Les Paul

Click the image to learn more. Legendary guitarist Les Paul performs in New York City in the 1980s.

Les Paul changed the nature of twentieth century popular music by inventing the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar and his innovative work in recording studios.[1] The “Wizard of Waukesha” was born Lester William Polsfuss in June 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. While he was at Waukesha High School, his orchestra, the “Red Hot Ragtime Band,” played for dances, parties, and at local lake resorts.[2] Les Paul once said, “I played every city in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, at the state fair in West Allis and for the mob in Chicago.” [3] In addition to playing in every city, Les Paul also was on a radio personality on WRJN in Racine and on WISN in Milwaukee, where he hosted a show called “Rhubarb Red” in the 1930s. He also worked as the musical director at Chicago’s WJJD and WIND stations.[4]

In 1934, Les Paul moved to Chicago and established his own band. After serving in the military, he moved to Los Angeles in 1943, where, on the advice of Bing Crosby, he built his own recording studio. In 1952, he brought out the Les Paul Model guitar, manufactured by Gibson Guitars.[5] His musical performances and technical advancements earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988; in 2001, he received a Grammy for inventing the solid-body electric guitar. He was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005.[6]

Jon Pareles, a journalist for the New York Times, noted that throughout his life, and despite his many accolades, Paul “remained a down-home performer whose main goal, he often said, was to make people happy.”[7] In 2009, Paul died in New York at the age of 94 due to complications from pneumonia.[8] The Waukesha County Museum opened its Les Paul permanent display in June 2013, to honor the Waukesha Wizard.[9]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Jon Pareles, “Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94,” The New York Times August 13, 2009.
  2. ^ Susan Masino, Famous Wisconsin Musicians, (Oregon, WI: Badger Books, Inc., 2003), 11-13.
  3. ^ Les Paul, “Foreword,” in Famous Wisconsin Musicians, by Susan Masino (Oregon, WI: Badger Books, Inc., 2003), 6.
  4. ^ Masino, Famous Wisconsin Musicians, 13; Milwaukee Area Radio Enthusiasts, last accessed November 13, 2017.
  5. ^ Masino, Famous Wisconsin Musicians, 14-17.
  6. ^ Les Paul bio, Rolling Stone, last accessed November 13, 2017; “New Les Paul Exhibit at the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum,” United States Patent and Trademark Office website, September 18, 2009, last accessed November 13, 2017.
  7. ^ Pareles, “Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94.”
  8. ^ Pareles, “Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94.”
  9. ^ Matt Mueller, “Wizard of Waukesha Les Paul Earns New Museum Exhibit,” OnMilwaukee.comJune 2, 2013, last accessed November 13, 2017; Jim Farber, “Electric Guitar Hero Les Paul Dies at 94: Hit-Maker, Musical Designer, Pioneer,” NY Daily News, August 14, 2009, last accessed November 13, 2017.

For Further Reading

Lawrence, Robb. The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy: 1915-1963. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corp., 2008.

Rolling Stone. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Shaughnessy, Mary Alice. Les Paul: An American Original. New York, NY: William Morrow & Co., 1993.

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