Les Paul’s Death Marks the End of a Music Era

APTOPIX Obit Les Paul

Rock and Roll Music is many things to many people.  From its inception in the late forties and early fifties when black blues and rhythm and blues combined with country and rockabilly, rock and roll has alternately been one of the most revered and hated of American institutions.   Nearly everyone has something to say about its impact and its legacy.

Back then the religious figures and social conservatives absolutely deplored its encroachment into the fabric of American culture.   They viewed it as a threat against racial segregation, it was, and a means of expression for untoward and calamitous behavior, an instrument of temptation, luring otherwise innocent young Americans to sex and drugs.   It did that, too.

For the very same reasons it was viewed as a threat to constrained but allegedly decent American culture, rock and roll was seen by millions as source of liberation.   It was an emotional outlet and a new resource for embracing the lifestyle that was rebellious an anti-heroic, that contrasted with the proverbial Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.   It was a conduit for integration and for social and mystical reflection.   It was a lot of things to a lot of people.

Few people had as much influence on rock and roll music itself than Les Paul.  His iconic guitar has been played by legions of rock and roll gods, aspiring gods, and regular guys who played for awhile in their high school  before switching out their dreams to sell insurance.   Like far too many brilliant  people starting out in life, he was deemed an underachiever.   One of his early instructors lamented that Paul would never learn music.

He not only learned it and played it, showing great flair and innovation, but he and Leo Fender probably did more to make sure the fledgling sound of rock and roll took root in the American consciousness.   Paul not only developed his eponymous solid body electric guitar, but he also developed the first eight track recording system.   Revolutionary?  Absolutely.   Instead of the recording musicians all having to be in perfect synch for the mixing aspect, each musical effort could be tracked in independently and later mixed into the final sound.

Without the eight track, we would have all the advancements since then.  We would not have many musical innovations, creations like the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.”   The Beatles’ “Dr. Pepper” and so many innovative recordings, too numerous to name, would have remained obscure ideas that never reached fruition.   The eight track mixing system seems quite by today’s digital standards.   Even before the music world went digital the 72 track sound boards dwarfed the meager little eight track.   But the true analogy is to compare Les Paul’s eight track with the Wright Brothers’ first venture, and then measure the technological advancements to, say, the B-2 Bomber.  In short, it had to start somewhere, and in the case of mixing music, it started with Les Paul.

Gibson Les Paul guitars are still produced and sell around the world.  Vintage Les Paul guitars can sell for the price of a modest house.   More recording sessions were driven at least in part by Leo Fender’s Stratocaster and Telecaster, and the durable Gibson Les Paul.    More musicians owe their careers to these three guitars.

Les Paul didn’t look cool.  He didn’t look like a rock legend or rock god.  He was unassuming, a genuine nice guy who liked to play music and liked to tinker.   He fused jazz with country and grittier roots music for his own special sound.  He was often genteel when compared to the more raucous aspects of rock and roll.   He played with his wife, Mary Ford, which I’m sure nullified any groupies hanging around.  He never made the tabloids for drug overdoses or tossing the hotel furniture twenty stories into the swimming pool.

Perhaps what made Les Paul so exceptional is that he looked so ordinary.  He appeared the regular guy.   But he was extraordinary, and few come along that contriube so much to American culture.   He was one of a kind.   He will be missed.

Author: Gordon Basichis

Gordon Basichis is the Co-Founder of Corra Group, specializing in pre-employment background checks and corporate research. He has been a marketing and media executive. He is the author of the best selling Beautiful Bad Girl, The Vicki Morgan Story, a non-fiction novel that helped define exotic behavior in the late twentieth century. He has recently published The Cuban Quarter, The Blood Orange, and The Guys Who Spied for China, dealing with Chinese Espionage in the United States. He is the author of The Constant Travellers. He has been a journalist for several newspapers and is a screenwriter and producer.