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Space Age Music Maker

Les Paul


  • Born Lester Polfus, 9 June 1915, Waukesha, Wisconsin
  • Died 13 August 2009, White Plains, New York

One of the most important figures in the development of the electric guitar and studio recording techniques. Les Paul worked as a professional musician from his late teens, and was leading his own trio in New York City by the age of 21. After serving with Armed Forces Radio in World War Two, he became a staff musician with NBC radio in Los Angeles. His experimentation with guitars became a frenzy in the late 1940s, building the first solid-body electric guitar in 1946 and releasing a six-way overdub, "Lover," which became a hit for Capitol, as did its flip side, "Brazil." Les Paul's sound was like nothing before it: fast, multi-layered, and deep.

He married the singer Mary Ford (born Colleen Somerset) in 1949, and together they recorded some of the biggest hits of the 1950s: "How High the Moon," "Vaya con Dios," "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise," and "Mockin' Bird Hill." He overdubbed both his guitar work and her vocals, working almost exclusively in his home studio, using an 8-track tape deck he designed and built himself. Paul was a perfectionist, and his recordings sound better today than almost anything coming from major label studios of the same period. In fact, the legendary sound engineer Tom Dowd credited Les Paul for inspiring Atlantic Records to purchase one of the first commercially-produced 8-track recorders, on which many of the label's best-known records were recorded.

Paul and Ford divorced in 1963, and he retired from recording except for an occasional appearance. He cut a solo (overdub) album for London, "Les Paul Now," in 1968, and a collaboration with Chet Atkins in 1976. He returned to live work in 1984, appearing with a trio in New York City jazz clubs. In 1988, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his influence as a player and engineer. He continued to perform live once at weekly, usually at the Iridium Club in Manhattan. His 90th birthday was marked by a tribute concert at Carnegie Hall featuring Eric Clapton and others. And in 2006, he set the record as the oldest performer to win a Grammy Award in a rock music category with his first new album since his work with Chet Atkins: "Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played," which included Clapton, Peter Frampton, and Jeff Beck among his collaborators.


Recordings

  • The Les Paul Trio, Glendale Records GL 6014
  • Swingin' South, CBS CL 1206
  • Lover's Luau, CBS CS 8086
  • Warm & Wonderful, Columbia CS 8488
  • New Sound, Capitol T-286
  • Hits of Les and Mary, Capitol DT-1476
  • Les Paul Now!, London Phase 4 SP 44101
  • Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played, Capitol CD


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