Les Paul ► The Man Who Made Rock and Roll Possible

Not Now Silly celebrates the birth of the man that made it all possible: Lester William Polsfuss, better known as Les Paul.

Les Paul didn’t invent the guitar, which falls into the family of chordophones.Those go back several thousands of years to India and China. Modern descendants include the lute and violin, not to mention the guitar as we now know it.

Les Paul didn’t even invent the electric guitar. That happened in 1931 when George Beauchamp invented a magnetic pick-up for the Ro-Pat “Frying Pan” lap steel guitar. Les Paul didn’t get around to inventing his solid body electric guitar until 10 years later and even then it was just a 2×4 with the electronics hidden inside. It was so ugly, and Les received so many negative comments on it, he disguised it by hiding it in a dummy guitar.

Les Paul didn’t even invent overdubbing, although he perfected it and popularized the technique.

Yet, Les Paul is often credited with inventing all three. The New York Times 2009 obituary stated:

Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer.
He played guitar alongside leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby.
In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by
1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric
guitar, although there are other claimants. With his guitar and the
vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording
and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.

Paul’s style encompassed the twang of country music, the harmonic
richness of jazz and, later, the bite of rock ’n’ roll. For all his
technological impact, though, he remained a down-home performer whose
main goal, he often said, was to make people happy.

Nothing I could write would explain it any better than the wonderful documentary “Chasing Sound,” which intercuts contemporary footage of Les Paul performing at the Iridium Jazz Club — which he did right up to his death at the age of 94 — with historic footage and music telling Les Paul’s life story. Watch:

I’ve also put together a Les Paul Jukebox for your listening pleasure:


About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.