Les Paul, guitar revolutionary, dies at 94: company


June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 14, 2009 at 12:52 PM EDT

Les Paul, a virtuoso guitarist and inventor who shaped the sound of rock 'n roll, died Thursday in New York state, Gibson Guitar company said. He was 94.

Paul "passed away today from complications of severe pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York, surrounded by family and loved ones," said Gibson, producer of the renowned Les Paul guitar.

Gibson called Paul "one of the foremost influences on 20th century sound."

First known as a brilliant guitarist, Paul went on to change the course of music, pioneering the shift from acoustic to electric guitar and inventing multitrack recording.

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 9, 1915, Paul was a child guitar prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 to play with Sunny Joe Wolverton's Radio Band.

He played jazz and hillbilly picking, made his first recordings in 1936, and in 1938 moved to New York to star on national radio.

By his mid-thirties, Paul was one of the country's most sought-after guitarists in a career that saw him play alongside greats like Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.

Combining jazz, western swing and hillbilly sounds, he formed the Les Paul trio, a regular guest on Bing Crosby's hit radio show. His first number one with Crosby and the trio, "It's been a long, long time," topped a million sales.

Late in his career, he recovered from ill health to perform regularly in New York. In 2005 he released a double-Grammy winning album, "Les Paul and Friends: American Made World Played," with electric guitar heroes including Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.

His biggest achievements, though, were in the technical realm, where he helped pioneer solid-bodied electric guitars and multitrack recording, a technique allowing groups to record different parts at different times, then mix them together.

Gibson Guitars began making the Les Paul model in 1952 and the guitar soon became a rock music standard.

Paul eventually held the unusual honor of being the only person to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

"I don't think any words can describe the man we know as Les Paul adequately. The English language does not contain words that can pay enough homage to someone like Les," said Dave Berryman, President of Gibson Guitar.

"As the 'Father of the Electric Guitar,' he was not only one of the world's greatest innovators but a legend who created, inspired and contributed to the success of musicians around the world."

Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar, said "the world has lost a truly innovative and exceptional human being today."

"His musical charm was extraordinary and his techniques unmatched anywhere in the world."

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