Les Paul, whose innovations with the electric guitar and music technology made him one of the most important figures in recorded music would have turned 99 years old on Monday, June 9, 2014. Often called a mastermind whose creations such as multitrack recording, tape delay and the solid body guitar which bears his name helped give rise to modern popular music and revolutionize a generation of musicians and curious minds. Even into his mid- 90s, Paul never stopped tinkering with things and his multitrack recording is now the industry standard. The world’s top musicians, celebrities, dignitaries and engineers continue to pay homage to the late, great Les Paul. Les lived to be 94 years old and never stopped playing the guitar. His gigs on Monday nights at the Iridium in New York became legendary and his influence on every musical artist who takes the stage today is unprecedented. Often referred to as the Thomas Edison of Music, Les Paul’s 99th Birthday is an opportunity for organizations throughout the country to celebrate and honor Les Paul and begin to lay the platform for the 100th Anniversary year-long program in 2015.
The Les Paul Foundation, which was formed by Les himself, is a means in which to encourage young people to pursue their curiosity and innovation about music, sound and engineering. Its mission is to honor and share the life, spirit and legacy of Les Paul by supporting music education, engineering and innovation as well as medical research. In the spirit of the “Wizard of Waukesha,” the foundation recently adopted a new tagline “Inspiring Creativity – Supporting Innovation.” The foundation continues to bestow grants to schools, organizations, museums and other parties who share in the mission of the foundation and are making a difference.
Paul is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, The National Inventors Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He played with every major musical artist across the globe including Slash, Steve Miller, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Sir Paul McCartney and others, influenced legions of new young artists and appeared in several commercials and television and radio programs throughout his life. His signature Les Paul Gibson guitars have become infamous and story is told every day in several museum exhibits throughout the country.
To kick off Les Paul’s 99th Birthday week, his son Rusty Paul, an avid bass player and entertainer himself took to the stage at the legendary Iridium Jazz Club on 51st and Broadway in New York and performed in a tribute to his father on Tuesday, June 3rd. Rusty shared stories about his father and played a short video highlighting Les’ life which media can view here: C:\Users\Caroline\Videos\LesPaulPromo.mht
Following in the celebration at The Iridium on June 9th, Les Paul’s actual birthday, rock guitar legend Joe Satriani will perform in an exclusive appearance. Satriani is noted as saying “Les Paul set a standard for musicianship and innovation that remains unsurpassed. He was the original guitar hero and the kindest of souls.” Satriani was a good friend of Les Paul throughout his life and shared the stage with him at The Iridium (New York) a few months prior to his passing. The exclusive engagement on June 9th will be filmed for a later broadcast on PBS.
The STAX Music Academy, a recipient of Les Paul Foundation grants located in Memphis, launched the “Les Paul Be the Band” competition where students were challenged to form bands while learning about the contributions Les Paul made to music.
“The Wizard of Waukesha” as Les was also widely known, will be celebrated with a special appearance by The Les Paul Trio and musician Earl Slick. The group will open the popular Waukesha Friday Night Live Summer Music in the Streets program in Les’ hometown. Paul’s hometown of Waukesha will hostd Waukesha Guitartown on Friday, June 6th where Gibson Les Paul guitars were distributed to the Waukesha School District for students who had interest in taking the newly-introduced guitar lessons in high schools. The Waukesha County Museum will also host live music on June 7th to celebrate his 99th birthday. A permanent exhibit called Les Paul: The Wizard of Waukesha, at the Waukesha County Museum continues to attract visitors from around the country and includes some of Les’ personal guitars, tribute jackets, recording equipment, trophies and awards.
Many people may not know that during his lifetime, Les was also working on an advanced hearing solution for musicians with hearing loss. The Hearing Education & Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R) based in San Francisco will release its “Listen Smart” film in conjunction with the 99th Birthday of Les Paul. The film includes a feature of Les Paul and is co-branded by The Les Paul Foundation. The non-profit organization’s mission is to prevent hearing loss and tinnitus among music professionals. The Hearing Health Foundation, also a recipient of a grant from The Les Paul Foundation will hold its Summer Soiree event in New York on Monday June 9th where attendees will learn more about Les Paul and the foundation’s support of their important work in an effort to find a cure for hearing loss. (Photo Right: The Rusty Paul Band performs at The Iridium in honor of his father Les Paul. Rusty Paul is seen far right)
On Saturday, June 7th, The Wisconsin School Music Association will hold the final competition of the popular Les Paul Launchpad competition. This unique annual alternative music competition for Wisconsin high school students is free and open to the public. The event will be held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Union South. Thirteen finalist bands will participate in Milwaukee’s Summerfest Launchpad Regional Showcases with the winning band to receive the prestigious Les Paul Launchpad Award, a professional recording session at Blast House Studios in Madison, an additional slot at Summerfest and a Yamaha equipment package for its school.
The Mahwah Museum in New Jersey will hold its Les Paul Birthday Gala on Saturday, June 14th, 2014 at Ramapo College, another recipient of a generous grant from The Les Paul Foundation. The “Les Paul in Mahwah” exhibit continues to earn rave reviews from guests and is open weekends and Wednesdays until June 25th, 2014. Also the Randolph Performing Arts Center in Randolph, New Jersey will host a special screening of “Thank you Les” on June 9th where Lou Pallo, longtime member of the trio, will be giving away one of his Gibson Lou Pallo signature Les Paul guitars. Milwaukee Public Television will honor Les Paul’s 99th birthday with broadcasts of “Thank you Les” running June 8-June 19, 2014. “Thank You Les” is a star-studded line-up of performers honoring Les Paul and produced by Lou Pallo, the guitarist who performed with Les for nearly 40 years. Interviews with Les’ friends provide insight into the genius, impact and sense of humor of the innovator loved by all.
An animated short produced in cooperation with Wisconsin Media Labs will be featured on the Les Paul Foundation website and tells the story of Les Paul’s life. The seven minute video has Les Paul himself narrating his own life beginning with his childhood and evolving through his various inventions. Wisconsin Media Labs offers free educational, online media services to enrich social studies and literacy curriculum using the stories of famous people in Wisconsin history.
The Les Paul Foundation, along with a group of industry influencers, will be producing a year-long celebration in 2015 as part of a massive 100th Anniversary Celebration program. The 100th Anniversary will include innovative new tours, special concerts, music education programs and grants, collectible merchandise, special media placements, new exhibits, exciting new strategic alliance partnerships, a national public service campaign, national promotions and special appearances by some of the world’s greatest musicians. Details will be updated later in the year at the foundation’s website and major news announcements will be forthcoming later in the year.
“There is no one like Les Paul and we don’t think there will ever be anyone like him. Musicians from every walk of life know that a day does not go by where something they do is not touched by what Les Paul created,” said Michael Braunstein, Executive Director of the Les Paul Foundation. “For all of his innovative new approaches to music and his technological impact on the world he always remained a down-home personality whose desire was simply to make people happy. Just thinking about Les makes you smile.”
For more on Les Paul and the work of his foundation go to www.lespaulfoundation.org
. Photo credit for Rusty Paul Band photo is Courtesy The Irdium.