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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.

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.