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Saluting Les Paul

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Les Paul. The name immediately conjures up images of legendary musicians such as David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Brian May, Tony Iommi, Zakk Wylde, Joe Perry etc, all remarkable guitarists who have changed the course of music and the way we look at it. The music, of course, may be immortal but sadly, the man, Lester William Polsfuss, the master musician and brilliant inventor of the Les Paul guitar, was not. He passed away on August 13th, 2009, at the ripe age of 94, having lived through 2 World Wars, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Flower Power Revolution and all the other great historic events of our time.

For those born after the 60’s, the Les Paul brought to mind infamous role models of bad behavior. Ace Frehley strutted around the stage with Kiss, dressed as the Spaceman with a Les Paul in his hand and Slash was always found with a cigarette in his mouth, a bottle in his hand and a Les Paul around his neck. But the man, Lester Williams was anything but that. One half of the music duo Les Paul & Mary Ford, a true entertainer and an honest and humble man, Les Paul was almost completely responsible for changing the music industry as we know it. Right from inventing layering and overdubbing to delay pedals and so much more, he changed the world of music as we know at, and influenced a million young musicians while he was at it.

Given below are excerpts from interviews and blogs by Alex Skolnick (Testament, ex Savatage) and Slash (Velvet Revolver, ex Guns N Roses) about the passing of this legend.

Alex Skolnick

“I had the fortune of hearing Les four times in my life. Two of those times, I waited in line to meet Les, after a show. The first time, I had him sign my Les Paul CD box set and the second time, I had him sign the ‘gold top,’ which had been recently acquired. He wasn’t aware of who I was but I didn’t care. I was happy just to be a fan. Like the main character in Erica Jong’s novel ‘Fanny’ who says ‘Persons of superior character treat everyone with similar good humor,’ Les treated everyone with equal respect. Good humor was a large part of who he was.

On stage and in the autograph line, he would talk about his playing and inventions like comedy stories, never losing his good will and sense of humor. Yet these creations, which he talked about as if he’d come up with a new trash can lid, included multitracking, delay, reverb and the solid body guitar, totally changing the fields of audio and music as we know it.

Les put the concept of ‘retirement’ to shame, proving that if you love what you do, there is no need for it. He saw retirement as premature death and stayed fully alive until it was truly time to go. We should all look to Les as an example, not just as someone who maximized his talents and creativity but someone who lived life to the fullest as well. While it is always sad to see a life lost, in Les’ case, it is truly a life worth celebrating.”

Slash

Erin Broadley of L.A. Weekly spoke to Slash about the passing of guitar legend Les Paul. An excerpt follows below.

“I just had a gig with him at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few months ago, a tribute to Les Paul, where a dozen guitar players all got together and jammed and then Les played at the end of the show. It was really one of those special events where some phenomenal guitar players got together and each one of them did their own little show, including myself… It was another humbling experience… And when all that was done, Les got up there. And this is only a few months ago, so at 94 years old he gets up there and makes jokes into the microphone and has his whole band with him and fuckin’ plays phenomenally. For the last 60 years he’s had this major influence on guitar playing and the recording industry. So there he is, this little guy, so fuckin’ full of life and vibrant and doesn’t seem 94 years old, jamming out to this huge audience. It was really a special moment… It’s hard for me to verbally explain it. Les was the kind of guy that anytime you were in his presence, he was always very upbeat, always cracking jokes, always making comments about the women present…

The fact that he took a liking to me and took me under his wing was a huge honor. We always talked on the phone and that kind of stuff. It was special. It’s important for kids to know who Les was because when I first started playing, I thought Les Paul was the name of a guitar. I didn’t know it was a real person until I learned from guys like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Obviously from that point on I researched and then finally got to meet him. Kids nowadays don’t even really know that kind of history but it’s important to have an understanding of that delay pedal that you’re using and where the original concept came from. Whenever you hear guitar harmonies recorded, like Brian May used to record harmonies on all of Queen’s records, that was all Les Paul stuff. He invented the technique where you could layer guitars. Before that people just had to play live and that was it.”

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