True music fans should take a moment today to celebrate the birthday of Les Paul. The pioneering guitar virtuoso would have been 96 years old today, and without his forward thinking and technical expertise, it's quite possible modern music wouldn't sound quite the same as it does today. Paul developed his own style of a solid-body guitar that still bears his name today, giving the instrument a richer, more vibrant tone while allowing the musicians a freedom to experiment with their sound that previously wasn't possible.
[jump] Paul didn't stop there, either. He consistently pushed the boundaries of both how you can play a guitar and how those sounds could be recorded. He was one of the first to experiment with overdubbing in the studio, and his multi-track recording flourishes eventually changed how bands wrote and recorded their records, how that music was committed to tape, and, ultimately, how the listener experienced a modern pop song.
Paul was clearly a highly skilled guitarist in his own right, forming a highly successful group with his wife Mary Ford, who had numerous groundbreaking singles that consistently pushed the boundaries of what a popular song could and should sound like. Their hit "How High The Moon" eventually was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame. Paul also played with the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole in his early days, and was still playing regular live gigs in New York City right up until his death in 2009.
Les Paul was known as the Wizard Of Waukesha, a suburb about 20 miles west of Milwaukee. He is laid to rest in a serene cemetery in Waukesha, and a rather unattractive main thoroughfare that runs through the city bears his name. (Full disclosure--I grew up in Waukesha, and am a proud graduate of Waukesha South High School.) Paul's legacy is just a part of the prodigious musical heritage of Waukesha, with disparate artists like the Bo Deans, Davey von Bohlen from the Promise Ring (whom I actually coached in church league basketball), and of course our very own Mark Mallman, all at one time calling Waukesha home.
But today we celebrate the birthday of Les Paul, a true visionary whose forward thinking helped advance the sound of music as we know it, and helped expand the boundaries of what a song could sound like. Cheers to you, Les!
Also be sure to check out the Google home page for today, which is a cool, playable guitar in honor of Les Paul's birthday.