Most of the world knows, or is finding out about the passing of Les Paul.
And most are finding out for the first time what us musicians have known for a very very long time… that Les Paul singlehandedly changed the face of music forever. Among his accomplishments are that of overdubbing, multitracking, reverb and much much much much more.
There is NO way to overestimate his influence.
I grew up with recording studios in my life, and have been both overdubbing and multitracking since about age 10 – so his accomplishments have particular significance for me personally.
In the early 1980s, my father called me and said he’d be doing some backing vocal work at a “40’s in the 80’s” concert – he was backing up folks along the lines of Keely Smith – and he asked if I wanted to go. I took him up on it.
So there I was, all of 18 or 19, wandering around the cinder-block halls backstage before the concert started – and I happened past a small, dimly-fluorescent-lit room. There, with his back to me, was a lone little man moving something around in a case. I stopped and looked for a moment – and as it became clear what he was taking out of the case, it also became clear that this was Les Paul – and what he was taking out of the case was one of his “logs”.
Talking with my father a couple minutes later – I mentioned it to him, and said that it was not unlike catching a glimpse of Santa Claus – we’re talking about a legend here.
Well later on, folks were taking pictures backstage – and my Dad mentioned to Les that I wanted a picture – which he was happy to take with me:
Les Paul and Mark Marshall - early 80's
Now I wasn’t hamming it up for the picture… Les would link his arm in yours, and say “now take out your air guitar…” If the picture were wide enough, you’d see that he had his out too.
Before we left that day – I asked Les for an autograph. Well, unbeknownst to me, my father had told him about my Santa Claus comment. Imagine my surprise when Les handed me the autograph:
I prize it to this day.
Over a decade later, I had the good fortune to meet Les once again – and this time, just two men – no air guitars:
Both times, he was incredibly sweet.
But this was the most remarkable thing to me – besides his many many innovations, and his good cheer… here’s how much the guitar meant to him (from Wikipedia):
“In January 1948, Paul was injured in a near-fatal automobile accident in Oklahoma, which shattered his right arm and elbow. Doctors told Paul that there was no way for them to rebuild his elbow in a way that would let him regain movement, and that his arm would remain in whatever position they placed it in permanently. Paul then instructed the surgeons to set his arm at an angle that would allow him to cradle and pick the guitar. It took him a year and a half to recover.”
THAT’s how much Les loved guitar.
There’s that great line from the Bob Seger song – “all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks.” No doubt – but countless numbers of them are doing it on Les Paul guitars. And they are able to record it because of this remarkable man.
I can’t in any way mourn his passing… he led what anyone would consider a truly amazing life, and did what he loved to do right ’til the end. He played guitar.