Thursday, August 13, 2009

While my guitar gently weeps...

CNN is reporting that guitar legend Les Paul has died at age 94.

Screw the current crop of wannabees -- Les Paul was the real goods. In addition to being a phenomenal musician (he was playing into his 90's), he revolutionized recording studio technology with multi-track recording, tape-delay and other ground breaking tools.

Perhaps the most visible monument to Paul's innovations was the guitar that bore his name. He developed the solid body (another Paul innovation) in 1939 to combat the problem of acoustic feedback that often occurred with amplified hollow body guitars. The "Log" as it was called, was little more than a chunk of 4 x 4 lumber with bridge, pickup, and guitar neck.

The distinctive single cutaway Les Paul became one of the iconic symbols (along with the Fender Stratocaster) of the Rock generation.

Paul's career as a performer spanned the 30's up to the present. He began playing with such names as Fred Waring, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters.

His right arm was shattered in an accident in 1948. When the doctors told him there was no way to rebuild his elbow in a way that would allow movement, he had them set it permanently at an angle that would allow him to continue to play.

He went on to release a series of recordings with his then-wife, Mary Ford in the 1950s, developing many of his recording innovations around this time. During the late 60's he entered a period of semi-retirement, working primarily in the studio, but by the 80's was again playing weekly gigs at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City.

In 1978 he and Mary Ford were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1988, Jeff Beck (no slouch himself) inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005 for developing the solid body guitar.

See the Wikipedia article on Les Paul for a much longer survey of this amazing man's life.

The world is now a little less harmonious place.

Update: here's a collection of recordings of the old Les Paul show, broadcast on NBC Radio in the early 1950's. These (and others) can be found on Be sure to visit the Les Paul website as well. 



Dan Brekke said...

Sodden memory (thanks, Herb Caen): Steve Koerber and his gold-bodied Les Paul. I remember he had a band with Bob Mucklow, Terry Wiley, and others (maybe you remember this). Steve loved that guitar, and I recall that he had something of a local guitar-hero rivalry with Wiley. For my part, I was always impressed anyone who could intentionally make music, whatever the instrument.

Dr Ralph said...

Steve Koerber was the first Guitar God I knew. That gold-top Les Paul of his is one of the iconic memories of my youth. I remember hanging around at the Koerber basement with his brother Mike a lot around the time that beauty arrived.

I played (unpaid) roadie for a few of the Mucklow/Koerber/Wiley gigs.

Somewhere I've got photos of Steve K playing that Les Paul at an outdoor gig at one of the area high schools. Chuck Niebling (rhythm guitar), Mike Baker (bass) and Art Butler (on drums) rounded up the ensemble.