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Les Paul
An American Original
By Mary Alice Shaughnessy
William Morrow & Company, Inc.
1993
347 Pages
ISBN:  0-688-08467-2

Buy this Book

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 musicians—and 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 Atkins—and 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 failures—as well as his tumultuous fourteen-year relationship with Mary Ford—this 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.