Les Paul, R.I.P.

Everyone who has ever made a home multitrack recording or played an electric guitar (and if MySpace and YouTube are any indication, that's 85 percent of the American people) is mourning a parent today, whether they know it or not. Les Paul, dead at 94.

A good obituary on the basics from the Washington Post. A 28-photo gallery from Rolling Stone.

For his innovations as inventor of the techniques and sounds that made the late 20th century what they were, which was among other things an era of amazing and widespread cultural productive power, we named him one of our 35 Heroes of Freedom in Reason magazine's 35th anniversary issue in 2003. What we said then:

Paul was a terrific jazz guitarist who invented the solid-body electric guitar in 1947, helping usher in America's most liberating cultural invention of the latter 20th century, rock 'n' roll. He pioneered multitracked recording and built the first eight-track, which put the D into DIY while allowing bands like the Beatles to make lasting works of art.

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  • Warty||

  • The Central Scrutinizer||

  • ||

    Les is an absolute music icon. One of the greats. His multi-tracking work with Mary Ford changed the entire music industry. He is often credited with inventing the solidbody electric guitar. This is not true. Although he was an early experimenter, there were others, including Gibson, who had accomplished the feat prior. I don't think that should take anything away from him. I remember seeing a video of him on stage in his later years with Steve Vai. As Steve Vai is ferociously noodling all over the fretboard, Les Paul reaches over and grabs Vai's right hand, telling him to slow down!

    Jimmy Page, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, Mark Knopfler, the list goes on and on of guitar greats who used the LP to make great music. My first electric guitar was a copy of a Les Paul. My parents could not afford a real one. Heck, I still can't afford a good real one.

    94 years is a heck of a run. I'll knock out a few power chords to your tribute, Les.

  • Warty||

    As Steve Vai is ferociously noodling all over the fretboard, Les Paul reaches over and grabs Vai's right hand, telling him to slow down!

    That's one way to win your soul back from the devil.

  • Meta4||

    I owned a brand new Les Paul Deluxe 25th Anniversary addition. Had to sell it back in '83 to make rent.

    Sad story.

    RIP, Mister Paul.

  • ||

    That's one way to win your soul back from the devil.

    Warty is Willie Brown!

    "Look at this old guitar here you been squeakin' on. I bet you saw this thing in a music store and bought it just because you thought it was beat up! Well you got it all wrong. Muddy Waters invented electricity."

  • ||

    "It's where we were the happiest, in a `joint,'" he said in a 2000 interview with the AP. "It was not being on top. The fun was getting there, not staying there - that's hard work."

    Now that is a wise man. I will always regret not going up to the Irridium Club and seeing him in person.

  • ||

    I didn't know gods could die.
    Good bye Les Paul.
    You will be missed.

  • Billy Beck||

    That man was a full-blast twentieth century giant.

    It makes me treasure the time that I was born into. Of the endless number of humans who ever lived, I'm one who got to live in his time. Wouldn't have missed it for anything.

    I play my Les Paul ever single day.

  • ||

    You can take a Les Paul Custom Black Beauty and give it to some beed sucking hippy playing folk music at 70 decibles and it will sound great. You can give to Jimmy Page, circa 1971, and have him play with Led Zepplin at 120 decibles in something that sounds like a Panzer Division going by and it sounds even better. It really is an amazing insturment.

    If Paul had just invented the solid body electric guitar and died in 1950, he would be one of the most important figures in 20th Century music. But to have also invented multi-track recording just boggles the mind. People like him are not like us humans.

  • Craig||

    Old guys named Paul with three-letter first names rock.

    Two of my brothers are serious guitar players, and this is a sad day for them. Les Paul was a true American artistic genius.

  • Billy Beck||

    "As Steve Vai is ferociously noodling all over the fretboard, Les Paul reaches over and grabs Vai's right hand, telling him to slow down!"

    That's reminiscent of the time on The Tonight Show when B.B. King casually reached over and yanked the cable-plug right out of Jeff Beck's Stratocaster in the middle of Beck's break.

    These guys are -- to my mind -- the closest that Americans ever get to royalty.

  • ||

    That's a great video, Warty. Love those harmonies.

  • SpongePaul||

    Rip Paul!
    Although he did not invent the solid state as was stated before, he was the first one to popularize it and perfect it, which in this world makes you be remembered for it.


    Les Paul was one of the greatest

    Saw him first time at the (now gone) Fat Tuesdays club in NYC in the mid 80s... he still had red hair at the time

    [video of him there doing somewhere his version of 'over the rainbow', around that time


    interview of him there

    Last saw him a few times at Iridium about 15 years later... maybe 2000-2003. He could still play but had slowed down and told more jokes. He was a classic entertainer aside from being a musical wizard. He loved his audience. He loved to flirt with the 65+yr old women, who he referred to as "these cute little girls". Every show, he would almost always get someone from the audience to come up and play (if they had any chops). They were rarely scheduled or invited - it was just that he could expect at least a couple of musical masters to be in the audience every week. He had that kind of following.

