This Day in Music – Les Paul

On this day 13th August 2009, Guitarist Les Paul died in hospital in White Plains, New York at the age of 94 suffering from severe pneumonia. Paul is credited with developing one of the first solid-body electric guitars, which went on sale in 1952 and contributed to the birth of rock. He also developed other influential recording innovations such as multi-track recording and overdubbing. In the early 50s, Paul and his wife Mary Ford had a string of hits including ‘Mockin’ Bird Hill’, ‘How High the Moon’, and ‘Vaya Con Dios’.

Les Paul facts:

Les Paul was born Lester William Polsfuss outside Milwaukee, in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

He first became interested in music at age eight when he began playing the harmonica.

After an attempt at learning the banjo, he began to play the guitar. It was during this time that he invented a neck-worn harmonica holder, which allowed him to play the harmonica hands-free while accompanying himself on the guitar.

Among his many honors, Paul is one of a handful of artists with a permanent, stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Paul met country-western singer Colleen Summers in 1945. They began working together in 1948, at which time she adopted the stage name Mary Ford. They were married in 1949. The couple’s hits included “How High the Moon”, “Bye Bye Blues”, “Song in Blue”, “Don’cha Hear Them Bells”, “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise”, and “Vaya con Dios”. These songs featured Ford harmonizing with herself.

Paul’s jazz-guitar style was strongly influenced by the music of Django Reinhardt, whom he greatly admired.

Paul was the instructor of rock guitarist Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band, to whom Paul gave his first guitar lesson.

In 1988, Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Jeff Beck, who said, “I’ve copied more licks from Les Paul than I’d like to admit.”

During his career, he released over 40 albums.

Paul’s innovative guitar, “The Log”, built after-hours in the Epiphone guitar factory in 1940, a 4″ × 4″ chunk of pine with strings and a pickup, was one of the first solid-body electric guitars.

The original Gibson Les Paul-guitar design regained popularity when Eric Clapton began playing the instrument in the early 60’s.

In 1987, Paul underwent heart surgery. He then returned to active live performance, continuing into his 80s even though he often found it painful to play the guitar because of arthritis in his hands. In 2006, at age 90, he won two Grammys at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards for his album Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played.

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