Friday, August 14, 2009

How High The Moon

Yesterday, on the long drive out to Darien Lake (which is just outside of Buffalo) to see Phish, I was tooling around on my iPhone and came across the unfortunate news of Les Paul's passing on Baseball Musings. I only say "unfortunate" because when someone dies, it's always unfortunate, but Paul lived a fantastic life and died at the ripe old age of 94.

If you're a guitar player or fan of rock music, you probably recognize his name from the famous line of Gibson guitars he endorsed, played by legends such as Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes, Pete Townshend, Peter Frampton, David Gilmour, Keith Richards, George Harrison, Slash, Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Frank Zappa, to only skim the cream of the crop. Chances are, if fancy yourself a guitar player, you either have a Les Paul or have wanted one badly.

If his only accomplishment was pioneering the solid body electric guitar by crafting it out of a four inch thick piece of a railroad track, he would have had an incredibly successful career in the music business. However, that was only the tip of the iceberg. He also invented multi-track recording, which allowed multiple instruments and vocal arrangements to be stacked on top of each other, which is how virtually every album is recorded in the modern day. A musician in his own right, Paul played his regular gig at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York city until within just months of his death, a performance that we urged you all to experience and one I'm ashamed to say I never did.

To learn more about his long and rich life, head over to the Gibson website for a full scale tribute.
There is also a great PBS special on him, which I'm guessing will be re-aired in the near future. Keep an eye out for that as well.

Last night at the Phish show, they stopped briefly before setbreak to acknowledge Paul's passing, explaining that if he hadn't decided that guitars weren't just for background filler in a band, rock and roll as we know it may never have come to fruition. They played a short version of "How High The Moon", which was perhaps Paul's biggest hit and led into Golgi Appartus, a song replete with lead guitar and a beautiful quiet jazzy solo, a signature of Paul's own music. It was a great moment and I thought of all the other concerts going on simultaneously with similar tributes prompting burts of cheers in outdoor amphitheaters across the country and around the world.

The video below was captured during the advent of multi-tracking at which point it was still a novelty, not the standard industry practice. Most songs don't have 26 tracks (except maybe this one) but this video depicts a man far ahead of his time, bright an vibrant, which is exactly how he should be remembered. Rest in peace, sir.

Somewhere there's music,
It's where you are,
Somewhere there's heaven,
How near, how far.

The darkest night would shine,
If you would come to me soon,
Until you will, how still my heart,
How high the moon.


  1. Rest in Peace, Les Paul. I had the good fortune to see him in 1991 at Fat Tuesday's in NYC. Tremendous.

  2. Before I forget, it's cool that Phish did that tribute to Paul. I love Phish, and am glad that they've reunited. They're tremendous live. However, the price of their tickets is outrageous, especially for those of us who fondly remember paying but $20 to see them in Niagara Falls in 1995. I know about inflation and paying to see fame, but they're charging $90 per ticket for distant lawn admission at Darien Lake, NY this tour. Can't and won't do that.