The Best of the Capitol Masters: 90th Birthday Edition
Paul, Les with Mary Ford
Turn on the Paulverizer!
Les Paul first previewed his far-out notion of a guitar "chorale" at a party he and his wife and singer, Mary Ford, held at their Los Angeles home in 1947. The guests were Hollywood types, and in the liner notes of this anthology, Paul recalls slipping his homemade wax disc of "Lover" onto the turntable, just to see how the revelers would react. "They'd never heard anything like it, had no idea what or who it was," Paul writes. "But Mary quickly made the connection. . . . She threw her arms around me saying, 'Wow! So that's what you've been doing out in the garage.'"
Wow is right: "Lover" is the first-ever multitrack recording. It was accomplished by the careful stacking of individual parts, one atop another. More than a jaw-dropping parlor trick, this tune begins the modern recording era.
Driven by the dream that one man could emulate an orchestra without hiring extra hands, Paul had been working on the recording for several years. He gave each of the eight different guitar parts on "Lover" a specific mission: Some offered sparring and parrying counterpoint to the melody; some of the guitars were recorded at half-speed so that when played at regular speed, they sounded impossibly fast; some served as a kind of "bass line." (Paul played his own drum parts on many of these hits.) Don't be put off by the tame, easy-listening initial verses: After a break, "Lover" erupts into a quick-stepping sprint that is utterly delightful. Other selections find Paul applying his multitracking tricks to Ford's vocals: Check out "How High the Moon" to hear a lush, wonderfully harmonized Mary Ford chorale.
Paul was the classic garage tinkerer made good. In addition to inventing multitracking (and developing commercial eight-track recorders used in studios), he is responsible for the solid body electric guitar (the storied "Les Paul" model), as well as homemade contraptions that helped him create echo and reverb and muted plucking sounds. This collection, which includes spry versions of standards, jumping blues, and indelible songs like "Vaya con Dios," suggests that Paul's gadget-making was always purposeful. He built these devices to help him realize the music—deep and surprisingly futuristic music—he had bouncing around in his head.
Genre: Jazz, Vocals
Released: 2005, Capitol
Key Tracks: "Lover," "Vaya con Dios," "How High the Moon," "Tennessee Waltz."
Catalog Choice: Chester and Lester
Next Stop: Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant: Stratosphere Boogie
After That: Paco De Lucia, Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin: Guitar Trio
Book Page: 586