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Real-life guitar hero: Les Paul

The ultimate 'can do' guy helped Woodstock plug in.

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With all the Woodstock reminiscing and hoo-ha going on this week, I'd like to remind one and all that the legendary festival was not all about Jimi, Janis, Jefferson Airplane, CSN&Y, or Sly and the Family Stone. It was a lot about a guy who wasn't even there. So if I had his cellphone number handy, I'd personally request that the Who's great guitarist Pete Townshend plug in and unleash a vigorous windmill guitar strum in honor of the godfather of the electric guitar, Les Paul.

The musician, songwriter, inventor, innovator, dreamer, real-life guitar hero, and life-long perfectionist passed away this week. Anyone who's ever played an electric guitar is in his debt, for the precocious guitar virtuoso from Waukesha, Wisc., was already playing his own cobbled- together electric guitar a dozen years before the first commercial models appeared. Anyone who's ever enjoyed layered, imaginative recordings like The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" or Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" should tip a hat to Les, who invented multi-track recording. And tape delay. And echo.

And what weekend warrior marvel at his Les's can-do spirit? If he wanted to electrify his guitar? He'd tinker and then tinker some more until he did it. When he wished he had the Andrews Sisters singing on his record? No problem, he invented a machine that could stack up his wife's (Mary Ford) vocal harmonies six times, then six times again. When he decided he couldn't play that guitar solo fast enough? No sweat: He invented a recorder that allowed him to play it at half speed, then seamlessly blend it back in at normal tempo.


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