Here’s a clip of the Thomas Edison of modern recording, Les Paul with his former wife and musical partner Mary Ford. It’s the duo’s take on “World is Waiting For A Sunrise”, recorded in 1949. Les Paul passed on today, aged 94.
When you think of guitar gods, you possibly don’t think of this unassuming guy with short, Brylcreamed hair in a suit, and hailing from Wisconsin. But, Les Paul certainly was a guitar god, although perhaps less Zeus or Apollo and more like Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods. For in addition to being as superlative guitarist, songwriter, and arranger, Les Paul was also a tinkerer, a recording innovator, a game-changing inventor.
And where to start with this guy? In no particular order, he invented the solid body guitar – the Les Paul, no less – which was marketed by Gibson guitars. The design of that guitar remains virtually unchanged today, and has been used by musicians from country picker Chet Atkins, to jazz guitar icon Al Di Meola, to top-hatted Gun (or is it Rose?) Slash, and beyond.
He also invented the multitrack recording process, which is completely taken for granted today, but was a major, major, innovation by the end of the 1940s. Before then, songs were recorded in one room, and around a single microphone. The listener got what came out of that set-up.
But, with the help of Bing Crosby, and the Ampex Corporation (the company would later market the recorders commercially by the mid-1950s) Les Paul devised a way where he could record himself playing multiple guitar parts, record his wife Mary Ford singing in a choir of Mary Fords, and get 16 top ten hits (including this one) before the middle of the 1950s. And at the same time, modern recording would never be the same again.
And speaking of Bing Crosby, who owed his career to microphone technology since he was a crooner and not a shouter, Les Paul also popularized a technique where singers could cozy up to mic, and get a warm and more intimate sound – close miking. This involved the singer being mere inches from the mic, instead of a few feet. It was this technique which allowed Mary Ford to get her warm and bright delivery, and once again completely taken as a given today.
So, it’s easy to conclude that Les Paul is a titan, maybe one of the greatest figures of the 20th Century recorded sound. And so, you might think that well into his 70s, he might have eased off a little in terms of being a professional musician. But, he didn’t. Well into his 90s, Les Paul played guitar for local crowds on a regular basis at the Iridium theatre in New York City on Monday nights, even if he stopped touring the world. And by all accounts, he was a down-to-earth, sweet guy, despite his towering achievements.
Goodbye, Les. It’s hard to know how to say thanks.
Enjoy the clip, good people!