[Les Paul (1915-2009)]

Celebrating the Life of Les Paul (1915-2009)

Image:Les_Paulbw.jpg Les Paul

Born Lester William Polsfuss June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, WI; died August 13, 2009, in White Plains, NY

Performer. Inventor. Recording engineer. Songwriter. Pop star. These were some of the titles that Les Paul held in his long life.

His name has long been synonymous with the electric guitars that have been released with his name by Gibson since 1952, and while he was not the sole inventor of the modern solid body guitar it is he who certainly was instrumental in making it popular. His true innovation is centered on his groundbreaking work with multi-track recording in the 1940s.

As a musician, he first started out on harmonica at the age of eight. He picked up the guitar in his early teens and dropped out of high school to pursue music as a career. Early on he was a country guitarists who went by the stage name of Rhubarb Red, and became popular enough to perform at Chicago’s World Fair in 1933. When that fair ended, he landed himself two radio gigs: in the morning he played as Rhubarb Red, western guitarist, and in the afternoon he played jazz using his new name, Les Paul.

He married Colleen Summers, a performer in Gene Autry’s band, in 1949. This was not long after they had been in a major car accident that left him with a crushed right arm, and it is amazing that Paul was able to play at all afterwards. The doctors had wanted to amputate his arm, but Paul refused, and had the doctors place that arm at an angle held in place with screws so that he could still play. He and Summers, newly-named Mary Ford for publicity purposes, had their own television show that aired for seven years in the 1950s. The two of them had more that three-dozen hits including 1951’s “How High the Moon” and 1953’s “Vaya Con Dios.”

His 2005 album, “American Made World Played,” won two Grammies. While this was his first new recording in 27 years, he had been performing weekly concerts at small clubs in New York City since the early 1980s. He was still performing weekly performances at New York’s Iridium until early June, and had been joined by guests while using one of his own customized guitars.

The Albums

Selected CDs from the library's collection Find more library CDs like these
Warm and Wonderful/Swingin' South!! by Les Paul and Mary Ford.
CD 31311  Check Availability
Image:Cd31311.jpg‎ These two albums, originally released in 1962 and 1963, were the couple's last recordings together. The former is a collection of standards while the latter is back to back to country with a touch of rock and roll.
More about this album: AllMusic.jpg
The Guitar Artistry of Les Paul
CD 6359  Check Availability
Image:Guitarartistry.jpg‎ Les Paul along with his trio perform: Begin the beguine * Sweet Leilani * Dark eyes * My isle of golden dreams * Guitar boogie * Blue skies * To you sweetheart aloha * Dream dust * Hawaiian paradise * Steel guiart rag.
More about this album: AllMusic.jpg


American Made World Played by Les Paul and Friends
CD 26906  Check Availability
Image:Cd26906.jpg From the publisher: At the age of 90, Les Paul issued a classic rock guitar version of the Frank Sinatra Duets projects ..The list of guitarists [included] -- Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Rick Derringer, Peter Frampton, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Buddy Guy, Steve Miller, Joe Perry, Keith Richards, Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, Neal Schon, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
More about this album: AllMusic.jpg
Chester & Lester by Chet Atkins and Les Paul
CD 31302  Check Availability
Image:Cd31302.jpg Country guitar legend Chet Atkins joined forces with Les Paul on this album, originally released in 1977. The tunes are familiar jazz standards, and they are played with a Nashville accent.
More about this album: AllMusic.jpg

Bye Bye Blues by Les Paul and Mary Ford
CD 31312  Check Availability
Image:Cd31312.jpg From the publisher: By 1952, Les Paul was already thinking in terms of album concepts; hence this often-soulful collection of genuine blues, or songs with blues in their titles.
More about this album: AllMusic.jpg

Scores, Books and Magazine Articles

Selected Items from the library's collection Find more library Items like these
Best of Les Paul (music transcriptions)
MP126.P39 B4  Check Availability
Image:BestofLesPaul.jpg From the publisher: This collection gathers 16 of [Les Paul's] classics transcribed note-for-note, including: Blue Skies * Caravan * Dark Eyes * Guitar Boogie Shuffle * Honeysuckle Rose * How High the Moon * I've Found a New Baby (I Found a New Baby) * In the Good Old Summertime and more.
Les Paul and Mary Ford Song Folio
MP1630.P39 L46 1951  Check Availability
Image:DummyCover.jpg‎ From the publisher: Principally for voice and piano with added chord symbols for ukulele. At sundown * Chicken reel * Darktown strutters' ball * Goofus * Hot lips * I'm a ding dong daddy (from Dumas) * Ja-da * Toot, toot, Tootsie * Turkey in the straw * Wabash blues * Wang wang blues and more.

Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy, 1915-1963
ML1015.G9 L38 2008  Check Availability
Image:LespaulLegacy.jpg From the publisher: Journey through the career of musical giant, milestone guitarist, and recording innovator Les Paul, and marvel at the world of cutting-edge guitar design!
More about this book: Googlebooksearch2.jpg

Million Dollar Les Paul: in Search of the Most Valuable Guitar in the World
ML1015.G9 B33 2008  Check Availability
Image:Milliondollarlespaul.JPG From the publisher: [The book] begins with the "Les Paul Primer," documenting the guitar's brief production period from 1958 to 1960. He then profiles and interviews everyone from the man who inspired it, Les Paul, to dealers, collectors, forgers, roadies, and, of course, major players like Stephen Stills, Duane Allman, and Jimmy Page.
More about this book: Googlebooksearch2.jpg

Les Paul: In His Own Words
ML419 .P39 A3 2008  Check Availability
Image:Lespaulinhis.JPG From the publisher: Nonstop experiments in his homemade recording studio led to the invention of sound-on-sound, multi-track recording, echo, and a host of other discoveries that revolutionized the recording industry. He truly is the man who changed the music, and now, Les Paul tells the whole story as only he could, in his own words.
More about this book: Googlebooksearch2.jpg

Performing Musician
Periodicals  Check Availability
Image:PerformingMusician.jpg Wingate, Jonathan. "Les Paul: Musician, inventor, legend - the final interview." Performing Musician Oct. 2009: 26-37.

Click below to read a preview of this article and stop by the library to read the entire article in the current issue of Performing Musician.


Guitar Player
Periodicals  Check Availability
Image:Guitarplayermag_2009.jpg Gress, Jesse. "Lessons: 10 Things You Gotta Do to Play Like Les Paul." Guitar Player 43:6 June 2009: 86-94.

Click below to see full text of this article, available from the database International Index to Music Periodical. The entire issue is available to browse at your leisure in the library.