Les Paul on American Masters

Talk about a living legend. He’s profiled on the PBS program this week: Link to American Master’s Les Paul page. Great show, with lots of old footage and comments by folks like Jeff Beck and Steve Miller.

I saw Les years ago at Fat Tuesdays. Robert Plant was sitting two tables down from us with Brian Setzer. Les said “Hey, we have Bobby Plant in the audience tonight!”, which elicited an audible groan from Plant…apparently he didn’t like being called “Bobby”! Les hinted that Plant might join him onstage later on, and added “Jimmy Page was here just a few weeks ago…”. This got another groan from Plant, who wasn’t talking to Page at the time.

Sometimes lost in the glare of Les Paul’s signal achievements* (arguably inventor of the solid body electric guitar, inarguably a pioneer of multi-track recording) is the fact that he’s a fantastic jazz guitarist. Hell, more than a jazz guitarist: his Chester and Lester collaboration with Chet Atkins is a glimpse into his breadth as a musician.

*Of course, without those achievements, I’d probably be playing the accordion today, and recording my tunes to a wax cylinder. :cool:

Grrrrr! :mad: I just realized I didn’t set the VCR timer long enough and cut off the last half hour or so. Doesn’t matter, he’s inarguably a legend and still playing live in his 90s?!?! What an inspiration!!! LP kicks ass!!!

An excellent biographical sketch of a fascinating man. It lacks the typical voice-over explaining hie early years and those of his parents before he came along, but the words from his own mouth and surviving friends and family fill out that era well enough. It’s the way his accomplishments are spotlighted that make the show special.

My earliest memory of loving a song on the radio that I knew the name of was Les & Mary doing How High The Moon, and I can still bring back the pictures of where I was when I heard it that first time.

I had no idea of how versatile and virtuosic he had been before the Mary Ford period. I knew he had a jazz background but even after hearing the Chester and Lester cuts back when they were getting air play I didn’t realize how strong his jazz playing had been in the early days.

Long Live Les!

That show has been all the rage on the guitar boards - all the acolytes (I count myself in that group) have been kneeling at the feet of the Master for years. It was a great program - really well done. It could’ve gone into more detail about all of his innovations with multitracking and tape echo and reverb and, and, and - but I love how they portrayed him in the context of the day…

I saw him at Iridium almost a year ago - really fun. At the end of the show another person in the audience held up a camera and motioned to ask if he could take a picture - Les said “oh, you wanna picture? okay, come on guys” and the band crowded around him and got posed. The guy was about to snap the shot and Les said “you ready?” and when the guy said “yes,” Les said “okay, go ahead” and then flipped the guy the bird with a huge, crooked smile on his face!! And speaking of crooked, the middle finger he held up went in about 7 different directions, all knobby with age and arthritis. It was hilarious and the crowd went nuts - the guy who took the photo was ecstatic…

I wonder how many remember that he and his wife were quite popular singing duo of the past. Les Paul and Mary Ford. .They were on TV quite often.

Vaya con Dios, gonzomax, vaya con Dios. :wink:

It’s always fascinated me how you have two great revolutionaries of the guitar, Les Paul and Leo Fender, and yet, Les Paul is an amazing muscian, while Leo Fender couldn’t play a note. Yet nobody can deny Fender’s contribution to music, and it was he who was first to put a solidbody guitar into production.

It just doesn’t make sense to me that a nonmusician could have been so groundbreaking in the world of guitars, but there it is.

That show was awesome. I’d already had a much greater appreciation of his genius after discussions with WordMan but, admittedly, that was the first time I’d ever seen vintage film of him on the guitar. That feller could fly! And oh, what tone. Absolutely enjoyable show. Now that’s television.

**SoP **- of course you are right - Leo is essential. Leo was an engineer/tinkerer/entrepreneur, who had ideas about mass producing guitars. He had examples of solidbody guitars from his friend Paul Bigsby - who built a guitar for Merle Travis that Leo borrowed heavily from (does that headstock look the least bit familiar?? :wink: ) - and it was Bigsby who got Leo thinking about vibrato (whammy) bars, too. Leo’s strength was to take ideas he had worked out on his own or in conjunction with Bigsby (Leo did NOT rip him off - they were friends) and apply “design for manufacturability” concepts - which is why Tele’s, Strat’s and other Fender guitar can be used to pound nails and still be gig-worthy afterwards…

Les was a musician who happened to not be afraid of gadgets and experimenting - very different. He invented multi-tracking cause it sounded cool - but it took other folks, like engineer / producer Tom Dowd (if you haven’t seen Tom Dowd: The Language of Music, buy it - immediately - and thank me later) to take Les’ ideas and apply them in a commerical setting - Les invented this stuff for his own personal use - to make music - and didn’t really consider the commercial appeal. Leo took inventions that other folks came up with and figured out how to make 'em for the masses…

Sorry for geeking out on you…

I just have to second the recommendation for anybody who cares about recorded music to see the Tom Dowd thing. He was in on the ground floor of almost everybody who’s anybody in music:

an almost endless list

Excellent show. I loved every minute of it.

As the third in the triumverate of Those Who Made the Guitar What it is Today, let’s not forget Mel Bay. Without him we’d all be playing…um…I can’t imagine WHAT we’d be playing. His son was on the radio the other day and estimated they carry 3000 books, CDs, etc for various instruments. And half probably contain “Lightly Row.”

Most everything on PBS is about that good.

I really don’t think of Mel Bay that way at all, but am open to the possibility he was influential. The MB book were omnipresent, no doubt - but most of the copies I was personally aware of that I and my friends had collected dust. I got 'em given to me but basically thought of them as the gift equivalent of a package of t-shirts from grandma.

If you want to have a third Guitar Pioneer, I would go with Chuck Berry WAY before I’d go with Mel Bay. As John Lennon said “if Rock and Roll had another name, it would be ‘Chuck Berry’”…

Well, that sucks! I am sitting about 1000 feet from the control room of a PBS TV station, and I had no idea that it was on - two days ago.

The thing is, there’s more than you can do more with a guitar than play rock and roll, which should be evident from this thread. I see a lot of MB books at my local guitar shop, and some seem to be quite good, but his stuff seems to trend away from rock and more towards standard pop and jazz with some classical here and there. Additionally, IIRC from the last time I looked at his books, they are also geared more towards learning music in a traditional way, learning to read notation, and so on. This is definitely not well suited to the beginner who wants to pick up an electric guitar and learn to play rock and roll, since that genre doesn’t lend itself to standard notation in the first place.

You just can’t compare Chuck Berry and Mel Bay.

Sure you can. Mel is the one who tuned his guitar. :stuck_out_tongue:

In terms of who influenced more kids to pick up the guitar? Sure I can! Look - I love Les Paul - I can’t gush enough about him as a player. But he is who he is today because he experimented with multi-tracking, effects like echo and reverb and most importantly solid-body guitars - all of which have been critical to rock music’s popularity and hence the guitar. No one would discuss LP as more than a cool cat back in the day if his innovations didn’t influence rock the way it did.

Leo Fender - same thing. He was trying to build Country & Western guitars and went with the flow when rock took off. Buddy Holly? Jimi Hendrix? Rockers who played Fender guitars.

Chuck Berry was one of the first true guitar heroes in the current-usage rock definition. Let’s put it this way - if kids didn’t want to be like Chuck Berry, they wouldn’t have bought Mel Bay books…