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Friday, August 14, 2009

Les Paul, Legendary Guitar Guru Dies

Man...it doesn't matter it you're 16-years old and into rap, hip-hop and garage music or you're a little older and your musical tastes run more towards Zeppelin, Guns N Roses and The Who or, even if you're a little bit older than that, and are still spinning vinyl of blues and jazz. If you don't know who Les Paul is and his influence in music, you have some learning to do.

Legendary genius (and I don't use those words very often) Les Paul has died at the age of 94. Sky News:

    Legendary guitarist Les Paul, who pioneered designs of electric guitars and helped usher in the birth of rock and roll, has died aged 94.

    He died of complications from pneumonia at a New York hospital, his lawyer Michael Braunstein said.

    Paul had been a dominant force in the music business since the Second World War.

    He and wife Mary Ford enjoyed a string of hits in the 1940s and 1950s that included Mockin' Bird Hill and How High the Moon.

    A passionate tinkerer, he created one of the first solid-body electric guitars in 1941, and went on to pioneer multi-track recording.

    Paul played a key role in the birth of rock and roll in the early 1950s when he teamed up with Gibson.

    The groundbreaking design became the template for the manufacturer's best-selling electric - the Les Paul model.

    Introduced in 1952, the instrument continues to be held in the highest esteem.

    Fans include the likes of Slash, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page.

    Paying tribute, Stoke-on-Trent-born Slash said: "Les Paul was a shining example of how full one's life can be.

    "He was so vibrant and full of positive energy. I'm honoured and humbled to have known and played with him over the years, he was an exceptionally brilliant man."

    Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny added: "It is hard to over-estimate the impact that Les Paul has had on our culture."

    Although he started out as a jazz guitarist, Paul's experiments with multi-track recording revolutionised music.

    After leaving school at 17, he found work in radio bands under the stage name of Rhubarb Red and by 1934 he was in Chicago doing both jazz and hillbilly acts.

    His achievements came in spite of injuries sustained in a car accident in Oklahoma in 1948.

    His right arm and elbow were shattered but he convinced doctors to set his broken arm in the guitar-strumming and cradling position.

    Paul had also survived an earlier near-death experience when he almost electrocuted himself during an experimental session in the cellar of his Queens apartment in 1940.

    He is survived by his three sons Lester, Gene and Robert, his daughter Colleen Wess, son-in-law Gary Wess, long time friend Arlene Palmer, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Musicians from all genres are acknowledging the influence of Les Paul. MTV:

    Joe Satriani, bowed at the altar of Paul, saying in a statement, "Les Paul set a standard for musicianship and innovation that remains unsurpassed. He was the original guitar hero and the kindest of souls. Last October, I joined him onstage at the Iridium club in NYC, and he was still shredding. He was and still is an inspiration to us all."


    ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, said he couldn't imagine what rock music would sound like without his mentor's inventions and spirit. "Les Paul brought six strings to electricity and electricity to six strings," Gibbons said in a statement. "Les Paul was an innovator, a groundbreaker, a risk taker, a mentor and a friend. Try to imagine what we'd be doing if he hadn't come along and changed the world. There will always be more Les to come. That's certified."

    With her low-slung Les Paul and a snarling punk attitude, Joan Jett got sentimental about how much she'd miss Paul's influence. "I, and everyone at Blackheart Records, mourn the passing of our dear friend, Les Paul," Jett wrote. "He was a genius inventor, musical innovator and a wonderful person. Without the advances he pioneered, the recording sciences and the electric guitar would have been left years behind. I will miss him so much."

    Blues master Keb Mo gave Paul props for being a vibrant musician well into his 90s. "He's a guy who played right up to the end," Mo said. "That's what we all want to do!!"

More, from MTV News:

    It's impossible to overestimate the impact guitarist and inventor Les Paul, who died today at the age of 94, had on rock music. His signature guitar design became so ubiquitous that it's easy to take it for granted. Many of the greatest guitarists in rock history have jammed on a Les Paul: Jimmy Page pounded out "Black Dog" on an LP, Slash used one to write "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City" and it's the axe of choice for Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Ben Harper. And when pop stars want to strap on an instrument and look like a badass, they turn to the Les Paul[.]

From The NY Times:

    Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.

    Mr. Paul’s style encompassed the twang of country music, the harmonic richness of jazz and, later, the bite of rock ’n’ roll. For all his technological impact, though, he remained a down-home performer whose main goal, he often said, was to make people happy.

Les Paul in 1941

We will not - not ever - see the likes of Les Paul again. Never.

Rest in peace, Guitar Guru.


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Les Paul is the zen master of the electric guitar.
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Spot on, man. The guy shatters his arm and has doctors set it in a guitar cradling and playing position...that's love and dedication and genius. He should have been with us for another 94 years.

He was a genius and a visionary. And made sparks fly off those guitar strings, man. A legend.
Juan / Betty -

thank you for the kind words.

Please add another comment on your take on Les Paul, his contributions to music and just in general your thoughts of him and his inventiveness. I know I'd like to hear the input from someone who (appears to be) is a guitar player, which I am not.
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