August 13, 2009

GENTLY WEEP:

Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94 (JON PARELES, 8/14/09, NY Times)

Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.

Mr. Paul’s style encompassed the twang of country music, the harmonic richness of jazz and, later, the bite of rock ’n’ roll. For all his technological impact, though, he remained a down-home performer whose main goal, he often said, was to make people happy. [...]

His interest in gadgets came early. At 10 years old he devised a harmonica holder from a coat hanger. Soon afterward he made his first amplified guitar by opening the back of a Sears acoustic model and inserting, behind the strings, the pickup from a dismantled Victrola. With the record player on, the acoustic guitar became an electric one. Later, he built his own pickup from ham radio earphone parts and assembled a recording machine from a Cadillac flywheel and the belt from a dentist’s drill.

From country music Mr. Paul moved into jazz, influenced by players like Django Reinhardt and Eddie Lang, who were using amplified hollow-body guitars to play hornlike single-note solo lines. He formed the Les Paul Trio in 1936 and moved to New York, where he was heard regularly on Fred Waring’s radio show from 1938 to 1941.

In 1940 or 1941 — the exact date is unknown — , Mr. Paul made his guitar breakthrough. Seeking to create electronically sustained notes on the guitar, he attached strings and two pickups to a wooden board with a guitar neck. “The log,” as he called it, was probably the first solid-body electric guitar and became the most influential one. “You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding,” Mr. Paul once said.

The odd-looking instrument drew derision when he first played it in public, so he hid the works inside a conventional-looking guitar. But the log was a conceptual turning point. With no acoustic resonance of its own, it was designed to generate an electronic signal that could be amplified and processed — the beginning of a sonic transformation of the world’s music.

Mr. Paul was drafted in 1942 and worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service, accompanying Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith and others. When he was discharged in 1943, he was hired as a staff musician for NBC radio in Los Angeles. His trio toured with the Andrews Sisters and backed Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, with whom he recorded the hit “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” in 1945. Crosby encouraged Mr. Paul to build his own recording studio, and so he did, in his garage in Los Angeles.


Guitar legend Les Paul dies at age 94; Innovator was a key force in creator of rock 'n' roll (LUKE SHERIDAN, 8/13/09, Associated Press)
As an inventor, Paul helped bring about the rise of rock 'n' roll and multitrack recording, which enables artists to record different instruments at different times, sing harmony with themselves, and then carefully balance the "tracks" in the finished recording.

With Ford, his wife from 1949 to 1962, he earned 36 gold records and 11 No. 1 pop hits, including "Vaya Con Dios," ''How High the Moon," ''Nola" and "Lover." Many of their songs used overdubbing techniques that Paul the inventor had helped develop.

"I could take my Mary and make her three, six, nine, 12, as many voices as I wished," he recalled. "This is quite an asset." The overdubbing technique was highly influential on later recording artists such as the Carpenters. [...]

A tinkerer and musician since childhood, he experimented with guitar amplification for years before coming up in 1941 with what he called "The Log," a four-by-four piece of wood strung with steel strings.

"I went into a nightclub and played it. Of course, everybody had me labeled as a nut." He later put the wooden wings onto the body to give it a tradition guitar shape.

In 1952, Gibson Guitars began production on the Les Paul guitar.


-INTERVIEW: Les Paul: What I've Learned: In one of his last interviews, the late father of the electric guitar looked back on how being sick made him start playing, how he got sick of playing, and how he wished he could go back to the beginning (John H. Richardson, 8/13/09, Esquire)
I got the mumps. They threw me in a crib so I wouldn't roll out onto the floor. And there's a big bay window in my house, and that window stayed perfectly still until that train started to chug. At a certain speed, I could reach up and feel the pane, and that glass pane would vibrate. I said, Doggone, there's got to be a reason for this. So I go to the kindergarten teacher, and she takes me to the science teacher, and the science teacher takes me to the library and reads it off to me -- "This is called resonance." That was the beginning.

The audience, they're not professionals. They just love music. It isn't necessary to play over their heads to be admired.


MORE:
The Many Lives of Les Paul (Ed Driscoll, Aug 22, 2002, BlogCritics)

Who Is Les Paul?

Les PaulTo baby boomers, he's the name on their, or their favorite guitarist's instrument (as his recent commercial for Coors Beer made light of). To the previous generation, he's a musician with a string of pop hits in the 1950s. And there are lots of older folks around who still remember his days from the 1930s, playing in Fred Waring's Orchestra, and backing up Bing Crosby.

Clearly, while most people would be happy with one successful career, Les Paul is a man who can look back on several simultaneous lives.

Born Lester William Polfus on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he began to teach himself not only the guitar, but electronic engineering when he was just a child. He later shortened his name to Les Paul (after a brief spell known as Rhubarb Red!) and played with big bands in the 1930s, such as Fred Waring's outfit in the 1930s and with Bing Crosby in the 1940s.

Simultaneously, he also did much developmental work on the concept of the electric guitar. His electrical engineering skills led him to finally develop the electric solidbody guitar, designed initially to reduce feedback and increase the sustain of notes and chords.

Later in that same decade, he began developing the concept of sound on sound recording, first painstakingly overdubbing part after part on a 78 rpm record cutting machine, and then later on magnetic tape. The Beatles' complex and masterful recordings of the late 1960s, as well as virtually all popular music recorded since, use the very methods he developed. Led Zeppelin's albums, with layer upon layer of overdubbed, multitracked guitars, and often recorded in large country homes instead of professional recording studios, would be unthinkable without Paul's first efforts away from a studio.


Rock guitar pioneer Les Paul dies (BBC, 8/13/09)
U2 guitarist The Edge, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Guns N' Roses star Slash and the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones are among those closely associated with the Les Paul sound.

Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman of Gibson Guitar, said: "His influence extends around the globe and across every boundary."

Gibson president Dave Berryman said: "As the 'father of the electric guitar', he was not only one of the world's greatest innovators but a legend who created, inspired and contributed to the success of musicians around the world."


Guitar legend Les Paul dies at 94 (Bob Tourtellotte, Reuters)
In 1977, Paul and another legendary guitarist, Chet Atkins, released the Grammy-winning album “Chester and Lester.”
He was back at the Grammy Awards in 2005 with award-winning “Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played,” featuring guitarists Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards among the collaborators.

Paul is the only person to be a member in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 13, 2009 11:59 AM
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