Guitar man

How different would our world be if Les Paul had not electrified the world with his classic electric guitar,  the Gibson Les Paul? Here’s CNN’s report on the death of the patron saint of electric guitar devotees:

Les Paul, whose innovations with the electric guitar and studio technology made him one of the most important figures in recorded music, has died, according to a statement from his publicists. Paul was 94.

Les Paul, whose innovations helped give rise to modern pop music, played guitar into his 90s.

Les Paul, whose innovations helped give rise to modern pop music, played guitar into his 90s.

Paul died in White Plains, New York, from complications of severe pneumonia, according to the statement.

Paul was a guitar and electronics mastermind whose creations — such as multitrack recording, tape delay and the solid-body guitar that bears his name, the Gibson Les Paul — helped give rise to modern popular music, including rock ‘n’ roll. No slouch on the guitar himself, he continued playing at clubs into his 90s despite being hampered by arthritis.

“If you only have two fingers [to work with], you have to think, how will you play that chord?” he told CNN.com in a 2002 phone interview. “So you think of how to replace that chord with several notes, and it gives the illusion of sounding like a chord.”

Guitarists mourned the loss Thursday.

“Les Paul was truly a ‘one of a kind.’ We owe many of his inventions that made the rock ‘n roll sound of today to him, and he was the founding father of modern music,” B.B. King said in a statement. “This is a huge loss to the music community and the world. I am honored to have known him.”

Joe Satriani said in a statement: “Les Paul set a standard for musicianship and innovation that remains unsurpassed. He was the original guitar hero and the kindest of souls. Last October I joined him onstage at the Iridium club in [New York], and he was still shredding. He was and still is an inspiration to us all.”

Slash said, “Les Paul was a shining example of how full one’s life can be; he was so vibrant and full of positive energy.”

Lester William Polfuss was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on June 9, 1915. Even as a child he showed an aptitude for tinkering, taking apart electric appliances to see what made them tick.

“I had to build it, make it and perfect it,” Paul said in 2002. He was nicknamed the “Wizard of Waukesha.”

In the 1930s and ’40s, he played with the bandleader Fred Waring and several big band singers, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters, as well as with his own Les Paul Trio. In the early 1950s, he had a handful of huge hits with his then-wife, Mary Ford, such as “How High the Moon” and “Vaya Con Dios.”

His guitar style, heavily influenced by jazzman Django Reinhardt, featured lightning-quick runs and double-time rhythms. In 1948, after being involved in a severe car accident, he asked the doctor to set his arm permanently in a guitar-playing position.

Paul also credited Crosby for teaching him about timing, phrasing and preparation.

Paul never stopped tinkering with electronics, and after Crosby gave him an early audiotape recorder, Paul went to work changing it. It eventually led to multitrack recording; on Paul and Ford’s hits, he plays many of the guitar parts, and Ford harmonizes with herself. Multitrack recording is now the industry standard.

But Paul likely will be best remembered for the Gibson Les Paul, a variation on the solid-body guitar he built in the early 1940s — “The Log” — and offered to the guitar company.

“For 10 years, I was a laugh,” he told CNN in an interview. “[But I] kept pounding at them and pounding at them saying hey, here’s where it’s at. Here’s where tomorrow, this is it. You can drown out anybody with it. And you can make all these different sounds that you can’t do with a regular guitar.”

Gibson, spurred by rival Fender, finally took Paul up on his offer and introduced the model in 1952. It has since become the go-to guitar for such performers as Jimmy Page.

“The world has lost a truly innovative and exceptional human being today. I cannot imagine life without Les Paul,” said Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar, in a statement. “He would walk into a room and put a smile on anyone’s face. His musical charm was extraordinary and his techniques unmatched anywhere in the world.”

Paul is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Inventors Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is survived by three sons, a daughter, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Until recently he had a standing gig at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club, where he would play with a who’s who of famed musicians.

He admired the places guitarists and engineers took his inventions, but he said there was nothing to replace good, old-fashioned elbow grease and soul.

“I learned a long time ago that one note can go a long way if it’s the right one,” he said in 2002, “and it will probably whip the guy with 20 notes.”

