Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 19:26 UK

Obituary: Les Paul

Les Paul
Les Paul created his first electric guitar in 1941

The sound of the Les Paul electric guitar permeates every musical genre.

From punk to pop, reggae to rock, the iconic guitar has been played and revered by many top musicians, including Eric Clapton, Slash, Steve Jones and the Edge.

But the influence of Les Paul, the man, stretches further than the distinctive sound and curve of his iconic instrument.

Announcing his death, a spokesperson from Gibson, producer of the guitar, called Mr Paul "one of the foremost influences on 20th-Century sound".

Mr Paul pioneered the shift from acoustic to electric guitar and invented multi-track recording, as well as having a string of hits himself.

Number one

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on 9 June 1915, he was a child guitar prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 to follow his musical calling.

Starting out with Sunny Joe Wolverton's Radio Band, he also played jazz and hillbilly picking, making his first recordings in 1936.

Bob Marley
Reggae legend Bob Marley was also a fan of the iconic guitar

By his mid-30s, Mr Paul was one of the country's most sought after guitarists, playing alongside greats like Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.

Combining jazz, western swing and hillbilly sounds, he formed the Les Paul trio, and became a regular guest on Bing Crosby's radio show.

Always an inventor - he had built his own recording machine by the age of 13 - Mr Paul dabbled with electric guitars when he became dissatisfied with acoustic guitars popular in the 1930s.

His went on to invent his first electric guitar - nicknamed The Log - in 1941.

Mr Paul debuted the four-by-four solid piece of wood strung with steel strings in a nightclub.

Recalling the moment years later, he said: "Of course, everybody thought I was a nut."

But in 1952, Gibson Guitars began to produce the Les Paul guitar, which went on to establish itself in music history.

Mr Paul's tenacity had paid off, but he had always shown a steady determination.

In 1948, Mr Paul very nearly lost his life in a car accident. Ignoring doctors' warnings that he would never be able to play again, he persuaded them to set his broken arm into a guitar-playing position.

Grammy awards

As a performer, Mr Paul had a string of hits in the late 1940s and 1950s with his singer wife Mary Ford.

They were best known for hits such as How High The Moon, Nola and Lover and they had 11 number ones in the US.

In the late 1960s, Mr Paul retired from music to concentrate on his inventions, but bounced back in the mid-1970s after teaming up with Chet Atkins for two albums.

The duo went on to win a Grammy for best country instrumental performance of 1976 for their Chester and Lester album.

In 1978, the couple were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and eventually Mr Paul held the unusual honour of being the only person to also be included in the Rock and Roll, National Inventors and the National Broadcasters Halls of Fame.

Soon after this accomplishment, the star, who in the past had suffered arthritis and permanent hearing loss, had a heart attack, followed by bypass surgery.

He made a full recovery and returned to live performance in the late 1980s.

Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played was Mr Paul's first album of new material since his 1970 recordings.

Released in 2005, the record featured Beck, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton and Richie Sambora.

Despite poor health he continued to play Monday nights at New York's Iridium jazz club, where he was often visited by musical legends such as Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Van Halen.



Print Sponsor


RELATED BBC LINKS


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific