[JPL] At 92, Music Pioneer Les Paul Still Performing (Voice of America)

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Wed Dec 26 17:44:41 EST 2007



Watch report: http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-12-26-voa47.cfm
    

At 92, Music Pioneer Les Paul Still Performing
By Kane Farabaugh 
New York City
26 December 2007

Born in the small town of Waukesha in the Midwest U.S. state of Wisconsin in
1915, Les Paul showed signs of musical ability at a young age. From those
small roots, the musician and inventor traveled the country. From piano to
banjo to guitar, Paul played with some of the biggest names in music during
the Great Depression, before turning his talents on changing the way music
was recorded. VOA's Kane Farabaugh spent time with the music legend before
one of his regular shows in New York City, where he still performs at the
age of 92.


Les Paul, 2007
It is a Monday night in Midtown Manhattan, and the Iridium Jazz Club is
packing in the crowds.

Inside, the arthritic hands of an elderly musician tune a guitar before the
evening performance. The man behind the instrument was born Lester Polfuss,
but he is better known as Les Paul.

In the 1930s, Les Paul was in his prime. Performing by day with some of the
biggest bands of the era, he spent nights learning music with some of the
biggest names in the Harlem music scene.

"I'm learning to play the music that you don't play," Paul said.  "The music
that's missing. It belongs in there. And that was jazz. And so I would go up
there and sit with Lester Young, and listen to him, Dizzy Gillespie, anybody
you wish to name, Art Tatum - all the greats."


Les Paul, 1930
He became a household name as head of the Les Paul Trio, heard on radio sets
throughout the country.

Almost 70 years later, now as a quartet, he is still performing in front of
full audiences, gathered to see a music pioneer.  "I didn't realize that I
was a pioneer," he says modestly. "I did realize that the particular thing I
was looking for was not available," he explains.

Paul wanted a guitar that he could play, with a band or an orchestra, that
wouldn't be drowned out. He needed a loud guitar.

Not just a musician but also lifelong inventor, Les Paul went to work on a
new instrument. Originally using railroad steel and telephone parts, he
created what is now one of the most widely used instruments -- the
single-body, electric guitar.


Les Paul
Paul explains, "To my amazement there are so many today versus the fact
there was only one -- I was the only guy who could get out there and do
anything with it. And a guitar is the number one instrument in the world
today. When I was a kid it was a piano."

The Gibson musical instrument company began manufacturing and selling Les's
electric guitar. The "Gibson Les Paul" continues to be a top seller and
preferred instrument of many musicians.

"My electronics were one half of my life, and the other half of my life was
music and they finally married each other. You needed both of them to do
what happened." Paul said.

What happened began with Les Paul tinkering in his home recording studio. He
combined recordings of different guitar sounds, blending in the voice of his
wife at the time, singer Mary Ford. He then experimented with those tracks
at different speeds and pitch and played them back simultaneously:

The method, called multi-track recording, created a sound that came to
define pop music in the 1960s. It continues to be a staple in sound
recording today.

For a lifetime of achievements, Les Paul was honored with a 2007 National
Medal of the Arts -- one of the nation's highest civilian honors -- at a
Washington D.C. ceremony hosted by President George Bush in November.

It was another milestone in a career that this 1988 inductee into the Rock
n' Roll Hall of Fame promises is far from over.

"If you're going to make 100, you only got a few years left, and you've got
so much you'd like to say or do, things that you haven't finished doing yet
that you would love to do," Paul said.

The town of Waukesha, Wisconsin is currently planning a permanent exhibit
honoring its most famous citizen.

The "Les Paul Experience" is scheduled to open there in 2010. The aging
musician would then be 95 years old, and hopes to be there to see it open.

 


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