Yesterday at the age of 94, Les Paul passed away.
How many copies are there in the world of "Guitar Hero"? How many kids playing it know who THE guitar hero is?
How many people in the last 68 years picked up an electric guitar as a way of expressing themselves?
Beyond that, how many 12 year old's have stood in front of their mirrors playing air guitar? Like something in our genetic memory, the stance they took with their legs apart, their left arm out to one side, their right hand strumming their belly, their eyes closed and their head wavering...it seems to mean something. It embodies "cool". But it's not something from our prehistoric past, it never existed until 1941. Yet it inherently means something. It's primal.
One day in 1941, it occurred to a young Les Paul that "Power" meant something to music. Power, that even if you were Django Reinhart, couldn't come from acoustic instruments. Little more than a decade before, people had experimented with amplified vocals...Bing Crosby crooning low into a microphone instead of Rudy Vallee yelling through a megaphone. Why not do that with the guitar too?
Les tinkered around and took some steel strings (rather than nylon), made some rudimentary "pick-ups" (coiled wires that would pick up the vibrations from the strings), and tacked them all on a 4X4 (I assume from his back yard), made a neck strap and dubbed his bulky invention "The Log". He showed up at a club that night, was dubbed a "nut" for carrying this thing around...then he got on stage and played...the solid-body electric guitar was born.
He eventually made his contraption resemble the shape of a guitar and showed us how it was done.
He also experimented with and developed multi-track recording. Without which no-one who's made a record since, from Buddy Holly to the Beatles on down the line used, and without which I'm sure, most people recording today would not be able to function without.
I could go on and on about this guy, but there's plenty more educated Les Paul aficionados than I out there doing a better job. Do a quick Google of his name and read on...you'll be glad you did.
Until then, here's a few videos of the man in action.
With Mary Ford showing off multi track:
Les and Mary just plain showing off:
Lester and Chester - Les Paul and Chet Atkins:
At 93 at least, and for the last 15 years, he was still playing 2 sets every Monday night at a club in Manhattan. And still showing us how.
Thanks for showing us how Les. How to play, how to tinker, how to look cool and how to keep smiling for damn near a century.
You'll be missed.