become somewhat legendary in the industry as he only made a few before his untimely passing, from lung cancer, at the age of thirty-two. Most notably, Slash plays one, as does Lenny Kravitz. There are only about six or seven other California made Kris Derrig Les Pauls out there that I am aware of. When he was making them at the Music Works, he had more than one client, who would further age the guitar, once it was created, and then sell it as an original 1958 Gibson Les Paul. So, some of his creation may never be found — as they are thought to be a true Gibson Les Paul. But, for the aficionado, if you look at the routing and the pickup cavities, Kris created them slightly different from the Gibsons of the late 1950s.
In addition to building a Les Paul for me, Kris also worked on and refinished a number of my guitars during this same period of time.
The 1960 Kris Derrig Les Paul
The history of the guitar he made for me began when Kris had some free time and began to create a new Les Paul to sell — as he was always in need of money. In association with making guitars and customizing others, he was busy converting a vintage Pontiac Tempest into a GTO. Each week he would go to the pick-a-part junk yard seeking parts for his automotive creation. One afternoon, at about four o’clock, he called me up. He had found a part he really needed. I forget what it was. But, he needed money fast. $950.00 to be exact. This is what he asked me to pay him for the Les Paul, though he normally charged in excess of $1,500.00. I went to the bank and gave him the money later that afternoon.
As it was still not complete, I wanted Kris to take the guitar in a slightly different direction from the other Les Pauls he had crated while at the Music Works. So, I brought him a set of, “Patent Applied For,” gold Grover tuning keys that I had laying around, a set of Gibson PAFs with gold posts and pickup covers, and a vintage gold Gibson ABR bridge. He finished the guitar the next week, grabbing some of the remaining needed parts from the wall of the Music Works, which annoyed Jim. “Someone has to pay me for those parts!” I guess it was Kris, because it wasn’t me.
Kris made the guitar with the inspiration of the 1960 Gibson Les Paul. The neck is thin like a 1960 Les Paul and the Serial Number reflects 1960 Gibson. All of Kris’ other Les Pauls are based on the late 1950s Les Pauls, which makes the one he created for me a very unique piece of Kris’ heritage.
When Kris created the guitar he tried to match the sunburst of the 1960 Les Paul that he saw in books, but the color was somewhat off. I knew this because I owned an actual 1960 Gibson Les Paul. In the early 1990s, long after Kris’ passing, I had Jim Foote refinish it for me. He did a great job and matched 1960 Gibson coloring perfectly. He then let it hang in his shop for a couple of years, as he was distracted by other projects. Though I would have preferred to have it put together, the time did sun-age the finish perfectly.
And, that is the story of the creation of the 1960 Kris Derrig Les Paul.
From a personal perspective, I played the guitar at a few recording sessions. It is the guitar I played on my Neil Young inspired instrumental, “Hurricane,” on the album, Beggar’s Grave and re-released on Psychedelic Jazz. I also used it at a couple of photo shoots, and in a couple of films. Most notably, The Rock n’ Roll Cops, where I played the Derrig Les Paul and loaned my co-star my ’64 Gibson Trini Lopez.
Though I kept the guitar for many years. I rarely played it — except in the aforementioned situations due to the fact that I was afraid of damaging it.
Though I held onto it as a memory of Kris for many years, I also felt sad that it was not out there being played. Then, in 2006, when I was sitting with Jim in the Music Works one morning, he told me about an East Coast based friend of his who really wanted a Derrig. One thing lead to another, the man now owns the guitar, and it is being played. I believe that is what Kris would have wanted.
Mostly, Kris was a great guy and a close friend. He has been missed since his passing over twenty years ago. He was one of those unique individuals who left this place we call LIFE way too soon.
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