Les Paul was far more than a musician, though he was later described by Time magazine as one of the ten great guitarists of all time. Not content with one instrument, he invented a holder for the harmonica which allowed him to play both instruments at once. The device is still manufactured today. The desire to accompany himself would lead to a permanent change in the way music is made and sold. When he was thirteen Les Paul was already a country singer and guitarist, by the time he was seventeen he was ready to go pro; he joined Wolverton’s Radio Band in St Louis and began a career in radio. In 1936 his first recordings were released and he began to play jazz, his role model? Who else but Django Reinhardt.
In 1945 Paul met his long time hero Django Rheinhardt when Django came to the USA to tour. They met again, in Paris, and Paul travelled back to France after Django’s death. Once again Paul had the notion of accompanying himself, so he modified the recorder, added another recording head and was able to record once, then play along wit the recording, resulting in a mix of the two. The second recording destroyed the first, a process called sounds on sound, but the idea for multi-track recording was born. Then in 1948 disaster struck. Paul was involved in a road accident which damaged his right arm. Doctors said the arm would remain in whatever position they set it since they were not able to rebuild it properly. Paul had them set it so he could hold and pick his guitar. Like his hero, Rheinhardt, it took Les Paul a long time to recover, but he continued to play.
With his new wife, Mary Ford, he went on to greater and greater success. From 1951 to 1956 they had a string of 14 hits with a sound which was unique for the time as, using sound on sound, it featured Mary harmonizing with herself. The les paul Show hit radio in 1950 on NBC, and later moved to television and about this time Gibson approached Paul with the design of their electric guitar. No one will ever be sure just how much of the design was contributed by Paul, but he agreed to endorse the guitar which from that point on was known as the slash Les Paul.
The late 1950′s saw the rise of rock’n'roll, but Paul was not a rock musician. The couple’s popularity dwindled and they divorced in 1962. In 1965 Les Paul went into semi-retirement, but that wasn’t the end. In the late 80′s Paul was back, working again despite arthritis and other health problems. In 2006, aged 90, his album ‘Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played’ won two Grammys. For his 90th birthday, a tribute concert was held at Carnegie Hall. Paul continued to perform every Monday night at the Iridium Club on Broadway until his death on August 21st, 2009.
How will Les Paul (http://www.eternalguitar.com/W-187-Slash+Les+Paul.html) be remembered? Somehow ‘Father of the Electric Guitar’ doesn’t seem to cover it. From the classic guitar model which bears his name, to his many wonderful recordings, his inspired guitar playing, and perhaps, more than anything else, his invention of multi-track recording, Les Paul is the man who changed the music world.