Lester William Polsfuss (June 9, 1915 – August 13, 2009) known as Les Paul—was an American jazz, country and blues guitarist, songwriter and inventor. He was one of the pioneers of the solid-body electric guitar, which made the sound of rock and roll possible. He is credited with many recording innovations. Although he was not the first to use the technique, his early experiments with overdubbing (also known as sound on sound), delay effects such as tape delay, phasing effects and multitrack recording were among the first to attract widespread attention.
His innovative talents extended into his playing style, including licks, trills, chording sequences, fretting techniques and timing, which set him apart from his contemporaries and inspired many guitarists of the present day. He recorded with his wife Mary Ford in the 1950s, and they sold millions of records.
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. He is prominently named by the music museum on its website as an "architect" and a "key inductee" along with Sam Phillips and Alan Freed.
Les Paul was born Lester William Polsfuss outside Milwaukee, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, to George and Evelyn (1888–1989) (née Stutz) Polsfuss. His family was of German ancestry. Paul's mother was related to the founders of Milwaukee's Valentin Blatz Brewing Company and the makers of the Stutz automobile. His parents divorced when he was a child. The Prussian family name was first simplified by his mother to Polfuss before he took his stage name of Les Paul. He also used the nicknames Red Hot Red and Rhubarb Red.
While living in 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. Paul's device is still manufactured using his basic design. By age thirteen, Paul was performing semi-professionally as a country-music singer, guitarist and harmonica player. While playing at the Waukesha area drive-ins and roadhouses, Paul began his first experiment with sound. Wanting to make himself heard by more people at the local venues, he wired a phonograph needle to a radio speaker, using that to amplify his acoustic guitar. At age seventeen, Paul played with Rube Tronson's Texas Cowboys, and soon after he dropped out of high school to join Wolverton's Radio Band in St. Louis, Missouri, on KMOX.
The Gibson Les Paul, one of the world's most popular electric guitars, was named after the man who invented it.
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. Paul Tutmarc of Audiovox Manufacturing Co. built a solid body electric bass in 1935 and Adolph Rickenbacker had marketed a solid-body guitar in the 1930s and Paul A. Bigsby had built one for Merle Travis in 1948 and Leo Fender also independently created his own (the Fender "Esquire," a single pickup model) in 1948. Although Paul approached the Gibson Guitar Corporation with his idea of a solid body electric guitar, they showed no interest until Fender began marketing its Esquire which later had a second pick-up added and became known as the Broadcaster (Renamed Telecaster in 1952).
The arrangement persisted until 1961, when declining sales prompted Gibson to change the design without Paul's knowledge, creating a much thinner, lighter and more aggressive-looking instrument with two cutaway "horns" instead of one. Paul said he first saw the "new" Gibson Les Paul in a music-store window, and disliked it. Although his contract required him to pose with the guitar, he said it was not "his" instrument and asked Gibson to remove his name from the headstock. Others claimed that Paul ended his endorsement contract with Gibson during his divorce to avoid having his wife get his endorsement money. At Paul's request, Gibson renamed the guitar "Gibson SG", which stands for "Solid Guitar", and it also became one of the company's best sellers.
The original Gibson Les Paul-guitar design regained popularity when Eric Clapton began playing the instrument a few years later, although he also played an SG and an ES-335. Paul resumed his relationship with Gibson and endorsed the original Gibson Les Paul guitar from that point onwards His personal Gibson Les Pauls were much modified by him—Paul always used his own self-wound pickups and customized methods of switching between pickups on his guitars To this day, various models of Gibson Les Paul guitars are used all over the world by both novice and professional guitarists. A less-expensive version of the Gibson Les Paul guitar is also manufactured for Gibson's lower-priced Epiphone brand.
On January 30, 1962, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued Paul a patent, Patent No. 3,018,680, for an "Electrical Music Instrument.
Les Paul & Mary Ford
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.
