Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Most Influential Musician of the 20th Century

Last night I excused myself early from a small group practice (they only wanted me for my washtub bass playing, anyway) so that I could run home and see a PBS documentary on legendary guitarist/recording artist Les Paul. I already had some idea of his significance in the evolution of music genres, music technology, and the recording industry, but I found out he's even more important than I had realized. He was first to figure out how to do so many things that are common place now. Plus, he's a genuine real nice guy.

At 92, he still plays in a night club in NY. Plays well, too. No, not the stunningly fast, virtuoso sort of things he astonished the world with in the 40's and 50's, but he's still classy, artistic, and a joy to listen to.

First to over-dub. First to make and play solid body guitars. If not the first to make garage-band recordings, he certainly gave the idea respectability. The Capital records he made with wife Mary Ford were recorded all over the house -- bathroom, kitchen, living room anywhere. They even went out searching for homes for just the right acoustics. Capital publicized the fact that just husband and wife, working by themselves, recorded so many No. 1 hit records just in different rooms of their home, not even bothering to drive down to the studios.

So, Most Influential Musician of the 20th Century? What about bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? What did the Beatles play at their first gig? --- How High the Moon. Keith Richardson, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, B.B. King, and so many others idolized, were inspired by, and longed to be like Les Paul.

Even though Paul playing might usually be nominally categorized as "jazz", I think it's fair to say it was Paul's imaginative new techniques and his over-laying of guitar tracks to form a new type of all-guitar orchestra that made the guitar the dominating instrument of the 20th century, clearing the way for Rock n' Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Country-Western, and leading into what would become Heavy Metal, Punk, and other off-shoots.

1 comment:

cellodonna said...

Les Paul lives near where I live in northern NJ. A few years ago I recall reading an article about him in a local county paper. I think it mentioned that he lived in Mahwah, NJ at that time. There were photos of him and all of his recording equipment. Yes, truly a legend and very influential.