Guitar Legend Les Paul Dies at 94
Guitar legend Les Paul has died due to complications from pneumonia. In addition to an incredibly successful recording -- both as a solo artist and with his wife, Mary Ford -- Paul is best known as the inventor of the electric guitar and multitrack recording. He was 94.
Born Lester William Polsfuss (later Polfus) on June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, Wis., Paul was a natural musician, playing harmonica and guitar. After breaking in on Chicago radio, Paul moved to New York, where he played with Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum and Charlie Christian, the jazz guitarist who played a hollow-body instrument with a pickup. In the early '30s, Paul built his own pickup from radio and telephone parts. By 1941, he had designed his prototypical solid-body guitar with a bridge, neck and pickup attached to a slab of 4x4 fencepost. He called it "The Log."
After serving in the military during World War II, he settled in Los Angeles, where he built a home studio sponsored by Bing Crosby, whom Paul would accompany on 'It's Been a Long, Long Time,' a No. 1 hit in 1945. He began experimenting with a crude form of multitrack recording, using wax disks to add layers of his own self-accompaniment. In 1948, he convinced Capitol Records to release a single using this technique, 'Lover,' which reached No. 21. Despite suffering a near-fatal car accident in 1948, he recorded 13 more solo Top 40 instrumentals through 1953.
In late 1950, Paul released 'Tennessee Waltz,' his first of several big hits with his new bride and duet partner, the singer Mary Ford. Another single, 'How High the Moon,' was a major success, holding at No. 1 for nine weeks. Gibson introduced its Les Paul model guitar in 1952, which quickly became known for its "fat" tone and live pickup, characteristics that distinguished it from Leo Fender's competing guitars. Other than a brief falling-out in the 1960s, Paul's endorsement of Gibson products continued through the rest of his life.
With their run of chart success over, Paul and Ford divorced in 1963 (Ford, born Colleen Summers, died in 1977). Paul effectively dropped out of the public eye, reappearing with a pair of albums with his old friend, Chet Atkins, in the 1970s. A television documentary called 'The Wizard of Waukesha' helped revive interest in Paul's career, and in 1984, he began a long-running, star-studded weekly residency in New York City. He received the Grammy Trustees Award in 1983 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence in 1988.
Without Paul's remarkable achievements, Keith Richards once said, "generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets." Paul's signature Gibson guitar has been the favored instrument of Slash, Jimmy Page, Billie Joe Armstrong and countless other rock musicians.
According to the Associated Press, Paul passed away at White Plains Hospital surrounded by family and friends. A private funeral will be held soon in New York, with a public memorial likely happening soon.
Rock 'n' roll icon Les Paul passed away at the age of 94 in New York.
His innovations redefined the sound of music history, one decibel at a time.
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