Les Paul

Les Paul

19152009


He 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 not to mention the primary architect of the solid-body guitar...

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 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 see.

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.

"I started 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 house."

So Paul's decision wiggled itself down to guitar "and when I got that guitar, that was it

Just 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.

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