Millions of people lamented the death of Michael Jackson earlier this summer, and that’s hardly surprising.
The pop idol was arguably the most successful entertainer ever with 13 Grammy Awards, 17 No. 1 singles and estimated sales of more than 750 million records.
The King of Pop, as he was known, will live on in the memories of countless people for decades to come: partly because of his talent and partly because of his notoriety.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Les Paul — a man who may have contributed even more to pop culture by inventing the solid-body electric guitar — will get his due when it comes to public adoration.
Paul died on Thursday, at age 94, of complications from pneumonia.
Before he passed away, he didn’t just invent the solid-body electric guitar (an instrument later embraced by a legion of rock ’n’ roll greats).
As noted in a recent Associated Press story, “He also helped bring about the rise of rock ’n’ roll with multitrack recording, which enables artists to record different instruments at different times, sing harmony with themselves, and then carefully balance the tracks in the finished recording.”
Yet, Paul wasn’t simply a remarkable inventor.
The Wisconsin native was a skilled musician who teamed up with guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins on a couple of albums, one of which was awarded a Grammy.
Paul earned 36 gold records for hits, including Vaya Con Dios and How High the Moon.
He eventually recorded with and made friends with such musical greats as Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Richie Sambora.
Gibson Guitars made his name famous by producing the first Les Paul guitar in 1952.
Similar instruments are still available and continue to sell well to both amateurs and professionals.
Guitarists known for playing the Les Paul include Pete Townshend of the Who, jazz great Al DiMeola and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, among others.
Paul is known for developing various recording techniques that continue to be used, including a delayed effect that became known as tape echo.
In 1954, Paul commissioned Ampex to build the first eight-track tape recorder.
Subsequent improvements in recording built upon that development.
The songs recorded by Paul will likely fade from public memory long before Jackson’s catalogue of hits, but let’s hope his abilities as a true Renaissance man — musician, inventor and recording innovator — will not soon be forgotten.
He deserves to be remembered and celebrated.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.