Sunday, May 25, 2008

Les Paul and Amy Ford


Today's Friday Flashback is brought to you by Chasing Sound. Need a good movie? Need a good documentary on music? Go put this one on your list now!

Les Paul was born Lester William Polsfuss on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. From an early age little Lester was obsessed with music. He was particularly interested in finding a way to make a new and different sound with each instrument he played. He began with the harmonica and piano and graduated to his signature instrument - the guitar. Since "Lester Polsfuss" had so many opportunities for mockery, Lester changed his stage name to Les Paul. He also liked that it was short and could be said quickly. That leaves more time for guitar playin'.

By the age of 13, Lester was playing country-music guitar professionally. At 17, Les dropped out of school to join a group called Rube Tronson's Cowboys and subsequently joined Wolverton's Radio Band in St Louis.

In the 30s Les moved to Chicago to give the up-and-at-'em Jazz music a try. He formed the Les Paul Trio and played for the mob. Not really. Well presumably. It was the thirties. And it was Chicago.

During his time in Chicago, Paul would alternate his jazz performances with country music. The hipsters in those days would vehemently debate that a professional musician just can't do that - pick a genre and stick to it! What a bunch of stick-in-the-muds.

After Chicago, Les Paul spent time in New York then ventured west to Hollywood. He was drafted during World War II to play guitar for a radio broadcast show intended to boost the moral for U.S. soldiers. Paul would later be featured on the Bing Crosby show.

Iris Colleen Hatfield was born July 24, 1924 in El Monte, California. Being the daughter of a Nazarene minister, the Hatfield family would travel the US spreading their faithful love with music. After momma was tired of changing diapers on the road, the Hatfield family ended their travels in Pasadena to host the city's first Christian radio show. Iris had the voice of an angel and could play a mean (yet spiritual) rhythm guitar. In the early 40s, Iris was discovered by country music legend Gene Autry.

In 1945, a rising star by the name of Les Paul was looking for a female voice to lead his latest musical adventure. Gene Autry introduced the young Iris to Les. Les said Iris Colleen Hatfield takes too long to say (six whole syllables) so you should be Mary Ford.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Les Paul and Mary Ford.

The duo traveled and entertained and recorded for four years before they became a Mr. and Mrs. That's right - married, hitched, trapped, espoused, betrothed. The couple would reign in stardom until the arrival of rock 'n roll (which coincidentally was made possible by Les Paul inventions - more on that later).

Les Paul and Mary Ford were known for recording in bathrooms, kitchens, hotel rooms - just about anywhere and produced many top 40 hits. Grab your sweetheart and gather the kiddies to give the couple a watch/listen with: There's No Place Like Home, World is Waiting For the Sunrise, How High the Moon, Sitting On Top of the World, Alabama Bound/Darktown Strutters Ball (notice the Listerine ad in this one especially the "some times it takes more than that to thaw out a husband") and Tiger Rag.

At an early age, Les Paul was committed to driving music - especially the guitar - to the absolute limit. He was not interested in performing or creating what had already been performed. He was always "chasing sound" as the doc-u-mentary has so cleverly coined.

In the 1930s, Paul invented an electric guitar known as "The Log" that would be the precursor to the solid bodied Gibson Les Paul. This guitar has been the instrument of choice for Chet Atkins, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, The Edge, Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, BB King and much more! The detailed list can be found here.

In the late 40s, Les Paul's fascination with electronics and the limits of recording led him to invent dubbing and multi track recordings. Until this time, all musical recordings were played together at the same time - all at once. (I realize I didn't need to say both "at the same time" and "all at once" but I'm trying to make a point). If you wanted 18 violins, 2 banjos, and a choir of 22, everyone had to be present for the recording. With the invention of multiple tracks, you could record one violin, play it back and record a different violin part on top of it, then one banjo, then the next banjo, etc, etc. Watch Paul and Mary multi-track here .

Mary would joke that she should record several vacuum cleaners going at once. This way she could get the house cleaned quicker. How I wish it could be true.


Nigel said...

Just one comment. In 1946 Les Paul shattered his arm in a car accident. One doctor recommended amputation and he was told he'd never play guitar again. He had the doctors set his arm in a bent position with his thumb turned inward, which still allowed him to play. The bones fused that way.

By the way, Les Paul & Mary Ford is one of those bands every music lover should investigate. It's such a critical turning point in musical history.

Lois said...

Where does Nigel get this stuff? He is full of crazy trivia like this.

Thanks for the fun and informative post!

The McMillans said...

Did you know that there is a specific "sung" diction for music like this? IPA has a specific sound for the R's you hear in their singing. Their diction is so fabulous. Country singers now adays take those R's way too far in my opinion.

Great post, love this romantic, music makin, duo.

rabidrunner said...

Nigel has brought up a crucial element to LP's history. You might also want to know that Les and Mary threw in the marriage towel and called it kapootz in 1964. Another interesting note of trivia, Steve Miller (of the Steve Miller Band) received his first guitar lesson from Les Paul and Les liked him so much he adopted him as his godson.

Seriously Lois, where does Nigel store all this stuff? Does he rattle off other topics of trivia or just music? Are the walls of your home lined with cassettes and vinyl and cds?

McMillans, did you study Country Diction at that hoity toity college you went to?

The McMillans said...

A southern drawl, many times used in country singing is noted for it's use of American R's. In order for country to sound authentic, there must be specific sounding vowels and consonants. All sounds have an IPA sign so that anyone in any language can pronounce the sound. It's genius really. You can find IPA in any dictionary, it is located right next to the word before the definition. in [these] essentially you can IPA any sound. So the answer is yes. I studied all diction.

Is that Hoity Toity enough for you?

Vera said...

Where I come from, toity is a sacred place to pee. What are you guys talking about?