Like Crosby, Paul and Ford used the now-ubiquitous recording technique known as close miking, where the microphone is less than 6 inches (15 cm) from the singer's mouth. This produces a more-intimate, less-reverberant sound than is heard when a singer is 1 foot (30 cm) or more from the microphone. When implemented using a cardioid-patterned microphone, it emphasizes low-frequency sounds in the voice due to a cardioid microphone's proximity effect and can give a more relaxed feel because the performer isn't working so hard. The result is a singing style which diverged strongly from unamplified theater-style singing, as might be heard in musical comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1965, Paul went into semi-retirement, although he did return to the studio occasionally. He and Ford had divorced in December 1962, as she could no longer cope with the traveling lifestyle their act required of them. Paul's most-recognizable recordings from then through the mid-1970s were an album for London Records/Phase 4 Stereo, Les Paul Now (1968), on which he updated some of his earlier hits; and, backed by some of Nashville's celebrated studio musicians, a meld of jazz and country improvisation with fellow guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins, Chester and Lester (1976), for RCA Victor.
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. He also performed every Monday night, accompanied by a trio which included guitarist Lou Pallo, bassist Paul Nowinksi (and later, Nicki Parrott) and pianist John Colaianni, originally at Fat Tuesdays, and later at the Iridium Jazz Club on Broadway in the Times Square area of New York City.
Les and his trio held court at the Iridium Jazz Club in midtown Manhattan for many years, playing every Monday night. Often, a wide array of other artists would appear and sit in with or sing in front of the trio. A tribute trio still plays the Monday dates.
Composer Richard Stein (1909–1992) sued Paul for plagiarism, charging that Paul's "Johnny (Is the Boy for Me)" was taken from Stein's 1937 song "Sanie cu zurgălăi" (Romanian for "Sleigh with Bells"). A 2000 cover version of "Johnny" by Belgian musical group Vaya Con Dios that credited Paul prompted another action by the Romanian Musical Performing and Mechanical Rights Society.
For many years Les Paul would sometimes surprise radio hosts Steve King and Johnnie Putman with a call to the "Life After Dark Show" on WGN (AM) in Chicago. These calls would take place in the wee hours of Tuesday Morning following his long-running Monday evening show at the Iridium Jazz Club in Manhattan. Until they ended their show on WGN, Steve and Johnnie continued to honor Les on Tuesday Mornings at 2:35 AM with their segment "A Little More Les" drawing from around 30 hours of recorded conversations with Les.
On August 13, 2009, Paul died of complications from pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York. His family and friends were by his side. Paul is survived by his four children and his companion Arlene Palmer. His attorney told the media that he had made several hospital stays over the previous few months. His last concert took place a few weeks before his death.
Upon learning of his death many artists and popular musicians paid tribute by publicly expressing their sorrow. After learning of Paul's death, former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash called him "vibrant and full of positive energy.", while Richie Sambora, lead guitarist of Bon Jovi, referred to him as "revolutionary in the music business". U2 guitarist The Edge said, "His legacy as a musician and inventor will live on and his influence on rock and roll will never be forgotten.
On August 21, 2009, he was buried near Milwaukee in Waukesha, Wisconsin at Prairie Home Cemetery which indicated that his plot would be in an area where visitors can easily view it. Like his funeral in New York on August 19, the burial was private, but earlier in the day a public memorial viewing of the closed casket was held in Milwaukee at Discovery World with 1,500 attendees who were offered free admission to the Les Paul House of Sound exhibit for the day.
Les Paul playing a Gibson Les Paul in a live show at Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, 2008.
|Birth name||Lester William Polsfuss|
|Born||June 9, 1915|
Waukesha, Wisconsin, United States
|Died||August 13, 2009 (aged 94)|
White Plains, New York, United States
|Genres||Jazz, country, blues, rock and roll|
|Occupations||Innovator, Inventor, Musician, Songwriter|
|Instruments||Guitar, Banjo, Harmonica|
|Gibson Les Paul|