R.I.P. Les Paul. One of the great innovators in the history of popular music, Paul (born Lester Polfuss) did not invent the electric guitar as many people think, but he refined its design and made it into an instrument with a much broader range of sonic possibilities than it had previously had. He was also remarkably inventive in his use of recorded sound, pioneering multitrack recording techniques years before they became standard practice in the music industry, and making some of the great instrumental guitar records in the process. Until his death he had been playing every Monday night at the Iridium nightclub in Manhattan, and I had the honor of being the keynote speaker last November at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's American Music Masters conference honoring Paul's legacy (this due to my having written a lengthy chapter on Paul in my first book, Instruments of Desire). It wasn't clear that Paul would be well enough to attend that event, but he not only attended, he participated in a great Q&A with the audience and then played a nice 20 minute set with his current group at the big tribute concert, where he stole the show with his endearing, dirty-old-man wit.
In the obituary for Paul posted on the PBS Newshour website, they include an excerpt from an interview I did with Jim Lehrer back in 2000 when Instruments of Desire came out. My effort to replicate the first few bars of Paul's "How High the Moon" is pretty weak but otherwise I think it holds up:
Queer Sects and Royal Vets
6 years ago