LES PAUL by Mary Shaughnessy


An American Original
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 Who made the guitar a solo instrument? Who invented eight- track recording, the first solid-body electric guitar, electronic reverberation, and the low-impedance guitar pickups that let Eric Clapton and Keith Richards rave it up? Lester William Polsfuss, a.k.a. Rhubarb Red, a.k.a. Les Paul, that's who, born in 1915 and still performing despite arthritis in both hands and a steel plate locking his elbow in one position. Shaughnessy (a staff writer at People) has now written the only--and excellent--biography of the guitarist, drawing on myriad original sources, including interviews with people who know Paul, files from music companies, and talks with four decades' worth of DJs. Paul is a unique blend of talented engineer and musician. His abilities asserted themselves when, at age eight, he began punching new holes in his mother's player- piano rolls, creating new tunes. Paul learned guitar by copying every note of every Django Reinhardt record he could find. After he teamed up with Mary Ford, his second wife, to become the most popular act in Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians--the premier band of the day--Paul, when in N.Y.C., would head uptown to Harlem after each show to jam with the likes of Art Tatum, Stuff Smith, and Roy Eldridge. Buying a new Cadillac, the only car big enough for his gear, Paul played over 300 dates a year in the 40's, and his portable, self-invented recording equipment was set up so he and Ford could cut sides in their hotel room between acts. ``How High the Moon,'' with its unique sound and unheard-of 12 overdubbings, took them a year to persuade Capitol Records to release; it became one of the company's bestselling discs ever, at least until the advent of the Beatles. Packed with fascinating detail and researched with loving thoroughness (Shaughnessy includes a complete Paul discography): a rock-music-lover's delight. (Photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-688-08467-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993