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Les Paul Dies, WGN Radio Late Night Loses A Friend

August 13, 2009

jls

Johnnie Putman and Steve King with good friend Les Paul

There is great sadness in the music world today, as news of  the death of Les Paul broke a short time ago.  The world knows Les Paul for his way around a guitar that put him in a class of his own.  But for the late night radio family of  WGN’s Steve King and Johnnie Putman show, he was more than a musical icon.  He was a warm friendly voice that would talk from his New York home many a night.  One could see the smile over the airwaves as he bantered with Steve and Johnnie, and spoke about his life, work on the stage, and future musical projects.  The thing that struck me constantly about Les Paul was the need to let his love of music flow out of his body.  It seemed to me that the music ,and his creativity with it had to find a release for him to be happy.  And by releasing his fingers on the frets he made many smiles everywhere he went.

Steve and Johnnie counted Les Paul as a friend, and they are hurting I know as a result of this news.  I am sure too that just as Les used his skills to connect with others, that the WGN radio couple will use their broadcasting time to not only honor a friend, but also give some calm and comfort to their own feelings on the air tonight.

Listen online here this evening starting at 11:10 P.M.

Les Paul, whose innovations with the electric guitar and studio technology made him one of the most important figures in recorded music, has died, according to a statement from his publicists. Paul was 94.

Paul died in White Plains, New York, from complications of severe pneumonia, according to the statement.

Paul was a guitar and electronics mastermind whose creations — such as multitrack recording, tape delay and the solid-body guitar that bears his name, the Gibson Les Paul — helped give rise to modern popular music, including rock ‘n’ roll. No slouch on the guitar himself, he continued playing at clubs into his 90s despite being hampered by arthritis.

“If you only have two fingers [to work with], you have to think, how will you play that chord?” he told CNN.com in a 2002 phone interview. “So you think of how to replace that chord with several notes, and it gives the illusion of sounding like a chord.”

“The world has lost a truly innovative and exceptional human being today. I cannot imagine life without Les Paul,” said Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar. “He would walk into a room and put a smile on anyone’s face. His musical charm was extraordinary and his techniques unmatched anywhere in the world.”

Lester William Polfuss was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on June 9, 1915. Even as a child he showed an aptitude for tinkering, taking apart electric appliances to see what made them tick.

“I had to build it, make it and perfect it,” Paulsaid in 2002. He was nicknamed the “Wizard of Waukesha.”

In the 1930s and ’40s, he played with the bandleader Fred Waring and several big band singers, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters, as well as with his own Les Paul Trio. In the early 1950s, he had a handful of huge hits with his then-wife, Mary Ford, such as “How High the Moon” and “Vaya Con Dios.”

His guitar style, heavily influenced by jazzman Django Reinhardt, featured lightning-quick runs and double-time rhythms. In 1948, after being involved in a severe car accident, he asked the doctor to set his arm permanently in a guitar-playing position.

Paul also credited Crosby for teaching him about timing, phrasing and preparation.

Crosby “didn’t say it, he did it — one time only. Unless he blew the lyrics, he did one take.”

Paul never stopped tinkering with electronics, and after Crosby gave him an early audiotape recorder, Paul went to work changing it. It eventually led to multitrack recording; on Paul and Ford’s hits, he plays many of the guitar parts, and Ford harmonizes with herself. Multitrack recording is now the industry standard.

But Paul likely will be best remembered for the Gibson Les Paul, a variation on the solid-body guitar he built in the early 1940s — “The Log” — and offered to the guitar company.

“For 10 years, I was a laugh,” he told CNN in an interview. “[But] kept pounding at them and pounding at them saying hey, here’s where it’s at. Here’s where tomorrow, this is it. You can drown out anybody with it. And you can make all these different sounds that you can’t do with a regular guitar.”

Gibson, spurred by rival Fender, finally took Paul up on his offer and introduced the model in 1952. It has since become the go-to guitar for such performers as Jimmy Page.

Paul is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Inventors Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is survived by three sons, a daughter, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Until recently he had a standing gig at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club, where he would play with a who’s-who of famed musicians.

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