was without exaggeration the single most important person in the history
of modern recording technology. The inventor of multitrack recording, the
mobile recording studio, basic gear for reverb/echo and other effects,
the bass guitar, even ÐÐ not to mention the primary architect of the
Well, to find one's
self chatting on the phone with Les Paul was a little bit like talking to
God. He was there at the beginning, and he changed everything. And at 90
years old, he showed no sign of slowing down.
"I think it's a good idea to
keep working and having something to get out of bed to do," he said,
chuckling. "No matter what your age, you just have to keep going,
and be enjoying it."
He'd enjoyed it since
his boyhood days in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Twin curiosities about all
things musical and mechanical seemed to run in his blood.
"When I first
recognized that I had any kind of musical ability, I had to be around 5-6
years old, and I was pounding on boards that separated the stairway from
the living room. Those boards started out long, and they got smaller and
smaller and smaller. And when mother would send me to bed, I would bang
on those boards, and I could play all kinds of different songs ÐÐ except
for one note, and that one board I had to shave down a little bit."
So he got some
varnish and sandpaper and tuned that board. It was slightly sharp, you
Not yet having a lot
of musical instruments per se at his disposal, young Les grabbed most
anything he could get his hands on, including the harmonica, which would
prove to be the ax that got him his foot in the showbiz door.
harmonica, and my mother grabbed it and said, `You don't play this thing
until I boil it!'" He laughed. "I played the blues on that
thing, and that got me through school and started me on my way."
Les could sing a
little bit, too, and he considered carefully which instrument would be
best to go along with that.
"I had to have
something to accompany me with," he said. "But with the piano I
had my back turned to the people, and they don't have a piano everywhere;
and I tried an accordion, but mother wouldn't let it leave the
So Paul's decision
wiggled itself down to guitar ÐÐ "and when I got that guitar, that
outside of Waukesha is a place called Bertie's Corners, which is halfway
between Waukesha and Milwaukee. The carrot-topped Les played his first
professional gigs (as "Rhubarb Red") at a little roadhouse
barbecue stand there, on a custom PA system jerryrigged from his mother's
radio, hooked up to a telephone mike.