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From the Vault: Les Paul Did Amazing Things

Editors Note: The Daily Music Break periodically re-posts music from earlier in the site’s run. Since Tuesday was the centennial of Les Paul’s birth, it seemed like a good time to do so. Here is a link to a Rolling Stone article about a tribute concert featuring Warren Haynes, Joe Bonamassa, G.E. Smith, Steve Miller, Joe Satriani and others. This post originally appeared on April 26, 2012.

Les Paul is a giant for is guitar playing and contribution to music technology. Paul–Lester William Polsfuss–was born in Wisconsin in 1915. His Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio points to his invention of overdubbing, multitracking and other techniques. His “crowning achievement,” the bio says, is the guitar that bears his name:

As he told writer Jim O’Donnell, “What I wanted to do is not have two things vibrating. I wanted the string to vibrate and nothing else. I wanted the guitar to sustain longer than an acoustical box and have different sounds than an acoustical box.” The fact that the guitar’s body was solid allowed for the sound of a plucked string to sustain, as its vibrating energy was not dissipated in a reverberant acoustic chamber.”

Paul is as influential as a guitarist. His playing was much slower toward the end of his career. That was certainly by choice, not due to age. To me, he is two different guitar players. I always liked the slower style. There are lots of people who play very fast who nobody remembers. Likewise, the fast players who are remembered always bring something else to the party.

Even though the songs in the embedded clip above almost certainly were recorded separately — unless the bass player was hiding in the closet — Paul and Mary Ford were the players. The sitcom setting and the creepy Listerine commercial are great bonuses. They perform “Alabamy Bound” and “Darktown Strutter’s Ball”

Other great clips include Paul’s signature tune, Over the Rainbow, and Birth of the Blues. Paul’s pal Chet Atkins joins in about half way through the latter. Not only are they both among the best guitarists ever, but they were able to put out an album with the name Chester and Lester. It’s a unique album in that the producer had the good sense to include the informal chatter between the two.

Paul lived until 94. This well produced video of Sleepwalk was shot at his 90th birthday party.