When Les Paul spoke to People magazine in 1988, he said of author Mary
Shaughnessy, "She listens and observes a lot, even things I don't tell her.
If I clear my throat, she goes to the doctor and finds out if there's
anything wrong with me." Now, fiver yars later, Shaughnessy has captured
the fascinating life of the man whose revolutionary recording techniques
and guitar-playing reshaped popular music and paved the way for rock and roll.
Known variously in his long career as Mr. Guitar, the Wizard of Waukesha,
and the Thomas Edison of Rock and Roll, Les Paul dominated not one but a
whole range of popular music forms. Starting out in the Depression-ravaged
thirties as the young hillbilly radio star Rhubarb Red, Les transformed
himself into one of the most celebrated swing guitarists of the forties.
At the same time, his remarkable experiments with solid-body guitar design
and multiple-track recording led to the unique Les Paul sound, which,
together with his distinctive solos and his wife Mary Ford's gorgeous voice,
catapulted the couple to international fame in the fifties. Topping the charts
for years, they inspired an entire generation of young musiciansand
prompted Gibson to launch its prestigious line of Les Paul guitars. Though
they retired in the 1960s, Les came roaring back to the performing front
in the seventies with a Grammy-winning album with Chet Atkinsand a legion
of new fans. Still reaching career milestones today at the age of seventy-seven,
he has been hailed by guitarists as diverse as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck,
Eddie Van Halen, George Benson, and B.B. King, who calls Les the "Maestro,
because he masters whatever he does."
Les Paul: An American Original is a richly textured, meticulously
researched biography that explains the real-life rags-to-riches story
of this muiscal Renaissance man. From Les's triumphs over industry
naysayers to his devastating personal and musical failuresas well
as his tumultuous fourteen-year relationship with Mary Fordthis
remarkable biography is the story of an American original, and a living
history of American popular music.
- Mary Alice Shaughnessy is a staff reporter for
"People" magazine and is currently at work on a new book. SHe lives with
her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, New York.