gwalla (gwalla) wrote,

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Losing a legend

Les Paul, the guitarist best known for inventing the solid-body electric guitar, died of pneumonia on August 13, at age 94. Along with the electric guitar, an invention whose importance should be obvious and can hardly be overstated, he also pioneered overdubbing, multitrack recording, and electronic signal processing effects. Nearly every form of modern popular music is built on these innovations; I think it's safe to say that without Mr. Paul, today's musical landscape would be unrecognizable...and considering the cultural influence of rock, from fashion to mores to the very concept of "rock star", the social and political landscape as well. He's been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

A consummate entertainer, he played live regularly well into this year, with a residency at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York, and recorded an album as recently as 2005, despite a broken eardrum and arthritis that paralyzed some fingers on both hands. When he shattered his right elbow in 1948, setting it would freeze it in place, never to bend he had it set at an angle so he could continue to play. His work spanned jazz, country, and rock & roll, playing with everyone from Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby to Eric Clapton, Sting, and Chet Atkins.

Back when I used to work in a publisher's warehouse, my boss, an old hippie and deadhead, would play music on the stereo as we worked. One day he put on an old bit from the Les Paul and Mary Ford show, in which Les claimed to have just invented the "gas guitar", which turned out to run on laughing gas, leading to a wild drug trip scene in which he hallucinates that they're in a gondola and Mary sings a gondolier song. That was my introduction to Les Paul the musician, rather than Les Paul the name of a model of guitar. Great fun!

New York Times obituary
Iridium Jazz Club's obituary

I recommend reading both. They're very well written.

RIP Les.
Tags: music, obituaries

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