Les Paul would have celebrated his 103rd birthday on June 9. And for those of you who have played a Les Paul for years--perhaps you even own the magnificent 100th Anniversary Les Paul Custom Outfit
--and have wondered just who was
this fellow Mr. Les Paul, his discography is the best place to start.
For over half a century, Les was one of Epiphone's staunchest allies and friends. In the early 40s, Les took the first steps toward the pioneering design of what would become the Les Paul solid body guitar, an instrument that was dreamed, sketched, sawed, and pieced together in Epiphone's factory in New York. Nicknamed "The Log" and now residing in the Country Music Hall of Fame, "The Log" was the first in a series of homemade electric guitars that Les used to record dozens of pioneering hit records with his wife, Mary Ford.
Those records enchanted young listeners (and future musicians) everywhere in the U.S. and in England. And for more than half a century, Les' guitar and his superbly engineered multi-track recordings have influenced every aspect of the music industry.
If you are new to the story of Les Paul, check out some of these highlights from the early part of Les' career which will set you straight on why Jeff Beck, Slash, Keith Richards, and so many others sing the praises of the Wizard of Waukesha. And check out our feature Les Paul: The Wizard In His Own Words
which includes exclusive never-before-heard interviews with Les on creating "The Log," his friendship with the Stathopoulo family, and his early days in New York.
How Hight the Moon:
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 into 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.
"I was looking for volume, tone, and sustain that could be controlled, still chasing the idea that started with stretching a guitar string over a section of railroad rail," Les remembered in Les Paul, In His Own Words, "The thing that grabbed me about the early experiment was how the string vibrated and sustained almost indefinitely when anchored to the solidity of the steel rail, with no feedback whatsoever."
Perhaps even a wilder ride than "How High the Moon," "Tiger Rag" stretches the multi-tracking to the limit. That tiger is still out there.
Deep In the Blues
One of Les' more laid back instrumentals without the frantic leaps with soulful runs deeply routed--as the title suggests--in Les' love and respect for the blues.
Bye Bye Blues
In the early days of Les and Mary's career, no one was making multi-channel recordings let alone louder records. Before Elvis, the couple had the field of sound all to themselves.
Vaya Con Dios
Les and Mary Ford performed this #1 hit in 1956 at the White House. It was their last big single before Rock 'n' Roll took over the Hit Parade charts.
World Is Waiting for the Sunrise
One of Mary's most spectacular vocals and an equally spectacular performance by Les, once again playing all the parts on guitar and even getting a bit of distortion on the record as well.
Wanna By A Record
Though Les and Mary make only a brief appearance, this behind-the-scenes film made by Capitol Records in 1951 is a must-see as host Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and all of the Looney Tunes characters, and featured future Sinatra arranger Billy May as the bum in-need of a record, take us behind the scenes of the first Capitol Records offices near Sunset and Vine. But that's only the beginning. Mel not only takes you inside to see the swank 1950s offices (and many of the great Capitol staff including future Buck Owens and Merle Haggard producer Ken Nelson) but also lead us to the original Capitol studios on Melrose in the old RKO building to peak-in on sessions by Jimmy Wakely (playing an unknown Epiphone archtop), Bozo ("get away from me, you clown") and Dean Martin. Epiphone's Godfather Les Paul ("Boy, you've been eatin'!") and Mary Ford make a great cameo. Les was one of Capitol's biggest stars at the time with a revitalized Frank Sinatra soon to overtake him on the charts.
It's Been A Long, Long Time
Recorded with the Les Paul Trio, Bing Crosby's post-war classic put in music what so few servicemen and women were able to words after the end of a long and shattering war. Les's beautiful solo would influence rock, pop, and country artists for decades.
Les Paul In Concert
Occasionally film and sound come together at just the right moment to capture an incredible performance. Here is Les live, ready to roar back into the spotlight and backed by a very observant and finely grooving drummer.
Chasing Sound is one of the best documentaries on Les. Made with his cooperation and encouragement, Part One will surely inspire you to check out the complete version which covers Les' early days in Chicago to inventing "The Log" at the Epiphone factory in Manhattan and on to fame and fortune in Hollywood before returning to his home in New Jersey where he lived for rest of his life.