Hello everyone I hope you are having a good week. I rarely watch Public Television but last week they had an interesting feature on Les Paul. I’m sure that many of you, just as I did, grew up listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford, his wife at that time. Such all times as “Mockingbird Hil,” “Vaya Con Dios,” and my all time favorite, “The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise.”
It said at the time of the taping, he was ninety-two and still performing. He has always been credited with inventing the electric guitar and it showed how he took a piece of crosstie and a par off a record player and fashioned the first successful pick up. He also did the first successful “over dubbing” which gave his music such a distinctive sound. Even back then we wondered how they were able to bring that sound to a live concert. I learned that Mary’s sister would sing behind the curtain and also did what we now know as singing from a track.
In any event, the Gibson Guitar Company were so impressed with his association over that years ago they came out with the “Les Paul Edition” guitar.
Along the way he inspired such artists as B.B. King, Charlie Christian, Pink Floyd, and Wes Montgomery, to name a few. He was an avid fan of French Gypsy guitarist, D’Jango Reinhardt, and they showed a film clip of him performing and showed how he used only the first two fingers of his left hand as the others were burned in a fire when he was a child. I’m always impressed with people who overcome handicaps to become legends. Les Paul’s right arm was crushed in a car wreck and he was never able to bend it and yet all of his classics were produced after that happened. To name a few artists who overcame handicaps, Ray Charles, blind; Beethoven, deaf; and Jimmy Rodgers, TB.
Back to Les Paul: in his early radio days he played country and Ernest Tubb was so impressed with his pick up that the bought one and told his lead guitar player, Jimmy Short, to learn how to use it before their next concert. It solved the problem of the rowdy audiences in the honkytonks from drowning out the guitar player.
Some of you may wonder why I spend so much time on this, but look at how Mississippi gave us so many musical greats in jazz, country, blues, and gospel. B.B. King. Charlie Pride, Jimmy Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and the Blackwood Brothers were only a few that you will recognize. That brings up another related subject. In the late thirties a quartet started out in Tupelo called Gene Lowry and the Dixie Four. I heard them at a Watermelon Carnival and later at Palestine church. They went on to Indianapolis, Ind. and Bill Gaither credits them with first inspiring him to enter into Gospel music. It’s like I’ve always said, you never know who you’ll inspire along the way.
Gene Lowry moved back to Memphis in the late fifties and formed a group called the “Gene Lowry Singers” and backed some of the Charlie Rich recordings.
I know some of you are saying that Cooper needs to get back to Water Valley happenings of days gone by. As you long time readers know, I do things like this once or twice a year. Which brings to mind, I haven’t heard from long time reader, Gloria Gardner, and I’m wondering about her.
At least next week will be time for my annual Watermelon Carnival column. There’s plenty of time for any of you that might want to share some memories about past columns to let me hear from you.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O.Box 613189 Memphis, Tenn. 38101 and have a great week.