While a host of guitarists can claim to be “influential”, Les Paul remains without parallel, single-handedly redefining popular music with his studio innovations and focus on the electrification and development of the guitar – paving the way for classic songs, great riffs and new genres. Proper released “Les Paul The Guitarman” today in 2007 – exactly two years before his death.
Electric guitar innovator Lester William Polsfuss aka Les Paul died at the age of 94. While synonymous with developing the solid body guitar into a mainstay of popular music, Les was also at the forefront of developing innovative new studio recording techniques.
Serving his musical apprenticeship with hillbilly player Sunny Joe Wolverton, Les would later back the likes of Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby – regularly featuring with his own trio on the latter’s successful radio broadcasts.
Unveiling his prototype electric guitar – nicknamed The Log – in 1941, within a decade Paul had convinced sceptical musicians and fans alike and was in the process of finalising a design for a production instrument bearing his name, marketed by Gibson Guitars in 1952.
His 1951 hit “How High The Moon” (with wife Mary Ford handling vocals) featured multi-tracking, overdubbing and close microphone vocal recording - all unprecedented at the time and borne of his own frustration with the limitations of the acoustic guitars he was playing.
In a climate of declining sales of his records and eventual separation and divorce from Mary (after 11 US hit singles), Les continued with his sonic experiments not releasing new material until a successful comeback collaboration with Chet Atkins in the mid 1970s earned the pair Grammy recognition for “Chet and Lester”.
Despite the onset of arthritis and a quadruple heart bypass, Les played regular Monday night gigs in New York City for over two decades. Beginning at Fat Tuesdays and then latterly at Iridium Nightclub in Manhattan, the latter became a mecca for fans wishing to see “the original guitar hero” in the flesh. His final show came just six weeks before his death.
Paying tribute, Mark Knopfler commented that Les was, “…a recording pioneer and inventor as well as a great, influential player. His developments helped play a part in taking the guitar from a muted orchestral and dance band accompaniment role to the forefront.”
Check out and purchase Les Paul CDs from our e-shop, Propermusic.com by clicking on the logo below:
And here’s some footage of Les in action: