Real-life guitar hero: Les Paul
The ultimate 'can do' guy helped Woodstock plug in.
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His sound experiments with magnetic tape began when advanced German tape recorders were discovered by GIs liberating Berlin. A few were brought to the States and one was given to Bing Crosby, then a friend of Les's. Crosby saw great potential in the reel-to-reel machines for movies, radio, and recording, and gave one to Les, who pretty much reinvented it. So much for potential – how about "Hello, future." And the rest, as they say… is your record collection. (Everything after 1950 or so, anyway. )Skip to next paragraph
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As a duo in the 1950s, Les Paul and Mary Ford sold millions of records with Les's "sound experiments," constantly pushing the multitracking envelope on hits like the echo-drenched "How High the Moon" and "Vaya Con Dios."
He played for FDR at the White House. He is the only person to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and The Grammy Hall of Fame,The National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2006, at the age of 90, he was awarded two Grammys. His typical autograph reads,"Play hard! – Les Paul."
Just weeks before his passing, the "can do" guy was still playing his signature Les Paul guitar with his trio every Monday night at the NY's Irridum jazz club. His friends would often stop buy and sit in with the ageless guitarist. You know, friends like Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen, and Eddie Van Halen – guitar heroes to many grateful subsequent generations. U2 guitarist The Edge, who creates his own unique sounds on the Gibson Les Paul guitar, calls him "A legend of the guitar and a true renaissance man, Les Paul disproves the cliche that you can only be famous for one thing," he said. "His legacy as a musician and inventor will live on and his influence on rock and roll will never be forgotten."
For those of us who love electric guitars, pop music and recording gadgets, Les made it all possible. Every time I plug in my guitar and my dog runs out of the room, I blame Les. I'm sure he'd be delighted.
John Kehe is the Monitor's design director and occasional music critic.