Les Paul died this Thursday, August 13th, 2009. Sad yes, but what a life! Two generations of musicians and music aficionados owe an enormous debt to his talent, his work and his inventions which will no doubt continue to shape countless future generations as well.
Aside from his solo hit recordings such as Lover(1948), Nola(1950), Josephine(1951), and Whispering(1951) and his hit recordings with his wife Mary Ford which include Tennessee Waltz(1950-1951), How High The Moon(1951), Tiger Rag(1951-1952), Bye Bye Blues(1952-1953), and Vaya Con Dios(1953), his technological inventions shape the sounds we now take for granted. Sound created by the Echo-Plex, Reverb, the technique known as multi-track recording, and of course the solid body electric guitar. It’s impossible to imagine where we would be without these musical tools.
The Gibson Les Paul is the Rolls Royce of electric guitars, it is to American music what the Louisville Slugger is to American sports. Every rock star and every rock star wannabe has ogled over a Les Paul at some point or another, they are beautiful instruments. It is said that he taught himself how to play guitar in order to demonstrate his electronic theories. Long before Gibson put his name on the guitar, Les Paul had already pioneered the concept of the solid body electric. He didn’t like the fact that people in the rear of the crowd couldn’t hear him so he created an electric guitar and amplifier using a radio and a record player needle that he shoved into the fretboard. “I wanted the string to vibrate and nothing else. I wanted the guitar to sustain longer and have different sounds than the acoustical box.”
Les Paul continued playing for live audiences well into his 90’s, his weekly show at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York were always special, he was the guitar god of the guitar gods, the original guitar hero and when asked about his long career and his profound influence on modern music his response was “I don’t think I’m very successful, I just constantly try to improve.”
What a life. What an amazing list of achievements, a legacy that made our lives better.