Skip to content

Music Great Les Paul Dies at 94


Les Paul, famed jazz virtuoso and inventor of Gibson’s popular guitar series, died Thursday in White Plains, NY, of compilations from pneumonia, according to CNN. He was 94.

Born Lester William Polfuss on June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, WI, Paul is most famous for his influential guitar playing and innovations in recording and instrument technology, which laid the ground work for rock’n’roll. Never satisfied with his instrument, Paul experimented with different designs, and in the 1930s crafted one the world’s first solid body electric guitars from a log. The design was bought and refined by Gibson guitars in 1952 and dubbed the Les Paul — an electric instrument emblematic of the rock sound that has been played by many musicians, including Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Slash, and Billie Jo Armstrong.

“Suddenly, it was recognized that power was a very important part of music,” Paul said of his guitar’s effect on music. “To have the dynamics, to have the way of expressing yourself beyond the normal limits of an unamplified instrument, was incredible.”

Paul was also celebrated for his inventions in multi-track recording, which allowed different musicians to layer tracks in the studio. This technology would change the face of music recording forever and seal Paul a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005.

In New York in the 1930s and ’40s, Paul performed with several big band singers, including Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and recorded with his Les Paul Trio, featuring country-rock axeman Chet Atkins’ brother Jim on guitar (Paul would later record a Grammy-winning album with Chet in the 1970s). In 1945 Paul hit No. 1 with “It’s Been A Long, Long Time,” a song about returning from WWII that featured Crosby on vocals.

From 1949 to 1962, Paul and his wife, Mary Ford, earned 36 gold records and 11 No. 1 pop hits, including “Vaya Con Dios,” “Nola,” “Lover,” and “How High the Moon,” which you can hear below.

Paul, who in recent years performed weekly at a Times Square’s jazz club despite his ailing health, had been hospitalized in February 2006 shortly after winning two Grammys for Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played, an album he released after his 90th birthday featuring Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and more.

“Without him, it’s hard to imagine how rock’n’roll would be played today,” late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun said when Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 for his early influence on rock.

“How High the Moon”