Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chasing Sound

A couple of days ago the news headlines stated that Les Paul (b 1915) had passed away following complications of pneumonia. The leading news media, like New York Times a.o., had extensive and detailed obituaries published. Readers were left with the impression that a major figure in the guitar world had departed, references to Les Paul's achievements as an inventor of technical devices that today are common tools for the average guitarplayer as well as the professional musician were highlighted, of course. Further, his co-operation with the Gibson company and the invention and production of the Les Paul Special model electric guitar, made popular by contless guitar stars of rock'n'roll. Also Les Paul's career as a musician was mentioned, highlights being his trio recordings as a jazz guitar player in the 1930s and 1940's, his partnership with his second wife, Mary Ford, in the 1950s, a co-operation with Chet Atkins in the 1970s and later again his embracement of the pioneer generation of rock'n'roll guitar stars like Eric Clapton and Steve Miller a.o,, who have taken advantage of his technical inventions and knowhow that have had a major impact on the development of the modern electric guitar.

The world of entertainment has always swallowed up new gimmicks to get the attention of the public, but some times the presentation and publicity has forgotten to point out the actual background of a certain gimmick in favour of the sensation. The down-to-earth truth about the various inventions by Les Paul is stated straight forward, I think, in the title of the documentary about his career that was realesed a couple of years ago, 'Chasing Sound'. The development of a certain sound is crucial to be noticed as a musician among other musicians, and Les Paul has earlier stated that his various inventions were a natural part of his development as a creative musician - he had to invent things, because they were not around when needed to obtain a cetain result in the progress of a creative proces. Thus, for the creative artist tools and inventions are means, not ends. This point-of-view may often be forgotten when appraisals of a great inventor like Les Paul are published to celebrate a promoted and commercially successful tool like the Les Paul Special electric guitar. Anyway, here we'll concentrate on the musicianship of Les Paul, readers looking for further info on his career and technical inventions may have a look clicking here

Les Paul started his career already as a teenager playing guitar with country and Western groups, in the 1930s he had his breakthrough with his trio that made recordings 1936-39 and again, with new members, late 1940s, His trio-days repertoire was in the field of jazz and may be of special interest to readers of this blog. As a jazz guitar player Les Paul developed a style similar to the pioneer bop guitarists like Oscar Moore, i.e., and it is worth mentioning that some of his best work in this field are his recordings with JATP as a sideman of Nat King Cole, sitting in instead of Oscar Moore. However, Les Paul's own trio work is also worth mentioning, here's an entertaining film fragment of the trio's version of "Dark Eyes" including guest performance by comedian Sammy wolfe

In the 1950s Les Paul concentrated his career on the partnership with his wife, Mary Ford. Together they had success as recording artists of popular music with a special touch following Paul's invention of multi-track recording. Les Paul was the innovator of multi-track recording, where he would record at correct speed and accompany himself; he would then add double speed recording tracks of himself and combine them all; he also made multi-tracks of his wife Mary Ford singing along too. Here's a film fragment where the process is explained and shown with enjoyable examples included

The multi-track recording system invented by Les Paul had a major impact on the evolution of the record industry, the results achieved by Les Paul and Mary Ford were guidelines for both the industry and other artists as well. Here's an audio example of a popular multi-track recording, Les Paul & Mary Ford performing "Whispering"

In later days of his career Les Paul continued playing jazz guitar in a trio setting, here's an example from a concert performance of "Caravan"

One of Les Paul's last recorded public performances was made last year, to end this entry on a major figure in the development of modern guitar gimmicks enjoy his straight rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown" from a club date 2008


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