Friday, August 14, 2009
A word or two for Lester
Les Paul has passed on, but Les Paul will never die. Not as long as there are guitar gods and the upstarts that worship them. Jimmy Page and Joe Perry. Beatle George and Jeff Beck. Keef and EC. Slash and T-Rex. Michael Bloomfield and Freddie King. Pete Townsend and Billy Gibbons. And on and on. The obits have been written. At 94, they were no doubt waiting in the memories of desktops for the day. Well, the day came yesterday. I need not reiterate the chronology and the highlights of a life filled with highlights, from "How High the Moon" to the Monday night gigs at the Iridium in New York. Funny, but damned near every picture I could find of Les, he was smiling. It really seemed like he got a kick out of life. And, why not? Here's a guy who invented the solid body guitar, or so they say. He took a 4X4 and electrified it, adding two halves of an acoustic guitar on either side, to make it look more conventional. They called it "the log" and it changed the way we make music. His namesake Gibson is both iconic and definitive. If you had to distill modern music to two people, I would put the money on Les and Leo. Les Pauls weigh a ton. The originals had chunky necks and caused more than one chiropractor appointment. But man, that sustain... the richness, and the power. Leo fitted the Stratocasters with the distinctive single-coils... hum is part of the charm. But strap on a Les Paul and crank up those humbuckers to eleven and conduct the current like a God. Eric wanted to emulate Freddie King. In the Bluesbreakers, he traded in his Tele for the LP, plugged it into a Marshall combo and turned that sucker up to the max. Then Peter Green from Fleetwood Mac followed suit, joining John Mayall's Bluesbreakers after Eric, and the baton was passed on...
Truth be told. I am more of a Fender guy. Call it a function of comfort and affordability. Gibson Les Pauls are beyond the pocketbooks of most mortals. The Michael Bloomfield reissue goes for a cool ten grand. Ouch. And then there is the fact that the Les Pauls are not as versatile as the Strats. They are more demanding and more virtuosic. They are lead instruments. I can strum a Strat, play it like Buddy Holly or thrash out chords like Keef on a Tele. The Les Paul stings. It pierces through the rhythm and takes over when need be. When all is said and done, Les Pauls are what we all aspire to play and play well. They have been copied, but never duplicated... just like the man they are named for.
So long, Les. Plug in and play out. Hit the echoplex and double track it. Say hello to Mary... and keep smiling.