August 13, 2009

Les Paul, "Wizard of Wah-KESH-ah, Wisconsin..."

That's WAH-ki-shah — Waukesha — Wisconsin.

And goodbye to the great, great guitarist, Les Paul, who lived a long time and died yesterday, at the age of 94.
He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s....

“Honestly, I never strove to be an Edison... The only reason I invented these things was because I didn’t have them and neither did anyone else. I had no choice, really.”
AND: Here's an episode their 5-minute TV show from 1953:

Topics for discussion:

1. The racial politics of the song choice — "Alabamy Bound" and "Darktown Strutters Ball" — by 2 absurdly domestic white people.

2. The sexual politics of that husband-and-wife scene.

3. The sexual things that crossed your mind when you heard the line — in the commercial — "Sometimes it takes more than that to thaw out a husband."


save_the_rustbelt said...

I was in Nashville last week with my son, and we visited some incredible guitar stores (junior is the talent).

Amazing guitars (wish I had talent).

Paul said...

A great musician, inventor, and a great man. Truly an American icon.

RIP Les Paul.

chickenlittle said...

The Gibson Les Paul guitar is a rock 'n' roll icon.

RIP Les Paul

Original Mike said...

I was watching Mystery (PBS) many years ago. The story was set in England. A character showed up at the estate, saying he was from Wah-KISH-ha, Wisconsin. I'm thinking Wah-KISH-ha? Wah-KISH-ha? Where the heck is Wah-KISH-ha?

Then the guy makes reference to a story he had read in the Milwaukee Journal. {click} OH! {slaps forehead} He's from WAH-ki-shaw!

Richard Dolan said...

During a recent visit to Milwaukee, I took my youngest daughter to the Discovery Museum (a science-y showcase of sorts), and came across a long, vaguely interactive exhibit about Les Paul and his guitar wizardry. The Wisconsin folks who put it together were much taken by him. Not without reason, either, from what I could tell.

rdkraus said...

Years ago (30?), I went to Sam Ash in Paramus to (do something, who remembers? - maybe buy guitar strings), and Les Paul was there playing in front of, oh, maybe 10-15 people.

I asked who he was, and they told me. Even though I played the guitar, and knew what a Les Paul was (way out of my price range then), I didn't know there was a person named Les Paul. He was showing some of his new gizmos, and, of course, a Les Paul.

Oh yeah, he was amazing in person. I just stood there, maybe ten feet from him, and watched in awe. Not my type of music really, but, as a guitarist, you had to be impressed, that's impressed with a capital I.

He seemed pretty old back then, but, I think he's been playing weekly in NY until just recently.

The Crack Emcee said...

The fact that people, generally, have no idea who this great man was (or who most of the great men were) is all the proof I need that their god-worship is the ultimate sign of their overwhelming ignorance.

Oh yes, they know all about that,...but not The Macho Response

garage mahal said...

That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

ricpic said...

I don't know how he did it but he made his wife and himself, just the two of them, sound like 6 or 8 voices (and instruments). Some kind of echo effect, I guess.

MadisonMan said...

How can a person writing or reading a bio-type story NOT know how to pronounce a hometown name?


Greg Toombs said...

heh! Double heh!

garagemahal meets waterloo, loses, proves TCE's point.

An own-goal.

Greg Toombs said...

ricpic , one of Les Paul's innovations was the multi-track recording process.

Bissage said...

Les Paul was a great performer, a visionary, and his influence on popular music is incalculable.

But only a lucky few ever got invited to one of his intimate backstage parties to shed tears of delight as Mr. Paul would prepare and serve four tall glasses of iced tea using nothing but his erect penis.

To a young wannabe guitarist and penis-performer, such as myself, he was nothing less than a god.

RIP, Les Paul.

vnjagvet said...

Not only was Les Paul a great guitar player and inventor, but one of the great innovators in the popular recording industry.

He conceived, developed and perfected multitrack recording. Without it, many of our popular music stars would never have made the big time.

The Les Paul Mary Ford recording of The World is Waiting For The Sunrise (music by actor Eugene Lockhart, the father of June Lockhart) uses it to great advantage. That recording is also one of the first to feature reverb (distortion) on the electric guitar. Which all of the greats (Hendrix, Clapton, etc., etc.) used to great effect.

vnjagvet said...

I was writing and researching while Ric and Greg were writing. Sorry for the repetition

Ralph L said...

There's something racial about "Alabamy?" Only if you're bound there for some Mandingo action.

garage mahal said...

garagemahal meets waterloo, loses, proves TCE's point.

Maybe you could translate.

ricpic said...

Without Bissage the whole gnostic* approach to people and events would be lost.

*Is that the correct use of gnostic? Damned if I know.

David said...

Ok, I'll go to Althouse's suggested topics.

