To many musicians, the name Les Paul means “a Les Paul”, which is a line of electric guitars made by Gibson. Handsome things they are – that’s one below – and played by many of the greats. But first came the man Les Paul. He didn’t quite invent the electric guitar but was one of its most important pioneers, and he was also one of the finest players ever to break a string on any guitar, electric or not.
His real name was Lester Polsfuss, and he was born in 1915 in Wisconson. Les Paul was a gifted multi-instrumentalist, but it was the guitar which became his instrument, inspired by the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. Paul became a successful musician in country, jazz and many other styles during the 1930s and 1940s, and played with the cream of American popular music, including Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.
Paul also loved tinkering. Along with making major improvements to the electric guitar, he was the inventor of the neck-worn harmonica holder, and also developed new techniques for recording, including multi-tracking. In the 1950s had a string of hits on which involved Paul played multiple guitar parts, and with his wife, vocalist Mary Ford, harmonised to her own vocals.
There was nothing of the gimmick about this. The results are magic. Have a listen to this track, “Cimarron”. (The name refers to a river, a tributary of the Arkansas.) Released in 1955, this disc is a 78 rpm record, but made from the new vinyl rather than the usual shellac. It is a curious blend of tradition and new technology, appropriate to such an inventive man.
- Artist: Les Paul and Mary Ford
- Title: Cimarron (Roll On)
- Format: 10” vinyl disc, 78rpm
- Label: Capitol
- Catalogue: 3444
- Manufactured in: California
- Year: 1955
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