There were lots of arguments about music back in the day, most of them really important and crucial to the future happiness of the world. Stones or Beatles was the classic example, and, if I’m not mistaken, it still has some potency today.
But there were others. Who was the better keyboard player, Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson? Best guitarist: Page, Clapton, Beck, Blackmore, Howe? Someone else? There was someone else!? Was Robert Plant a better rock vocalist than Ian Gillan or Paul Rodgers? And on and on and on. And on.
The other big issue revolved around guitars, those ultimate symbols of cock rock and all the preening masculinity that went with it. And the quintessential argument of this type was simply, which was better, the Gibson Les Paul or the Fender Stratocaster?
If that means nothing to you, think in terms of Mac versus PC. That about gets the tenor of the debate right, in all its world-important geekery, except that I don’t think either a Strat or a Les Paul was considered by either side of the debate to be as uncool as a PC.
Anyway, all of this is by way of a tribute to Les Paul, the designer of the aforementioned guitar, a great guitarist in his own right, and one of the seminal figures of rock n’ history. He has died at aged 94:
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.”
Very sad, though as he wasn’t Australian, it is unlikely Kevin Rudd will want to say anything about his passing in parliament today.
Personally, I was always a Les Paul guy, preferring its chunkier, heavier sound to the more trebley Strat. (But hey, if someone had given me a Strat….)
The classic combination was the Les Paul and the Marshall (valve) amp. Nothing quite said rock music in the same way.
Of course, once you had settled on the Les Paul side of the debate, the argument then became, which Les Paul? For me, and I think for most of us wannabes, it was pretty straightforward. Despite the beauty of the sunburst or the elegance of the goldtop, it was always the basic black Gibson Les Paul that ruled supreme. A thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, I’ve never owned the real thing, though I’ve played a few of them. The closest I ever came was an Ibanez copy that I picked up secondhand when I was about eighteen. Regrets, I’ve had a few.
When we lived in the US, one of the highlights was doing the factory tour at the Gibson plant in Nashville. It was like being present at the creation. You get the basic idea from this cute little YouTube:
Even during a recent trip to the US, in July this year, we nearly had a Les Paul moment.
The photo at the head of the post is one I snapped outside Iridium, a jazz club right in the heart of Times Square, so surrounded by other bigger, shinier places that you could easily miss it.
The reasons I took the photo, the reason I even noticed the joint, was that the electronic sign above the door was advertising that the Les Paul Trio played there (from memory) every second Tuesday. Just seeing his name scrolling along on that cheap sign was a thrill, and in light of his passing, it makes you think. This is only a month or so ago, which suggests the guy was pretty healthy up until the end, doing what he obviously loved doing (I think we can safely assume he wasn’t doing it for the money).
Good for him. Ninety-four years old and still with a regular gig.
We considered going to one of the shows, but in the way of these things, talked ourselves out of it. There were more pressing things to do. Needless to say, I can add that to the list of my few regrets. Ah, well…
Les Paul RIP