Mostly my thought was "lame!" Horrible writing. I suspect Les and Mary may actually have had senses of humor and personalities, but the writers managed to obliterate that.

As to the racial angle, I grew up in Pittsburgh where we had a big Stephen Foster memorial, so I know that kind of thing was commonplace in those days. They sure are boringly white in those clips, but remember that Les had the chops to keep up with Louis Armstrong.

traditionalguy said...

Thawing out (or was that Throwing out)frozen husbands may be another one of those U. of Wisconsin courses not taught to out siders until they marry a Wisconsin resident. Maybe it is like coming in with frozen stick them in the toilet and flush it, but do it head first.

Ralph L said...

They sure are boringly white
It's called "wholesome." If you're under 40, you've probably never heard of it.

Of course, in real life, he was standing on his head at parties, stirring ice tea with his dick.

"Linyboom" The real estate market in the Hamptons before 2008.

Tibore said...

Wow. If you're a guitar player, this hits home. Les Paul was a huge figure in the guitar world. People across many, many different musical styles, from jazz, to blues, rock/hard rock/metal, country, rockabilly, etc.... you name the genre, he's influenced artists in it.

RIP to a great, great man.

Roger J. said...

Your discussion topics are really lame and tasteless; have the common decency to give the man the respect he deserves in death. Really tacky professor--really tacky--it really is all about you.

Les Paul and Chet Adkins made the guitar what it is today in American music--RIP Les Paul.

Paul said...

"That recording is also one of the first to feature reverb (distortion) on the electric guitar. Which all of the greats (Hendrix, Clapton, etc., etc.) used to great effect."

No, sorry. Les Paul used multiple playback heads on a tape recorder to produce echos.

Reverb is the mix of reflections you hear in a hall or room. It can be simulated with springs or plates (or digital processing now).

Distortion is the sound you get when you overdrive an amplifier stage so that the tubes or transistors clip and introduce extra harmonic content not present in the input signal.

Think surf guitar for reverb and hard rock like AC DC or Van Halen for distortion.

traditionalguy said...

Les Paul and Mary Ford was a wholesome duet in the days when people liked each other's voices and each other's company.It is sad to realize that they are gone forever and their simple music replaced by the music of drugged out hard rock singers.

elHombre said...

The first record I remember owning was a 78 rpm of "Nola" by Les Paul.

Thanks, Les.

NKVD said...

Yep, nothing says respect more than misspelling Chet Atkins last name, nimrod.

vnjagvet said...
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vnjagvet said...
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vnjagvet said...


WIki is wrong then (won't be the first time):

A version made for Capitol in 1949 by guitarists Les Paul and Mary Ford was a million-seller. The Beatles recorded a home version on a Grundig tape recorder, sometime in the late 1950s, before they got famous. The Beatles version featured guitars by Harrison and Lennon and vocals from Paul McCartney. Canadian jazz musicians to record the song include Bert Niosi (1946), Peter Appleyard (1957), Ed Bickert (1979), and Oscar Peterson (1980).

Les Paul's version was one of the first electric guitar recordings to feature distortion.

From hearing Clapton and some of the other great guitarists talk about him, I understood that Paul was the consummate technician who could do about everything that could be done on a guitar before anyone else even thought about it.

The Crack Emcee said...

Hey TG,

While I generally agree with you on this, let's not get carried away with knocking "drugged out hard rock singers".

I am one.

traditionalguy said...

Sorry Crack. I have never met a drugged out hard rocker that I did not like. It's the sounds of their Electric Guitars that scramble my head too much. To each their own.

Penny said...

"To a young wannabe guitarist and penis-performer, such as myself, he was nothing less than a god."

But Bissage?

At least a few of your fans would prefer to know if he was a good teacher?

What say you, grasshopper?

Bissage said...

Alas, Penny, I never had the good fortune to learn at the feet of the master. However, years ago I was lucky enough to bump into Carl Weathers, at a bus stop, and he gave me a one-on-one lesson for only $35, which by funny coincidence was the exact amount of cash I happened to be carrying with me at the time.

Mr. Weathers taught me the double-stop bend, pinch harmonics and sweep picking.

He also taught me some tricks on the guitar.

It saddens me to tell you that I’m not much of a penis-performer. I can balance a soup ladle while using the TV remote, and sometimes, on a good day, I can flip a coin but that’s about it.

Fortunately, Mrs. Bissage married me for my money.

William said...

He came from a more innocent era. No one ever conjectured that his early hit "How High the Moon" had a hidden drug message.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Yeah, that mouthwash commercial is out-of-hand and creepy. Seems so incongruous when juxtaposed with the actual music.

In my view, multitrack recording totally changed the way recorded music is made, so Paul's contribution goes far beyond the things he did for the development of the guitar.