Les Paul (June 9, 1915 – August 13, 2009)

August 16, 2009

The Godfather of Modern Music (from my 1985 interview)

Les Paul was overdubbing before anybody knew what it meant or how it was done. He was responsible for the first eight-track recorder built by Ampex. He built his first electric guitar at the age of 13 by tearing his Sears guitar apart and attaching the needle from his mother’s Victrola. When he was ten he constructed the first harmonica holder in recorded musical history. Dream back to 1952, when the Les Paul and Mary Ford “New Sound” had racked up over 10,000,000 record sales.

Les Paul in his New Jersey Studio, 1985  photo by MrB

Les Paul in his New Jersey Studio, 1985 photo by MrB

BONZAI: Didn’t a little girl uncover your secret of multiple voices in your stage performances?

PAUL: Well, this was during the ‘50s and Life magazine wanted to do a big article exposing my secrets. We created the sound of our multitracked records live on stage. The tape machine was then not thought of being used to do the multivoices on stage. By that time I had left the disk idea and had gone to tape.

Bing Crosby got me my first tape machine and immediately a light went on in my head to put a fourth head on it and make it do sound-on-sound. In ’53, I devised this gem over here, which was my first multitrack recorder with tape loop echo and everything else I wanted.

But for our stage show, we did a very simple thing — put a microphone on Mary’s sister off stage and gave her some earphones. The audience heard two voices instead of one, and if Mary coughed, Mary’s sister coughed. No matter what the ad lib was, it was followed either at the same time, or right after — which confused people tremendously. A man came to me backstage, and says, “Mr. Paul, I know that it’s a secret as to how you get these multiple sounds. People are saying it’s definitely radar.”

They had a million explanations. He asked if I would tell him yes or no if he guessed how I was doing it. I said, “That’s fair enough…sure.” He says, “You have another lady singing offstage.” I told him he was right and he said that his six-year old daughter had thought of it and asked him,” “Where’s the other lady?” It was simple, but she was the first one to figure it out. It wasn’t until 1956, that I took Mary’s sister out of the act and started using tape.

Les Paul and Mr. Bonzai, photo by David Schwartz

Les Paul and Mr. Bonzai, photo by David Schwartz

For more of this interview, visit my BerkleemusicBlog.

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