When it showed up as a news update on my computer screen around lunch time yesterday, I just paused for a minute. The death of Les Paul marks the closing of a chapter in a lot of lives across and around the world and not all of us touched by his impact ever got anywhere near being successful with the electric guitar.
I don't know anyone as old as I am so my references may mean nothing to you-your loss. Born in 1952, I had no older brothers or sisters, so all the folkies and the hootenannies meant nothing to me. Elvis was back from the Army by the time I started to listen to the radio and for awhile, whatever my parents listened to was what I heard.
My parents did get me a transistor radio for my twelfth birthday, with a wrist strap that broke practically in the store when we bought it, and a white HUGE earphone for one ear (!), powered by those dorky nine volt batteries that cost more than week's allowance to replace and boy did they drain in a hurry and practically at the same moment, my rock and roll-the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds (imagine a band that had Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, in turn, as lead guitarists), The Kinks, The Who...the list almost goes on forever, exploded in my left ear late at night courtesy of 'Seventy-seven W-A-B-C'.
I thought The Beatles had invented the electric guitar--they hadn't, of course; and neither had Les Paul though generations of rock and rollers since the Bridge Built from Britain all believed otherwise. You'll have to forgive me if I compare Les Paul and his solid-body guitar and his multi-track recording techniques to Henry Ford and the auto assembly line in terms of innovation. Both redefined what their industry was and did from the moment they became engaged in the process of invention.
If you love rock and roll music, you have to love the electric guitar and Les Paul was one of the those who defined the sound without ever limiting it. I don't know if you'd call him the father, or the uncle of it, or perhaps the cousin or baby-sitter. What a full life he led, all ninety-four years of it and he was still working!! I think of all the great rock guitarists who died too soon, starting with the Sky Marshal and including Paul Kosoff, Mick Ronson, Kurt Cobain, Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jerry Garcia and George Harrison and the road goes on forever (or close to it).
I cannot play a note of music (our daughter Michelle can pick up any instrument and get music out of it in less than a minute-what a blessing and an amazing gift that is!) but I grin so broadly the top of my head could well fall off when I think of how wonderfully defining the electric guitar is in rock and roll. Yeah, I love Jerry Lee, Elton John and Billy Joel, but it's James Burton and Scotty Moore who make those early Elvis records wail, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe and Jimmy Page and Dave Davies and just too many others to fit in one old person's brain--all sons of Les, who even now is sitting in a sound-proof booth in the Good Lord's multi-track studio in heaven with headphones around his neck and a rhythm of rhyming guitars. Play on, Les, and loud.