Friday, August 14, 2009

The Man Who Changed Music: Les Paul, 1915-2009

Most rock music fans have heard the name, but know it as in "Gibson Les Paul." The man behind the famous guitar was a musician and inventor, and most of all, an innovator.

He died this week at the age of 94. Until June, he was still doing his Monday evening gig in NYC.

Not only guitarists and fans honour his work, though. His influence on modern music of all kinds is staggering. It's safe to say that without Les Paul, my husband's career would be drastically different.

Les Paul invented multi-track recording, overdubbing, tape delay, phase effects. "Studio trickery" was born!

His whole life must have been like one big recording studio. This is a photo of him at home with his wife, singer Mary Ford. I kind of love everything about that room and wish it was in my house.

We had a "Les Paul And Mary Ford" cassette tape kicking around here awhile ago. Stunning! They worked well together, back in those days.

When we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January, we had to spend a long time lingering over the exhibit devoted to him. Several of his early prototypes are on display, and they fascinated us. To many observers, it would look like a few pieces of junk, but we got it. That pine plank with a rusty hinge attached to it? Tie some metal strings to it and you've got a neat way to make new sounds. Each new version improved on an idea until he'd come up with his perfect guitar. He claimed he made things because he needed them, and nobody else was making it. So he did.

For me it was totally about my son, at age 7, finding a long thin cardboard box, wrapping elastics around a few popsicle stick "pickups" and cutting a round hole near one end: his first box guitar. Jethro taught him how to play "Seven Nation Army" which cracked us up consistently. Soon the boy had a little Peizo pickup inside the box and we had amplification. Seriously, it was just the cheap version of a real electric guitar. It could be hooked up to an amp and everything. It was hilarious.

I'm so glad my children got a little education in the meeting of invention and music, and that they know who the guy is, and why his passing marks the end of a remarkable life and career.


Heidi Willis said...

I love that you have this much information inside you! He is amazing, and his contributions affect all our lives daily!

What a beautiful tribute you gave him.

pseudosu said...

He was one cool dude for sure. i love when people are inspired, and really give themselves and their lives over to it. Like they have this thing tugging at them and they let it, nurture it, follow it. I want to be like that.

I once had a Les Paul knock off-- A "hondo 2"-- POS i'm sure, and i never did learn how to play really. : /

JKB said...


RIP Les. You were an individual.

Paul Tee said...

A musician friend from Germany gave my oldest son (then 10) a Les Paul. Of course he trashed it. Not many years later he bemoaned the fact, and with a friend, kind of fixed it up, but it was never quite the same.

I guess if you don't know the value of things, it is just ...just ... trash.

Sorry about the end of another era. Is it just me, have I become a witness of such too often of late?

Brit said...

Beautiful post Heidi.

I've recognized your blog on my blog for this very reason . . always cool information about several different topics.