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.

8 comments:

Davaudian said...

Not to mention that could he play better than most any of the guys you just mentioned. Jeff Beck comes closest with his humorous Les Paul phrases. And then there's this....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YA_RINQySU

barryshap said...

Thanks for the link. Awesome. But I still think Bloomfield (at the very least) is worthy to be on the short list. I'll come by the shop and argue the virtues of Clapton and Page...

Davaudian said...

Wow, you're coming by here??? Cool.

You need to understand the difference between playing the pentatonic scale as a career and really playing melody. There's much more, of course, but those penta guys can only last a couple of minutes. Guys like Les Paul/Chet/Merle Travis/Wes and a few others are much more than lickers. Beck's got it, Clapton had a few good ones...this video shows Les live with his sense of humor/melody/skill....not many can do now what he did then!!

barryshap said...

But you're not arguing against Bloomfield. He may have been a drug addled insomniac, but he wasn't one of those pentatonic guys. I am. He wasn't. Listen to the Butterfield Band's East-West. It still stands. But he may have been playing his white Tele then. Hmmm.

Davaudian said...

No, I'm not arguing against Bloomy, I'm simply saying that the palette of colors are to be found outside of scales and modes. Bloomboy had a couple of minutes but Jeff Beck has had decades. Trying to choose the best guitarist in the world is like trying to choose the worlds best breakfast...it's a matter of taste.

barryshap said...

For my money, the best stuff Jeffrey Beck has done has been on a Fender Stratocaster.

As for breakfast-- it's a toss-up between the flannel cakes at Musso & Frank in Hollywood (order a side of bacon for salt to counter the sweet), and the Eggs Sardou at the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street-- not always on the menu, but when it is, don't think twice. Then again, there are the huevos negroes at Cha-Cha-Cha on Vermont. Hmmm. Tough choice.

Davaudian said...

I saw him at the Peterson Museum Hot Rod show. Of course with his Strat and the open handed style that he's developed.....standing about 10 feet away and still got stumped....He's a fucking magician. I tried to get old friend Seymour Duncan to introduce me but it didn't happen.

Geoff did some great work on "Truth" in 1967'
Greensleeves, Shapes of Things, Becks Bolero....hard to beat that even now.....although he's had dozens of bands and albums since then....42 years ago. I tried to cop "Greensleeves" way back then just to get my acoustic skills up...you should too. Go to iTunes and get it for 99c....one of the best investments you'll ever make...it's in D minor....grab your Guild and good luck, you shall not fail. I could help if you were here.

My Strats in for a makeover....new Bill Lawrence pickups and even a Roland synth coming soon. Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful.

Davaudian said...

Oh yeah, breakfast...anywhere there's Huevos Rancheros......