Here’s a great Wikipedia list of guitarists who played Gibson Les Pauls, ranging from Allman to Zappa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Gibson_players

And here’s a video clip of Les Paul jammin’  with Chet Atkins:

Songbird

OK. Say what you will. I don’t care. I like this song, “Songbird,” by the late Eva Cassidy:

OK. I’ll give you this. If I start posting songs by John Denver, say, or Barry Manilow, or — God save me — Neil Diamond, then call the attendants from Wingdale, tell them where I am, and lock me away.

But someone I care about very much likes Eva Cassidy   — both her voice and the heart behind the voice. And I hear what she hears in this song, as well as in this version of Cassidy — who died in 1996, just 33 years old, of melanoma —  singing “Over the Rainbow”:

Relax. It’s OK. Eva Cassidy was (and probably still is) a beautiful spirit who had a beautiful voice. Pour a glass of wine. Close your eyes. And listen to the songbird sing…

American smooth

The title of this posting, “American Smooth,” is a clue and a description.

Back in 1998, I got involved with a poetry program at my local high school and had the nerve to ask one of our nation’s greatest poets — Robert Pinsky, who had just been named U.S. Poet Laureate — to take part by conducting student workshops in the afternoon and giving a public reading in the evening.  Robert kindly accepted my invitation, hundreds of people showed up for his reading on that April night, and the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival was born.

Since then, thanks in large part to Robert Pinsky’s helping hand in that inaugural year, the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival has turned into one of New Jersey’s most remarkable and most unusual cultural events, bringing world-class poets — including Louise Gluck, Paul Muldoon, Gerald Stern, Diane Wakoski and many other talented poets of both national and regional accomplishment — to a relatively isolated, still somewhat rural region of western New Jersey.

That tradition of excellence will continue this fall. Here’s a press release I just sent out to poets, poetry fans and media outlets:

One of America’s most highly-acclaimed poets, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove, will read from her works at the 12th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, which will be held Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009, at 8 p.m. in the newly renovated former sawmill at the historic Prallsville Mills along the Delaware River in Stockton, N.J.

Admission is free but donations are welcome. Seating is limited and admission will be first-come, first-served.

Dove will add her name to an impressive list of distinguished poets who have read at the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Pulitzer Prize winners Paul Muldoon and Louise Gluck (also a former U.S. poet laureate), National Book Award winner Gerald Stern, and award-winning poets Thomas Lux, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Stephen Dobyns and Diane Wakoski. The series has also hosted a number of outstanding poets from New Jersey and the region, including Charles H. Johnson, BJ Ward, Joe Weil and dozens of others.

Rita_Dove2006

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952. She served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995. Among her many honors are the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 2006 Common Wealth Award. President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the 1996 National Humanities Medal.

Her books of poetry include American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004); On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Mother Love (1995); Selected Poems (1993); Grace Notes (1989); Thomas and Beulah (1986), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Museum (1983); and The Yellow House on the Corner (1980).

In addition to poetry, Dove has published a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays in The Poet’s World and the verse drama The Darker Face of the Earth (1994). She also edited The Best American Poetry 2000.

Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she has been teaching since 1989. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006.

Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W.W. Norton in the spring of 2009

The Delaware Valley Poetry Festival is presented in partnership by River Union Stage of Frenchtown and the event’s founder and coordinator, Nicholas DiGiovanni of Alexandria Township, a journalist and novelist. Funding is provided by the Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission and the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. The event has been held annually since 1998, debuting with a reading by then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who returned to help celebrate the 10th year of the reading series.


“American Smooth” — the title of one of Rita Dove’s poetry collections and a good description of her poems, both when they’re on the printed page and when they’re read aloud.

Here’s a video clip of Rita Dove reading from her latest book, Sonata Mulattica:

Enjoy the video. Buy a copy of  Rita’s new book. And try to make it to Stockton, N.J., a beautiful town along the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, for a chance to see, hear and get a book signed by one of America’s finest poets, whose work combines great intelligence and depth with even greater heart and spirit.