Les Paul was a Giant


Les Paul is a giant both for his guitar playing and his contribution to music technology. Paul–Lester William Polsfuss–was born in Wisconsin in 1915. His Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio points to his invention of overdubbing, multi-tracking and other techniques. His “crowning achievement,” the bio says, is the guitar that bears his name:

As he told writer Jim O’Donnell, “What I wanted to do is not have two things vibrating. I wanted the string to vibrate and nothing else. I wanted the guitar to sustain longer than an acoustical box and have different sounds than an acoustical box. The fact that the guitar’s body was solid allowed for the sound of a plucked string to sustain, as its vibrating energy was not dissipated in a reverberant acoustic chamber.”

Paul is as influential as a guitarist. His playing was much slower toward the end of his career. That was certainly by choice, not due to age. To me, he is two different guitar players. I always liked the slower style. There are lots of people who play very fast who nobody remembers. Likewise, the fast players who are remembered always brought something else to the party.

The songs in the embedded clip above almost certainly were recorded separately (unless the bass player was hiding in the closet).  With Paul is long-time musical partner (and second wife) Mary Ford. The sitcom setting and the creepy Listerine commercial are great bonuses. They perform “Alabamy Bound” and “Darktown Strutter’s Ball.”

The Les Paul Foundation says that four “monumental” albums by Paul are “The New Sound,” “The New Sound Vol. 2,” “Bye Bye Blues” and “The Hit Makers.” I would add “Chester and Lester,” a collaboration with the great Chet Atkins, to that list. Paul’s career lasted for a very long time — he was still playing weekly in New York City in his nineties. No doubt many of these shows have found their way only vinyl. 

Listerine, by the way, lives on.

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