Les in More! The Underrated Legend of Guitarist Les Dudek

The triple-threat of guitarist, singer-songwriter, Les Dudek, has led a musician's life in a way that has mastered the art of under-the-radar and off-the-grid, all the while still putting out new music whenever he feels like it. A privilege earned by many, but only sacrificed by few.

I first heard of him in the late 70's when I was working in the old classic record stores of the day, an entire decade before the compact disc entered the market as a new listening format. Whenever we were doing our regular store inventory, I always wondered about him and what his story was... his name alone had such a cool ring to it.

Article by Kyle Branche

Many music lovers thought John "Cougar" Mellencamp was the rebel artist of the day, but it was Les who lived and personified it more as the type of lifestyle and existence it actually requires in matching the real deal rock-n-roll label. His parents (of which quick to note, his mother, Alma, was a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette), bought him his first guitar for Christmas at age 10. His father, Harold, was a radioman in the Navy during World War II, who served on the U.S.S. Wright and the U.S.S. Utah before it was laid to rest at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

From these early days as a teenager in Florida, though only his older sister, Sandi, knew how much he really practiced and after only four years of playing time, he hooked up with various local bands, including The United Sounds, Blue Truth and Power over the next five years. The latter band's member, Peter Schless, knew Dickey Betts and heard he was looking for players. So they drove to Macon, Georgia to jam with Dickey.

It was this formative work inspired by the Beatles, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and the Ventures that eventually led to the Allman Brothers asking him to come back and do some studio work for the Brothers and Sisters album, released in 1973, to help with the tragic loss of guitarist Duane Allman, who had died in a motorcycle accident. That's Les you hear playing guitar harmonies with Betts on "Ramblin' Man" and the intro acoustic guitar on "Jessica," the two biggest hits from the album.

This was a good ground gain for Les, as soon after, Steve Miller found out about his playing and song writing abilities, then Boz Scaggs, of which he worked with both artists during their respective Silk Degrees and Fly Like an Eagle albums of 1976, as well as Steve Miller Band's Book of Dreams in 1977, (Les co-wrote "Sacrifice") Living in the 20th Century during the late 80's and Wide River. (Les co-wrote "Blue Eyes" in the early 90's) Soon, Dudek was on his way to greater recognition as working with top artists, your musicianship can only get better and if you're asked to contribute as a writer, well, one wonders what more of an open door can you ask for.

Other notable Dudek collaborations included working with Stevie Nicks on her Rock a Little album and tour (of which he co-wrote "Sister Honey") as well as her 1991 Whole Lotta Trouble tour, Maria Muldaur's Southern Winds and Dave Mason's Old Crest on a New Wave. The DFK album (Dudek, Finnigan, Kreuger) was released in 1978 on Columbia Records and they toured most of that year opening up for Kansas during their Point of Know Return tour.

From 1979 to 1982, Les and Cher had a personal and professional relationship, working together as a member of Cher's band Black Rose, which produced one self-titled album of the same name in 1980, and later worked as an actor (Biker Bone Tyson) and on the music soundtrack for the 1984 movie Mask. Les also had a brief stint as the guitarist for John Kay and Steppenwolf.

Les also wrote and performed instrumental library music for television, which can be heard on NBC, ABC, ESPN, Fox Sports and E Channel/Entertainment Television on such programs as Friends, Extra, Wild On, Search Party and Access Hollywood.

When Columbia Records caught wind of his talents in 1976, Les was offered a recording contract as a solo artist and the rest is musical history, of which his solo albums we should all be thankful for, as Les combines Southern rock, blues rock, jazz rock and funk rock into his music... indeed, an artist with a unique style all his own.

Around that time Les had moved to Los Angeles and got a call from the manager of Journey, Herbie Herbert, to join the band as a second guitarist along with Neil Schon during their earlier, jazz- fusion sound of that time, when they were attempting to expand into more vocal songs, just after the release of Look into the Future. This was also a year before the departure of original vocalist, Robert Fleishman, and the subsequent arrival of Steve Perry.

With Dudek's self-titled debut from the opening track, "City Magic," one can hear the Allman Brothers influence, but it's the quality of the songs throughout the album that tells you just how special of a talent he really is. Not to mention the studio musicians he was able to acquire for the recording, including Jeff Porcaro, David Paich and David Hungate from Toto, as well as Tom Scott and David Foster.

In 1977, Dudek released Say No More, a set of ten equally incredible tracks, recorded at Capitol Studios and produced and engineered by legendary Doors producer Bruce Botnick. Many of the same players came aboard for the sessions, but also included legendary drummer, Tony Williams, of Miles Davis fame. (one interesting side note; the woman on the front cover of the album is the model/niece of actor Telly Savalas)

Dudek's third solo release, 1978's Ghost Town Parade is probably this writer's favorite, with Bruce Botnick as producer and also including legendary sound engineer Andy Johns. Les' DFK band members, Mike Finnigan and Jim Kreuger, also participated, as well as Jim Keltner, Gary Mallaber, Carmine Appice and even Jack Bruce on backing vocals for three tracks.

It was three years between solo releases for Dudek when Gypsy Ride was released in 1981, but it was well worth the wait. With his virtuoso guitar technique and ace slide playing, Les crafts songs with a jazzy and bluesy feel (often without a horn section) that creates such cool melodic grooves reminiscent of Steely Dan. Recorded at the Record Plant in Hollywood, other musicians participating included James Newton Howard on piano, Mike Finnigan on organ and Mark Hudson from the Hudson Brothers sang background vocals on one track.

It would then be 20 years before Dudek released solo albums again, beginning with 2001's Deeper Shades Of Blues, then 2003's Freestyle and 2013's Delta Breeze. Even after the extended absence, however, Les still showed the same standard of excellence that one comes to expect from an artist of this caring depth. Aside from his top-notch playing and song writing, Les is also a great singer of his own songs.

I remember seeing Les perform live at The Palomino Club in North Hollywood in the late 80's and he played this song that had the lyrics of Old Mexico in it and was such a cool tune... to this day, I've always wondered why he never recorded that song on one of his records. I guess some things I'll never know.

Les moved back to his small home town of Auburndale, Florida many years ago, away from the big city scene of Los Angeles. What I would give to see him play live again with his now three-piece band. He still performs today and you can catch the trio playing on the East coast, as well as having plenty of videos on YouTube. And yes, all of Dudek's music is also re-mastered and available on CD as well. Cheers to that!