    At that show back in the 1980s, a woman came and mentioned that her mother had been on TV with Paul once on his show back in the '50s ... and he remembered exactly who it was and what song she had sung, and he asked the woman to come up and do the same number. It was obviously very special to the woman and he loved every minute of it. Between sets he came up to me (i was the youngest person in the crowd, maybe 13) and he pokes me and goes, "hey kid, get your dad to buy me a beer - I look ridiculous without a guitar in my hand" (his left arm had been surgically fixed in a cocked playing position after an accident a while back)... my dad obliged and they chatted a bit. He seemed to make sure to interact with almost everyone during his show. He was really a class act of a person and an inspiring performer. I feel blessed I had the opportunity to see him the few times I did.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Tomorrow's editorial cartoon today:

    Pearly Gates, wide open, St. Peter smiling at his lectern. Les Paul, with a Les Paul guitar slung over his back, dances arm in arm with Mary Ford into heaven.

    A motion cloud streams behind them, with musical notes and wavy letters reading "THE TENNESSEE WALTZ."

    Callouts point to Mary and Les, reading "MARY FORD 1924-1977" and "LES PAUL 1915 - 2009."

    In background, a well to Hell, labeled HELL. An angel with a flaming sword is shoving some bedraggled losers down the well. A callout points to the losers: "ANTI-HEALTHCARE CRAZIES."

  • ||


    Les and Mary had what was by all accounts a pretty bitter divorce. And she remarried. I am not sure they are reunited in heaven,


    What a great story. What a great guy.

  • The Mythical Canadian Libertar||

    As someone who makes his living by knowing how to use one of Les Paul's creations, I'm going to break from my usual stance on celebrity deaths and grieve this one.

    94 years was only the start. Now we get to spend the rest of the time his contributions remain in use listening to the sustain.

  • MonkeeHeadinSouth||

    Needs more video.!!!

    yeah thinks me
    if this tread doesnt hit 250 reasonoids are a bunch of gaybo's

    right so here's my contribution :)

  • MonkeeHeadinSouth||

  • MonkeeHeadinSouth||

  • MonkeeHeadinSouth||

    the feckin les paul

    there was only feckin one !
    I seen it live twice
    oh yeah old black!

    Neil Young and booker T and the MGs Powder finger

  • MonkeeHeadinSouth||

    Thats a les paul bass

    oh yeah

    Funkadelic do Ive got a thing

  • PJ Doland||

    I saw one of Les Paul's Monday night sets at the Iridium a little over two months ago.

    His banter with the attractive female bass player was riotous. The man elevated sexual harassment to an art form.

    I'm glad I got to see him perform.

  • MonkeeHeadinSouth||

  • ||

    Les, may you play jazzy jams with Jesus for ever and ever.

  • zbillster||

    I loved Les Paul's music. the Gibson Les Paul model guitar, and many of his innovations. But to set the record straight, he helped PIONEER the development of the solid-body electric guitar but he didn't INVENT it. The first Les Paul production guitar by Gibson incorporated some of his ideas (such as the abandoned wraparound combination tailpiece and bridge) but it was mostly the product of Gibson engineers. Like many great men, Les had a lifelong tendency to exaggerate his importance and influence.

    And of course, my favorite Les Paul-style guitar is a superior copy made by Tokai in Japan, which due to insane U.S. patent/copyright regulations, can't be sold in retail stores in the U.S.!

  • ||

    A great man, yes, but without him we might never have had any Van Halen recordings. I could have lived with that.

  • ||

  • Busted Keys||

    i am saddened to hear the news of Les Paul's passing. it was inspiring to find out that he was responsible (and took responsibility) for the making OF the making of music--a genuine dedication to his craft. i will carry his commitment through my musical works as well. RIP Les Paul.

  • ||

    "A great man, yes, but without him we might never have had any Van Halen recordings. I could have lived with that."

    yeah, but ya gotta take the bad w/ The Dire Straits. er somethin like that.

    personally, i was never a fan of Les. not "i did not like his music", i just was never introduced and never took the initiative.

    but i always liked Chet Atkins, and i understand he was a fan, so i have my reprieve.

    R.I.P. Mr. Paul, and know you outlived some of the legends you created. what an achievement!

  • ||

    Farewell to the truly great Les Paul. And let us also remember, he who died on the same day, the legendary free jazz drummer Rasheed Ali. Who but lovers of freedom could better appreciate the glory that is known as free jazz?


  • mbt||

    everybody, take your time and a little bit.srsryweyw

  • Nike Dunk High||



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