Sixty-four years ago this week in 1951, everything turned around for our Epi electric Godfather Les Paul when his revolutionary remake of "How High the Moon" went to #1 on the Billboard singles chart. Part pop, part jazz, part country, and all out-of-this-world, "How High the Moon" featured Les' dizzying overdubbed guitar parts and Mary Ford's supersonic harmonies, all cut live to disc on a cutting lathe powered by a Cadillac flywheel in Les' garage in Hollywood.
When the record was finally released, it drove adult guitar players--and a whole lot of kids--bonkers. And when we say "kids" we mean kids like Jeff Beck, George Harrison, and Jimmy Page. With its Django-inspired runs and primordial rock n' roll attitude, "How High the Moon" announced the 50s with all the gumption of Daffy Duck bursting through a boardroom full of dull executives and yelling, "All right you wise guys--get a load of this!"
You might be surprised to hear that even though the "Les Paul"
solid body electric guitar made its debut shortly after this mammoth hit, Les himself preferred recording with his Epiphone "Log," the Frankenstein-ish hybrid of Epiphone and Gibson parts he first started assembling at night at the Epiphone factory in New York in the 40s with Epi Stathopoulo's blessing. The "Log" would remain Les's main guitar for all the big hits to follow.
It would be a stretch for most young musicians working today to really appreciate how revolutionary "How High the Moon" was at the time. Today, there are no limits to the amount of tracks one can use in the studio. But, think of it this way: the very fact that a lot of readers have a studio in their home that rivals (in flexibility at least) what The Beatles had, is thanks to one man: Les Paul.
"How High the Moon" was only one of many revolutionary records of the 50s (Sam Phillips and Sun Records would have most of the others). But if Elvis Presley was the greatest cultural phenomenon of the 50s, Les can take the credit for turning on the stove and getting the kids worked up for something new. And just How High is
the Moon? Daddy-O, it's way, way up there.