Nowadays best remembered as the Number One pioneer of the electric guitar, Les Paul was also a vital force in several other musical genres: variously vocalist, songwriter, bandleader and inventor. Through his innovative multi-tracking techniques he was a creative influence on the progression of modern pop music and recording. Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on 9th June 1915, he played guitar and banjo from an early age. At nine he also studied harmonica and piano and soon after was dabbling with piano roll players and electric motors with a view to instrumental amplification. In 1927 he got his first crystal set radio and the die was cast.
In 1941 Les suffered a bad car accident but the silver lining was that his recuperation in hospital gave him the opportunity to research the finer details of electronic multi-tracking and a prototype solid-body amplified electric guitar. In 1945 Les Paul accompanied Bing Crosby on his US No. 1 hit It’s Been A Long, Long Time. By 1950, largely through the exposure of his recordings on air, Les Paul and his new sound had already won a cult following. The public were buying his records in large numbers and by 1952 the Gibson Company, who had hitherto viewed his electronic concepts with cool detachment, found they had a new craze on their hands soon after agreeing to world-wide marketing of solid ‘log’ guitar with sustaining pick-up. In 1946, they had scathingly dismissed this as a “broomstick”! By 1964 Les had tired of endless tours and put his performing activities on a back burner to devote more time to developing Sel Sync, his eight-track recording system. However, a sudden return to performing around 1974 led to the formation of a duo with ‘Nashville Sound’ guitarist Chet Atkins. Their debut album Chester And Lester was awarded a best country-instrumental Grammy Award in 1978 and was followed by a encore album later that same year.
The 31 tracks on this CD demonstrate just why Les Paul has had such an enormous influence over the way American popular music sounds today. As Rolling Stone Keith Richards admitted: “We must all own up that, without Les Paul, generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets.” Emerging from the influence of Django Reinhardt, Paul eventually developed what has been described (by Richard Ginell) as “an astonishingly fluid, hard-swinging style of his own, one that featured extremely rapid runs, fluttered and repeated single notes, and chunking rhythm support, mixing in country & western licks and humorous crowd-pleasing effects. No doubt his brassy style gave critics a bad time, but the gregarious, garrulous Paul didn’t much care; he was bent on showing his audiences a good time.”