Les Paul, Blues guitarist and songwriter, Died at 94

  Music, Writers

Dead, Lester William Polsfuss on August 12, 2009 at the age of 94 of complications from pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York, known as Les Paul, he was an American jazz, country, and blues guitarist, songwriter, luthier, and inventor.

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, to George and Evelyn (Stutz) Polsfuss, his family was of German ancestry. Paul’s mother was related to the founders of Milwaukee’s Valentin Blatz Brewing Company and the makers of the Stutz automobile.

At the age of eight, Paul began playing the harmonica. After trying to learn the piano, he switched to the guitar. It was during this time that he invented a neck-worn harmonica holder, which allowed him to play both sides of the harmonica hands-free while accompanying himself on the guitar.

It is still manufactured using his basic design. By age thirteen, Paul was performing semi-professionally as a country-music singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. While playing at the Waukesha area drive-ins and roadhouses, Paul began his first experiment with sound.

Wanting to make himself heard by more people at the local venues, he wired a phonograph needle to his guitar and connected it to a radio speaker, using that to amplify his acoustic guitar.

Paul formed a trio in 1937 with singer/rhythm guitarist Jim Atkins (older half-brother of guitarist Chet Atkins) and bassist/percussionist Ernie “Darius” Newton. They left Chicago for New York in 1938, landing a featured spot with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians radio show.

Chet Atkins later wrote that his brother, home on a family visit, presented him with an expensive Gibson archtop guitar that Les Paul had given to Jim. Chet recalled that it was the first professional-quality instrument he ever owned.

Paul married Virginia Webb in 1938. They had two children, Lester Jr. (Rusty), born in 1941, and Gene, who was named after actor-songwriter Gene Lockhart, born in 1944, before divorcing in 1949. Later that year, Paul and Mary Ford (born Iris Colleen Summers) were married.

They adopted a girl, Colleen, in 1958 and their son Robert (Bobby) was born the following year. They had also lost a child, who was born prematurely and died only four days old.

Paul’s influence on the music world extended far beyond the guitar. With the encouragement of Bing Crosby, whom Paul had toured with, Paul built a recording studio in his garage in his Los Angeles home in 1945. There, Paul experimented with a number of different recording techniques.

His breakthrough came in 1948 with a recording of the song “Lover,” which utilized a variety of tracks. It wasn’t long before Paul was creating 24-track recordings and producing hits like “How High the Moon” and “The World Is Waiting for Sunrise.”

According to Rolling Stone magazine, Paul died from complications associated with pneumonia on August 12, 2009. Other sources have listed August 13 as the date of his death, but his memorial in Waukesha, Wisconsin, lists August 12 as the official date. Paul was laid to rest in the Prairie Home Cemetery alongside his mother.