By: Rick Landers
Photo by Joseph A. Rosen
It’s easy to stay in the box, to not explore and discover new ways of playing guitar or to come up with new ways to amp up your career aspirations. But, if we check out the way legendary guitarist Les Paul approached his guitar passion and life, I believe we can all take inspiration from “Rhubarb Red” and continually re-think or even out-think the challenges that we face in our music and our lives.
If we emulate the life of Les Paul, we find ourselves on a path that reflects high-intensity curiosity, demands a “Can Do” attitude that’s followed-up with disciplined action – leading us to both small and grand success.
I had the great honor to meet Les and sit down with him a few times to talk about his life, his music, his inventiveness and was able to get a glimpse of not only his passion, but his inquisitiveness and the optimism that he embraced when troubled by electronic or sonic roadblocks. And rather than say, “Somebody should fix this or figure it out,” Les would take things on with a “Why not me?”
When he started out he played at a barbecue stand somewhere between Waukesha and Milwaukee when a guy sent him a note telling him that his voice and his harmonica playing were fine, “…but your guitar’s not loud enough”.
Many guitarists would have responded by banging away louder on their guitars or they may have told the guy to sit closer. Not Les; he started thinking as he told me, “Well, that guy started me thinking I’ve got to find a way to make the guitar louder. Then when I did, I ran smack into the problem of feedback. So, I filled the guitar with tablecloths and dirty socks. I tried everything!”
Who would have thought that anyone could be inspired by Les Paul’s dirty laundry?
When Les encountered a problem or saw a need to improve something, he wouldn’t wait for someone else to take it on. He’d take action. Les would begin to think through the challenges in detail, imagining the end result he wanted and incrementally working it out until he found a solution. Or, as his son Rusty told me, when something couldn’t be solved, he would set it aside and return to it later when some epiphany showed up. Then, Les would get back at figuring things out by thinking, tinkering and asking questions.
Les had his hands in the invention of the solid-body electric guitar, four-track recording, the genesis of the first electric bass guitar; all with his belief that somewhere, somehow a solution was possible, and that the solution would start with him.
Les was flexible; he was willing to adapt technologies until he could find something even better and more practical. It was his nature. He was in a serious car wreck and broke his arm. His doctor told him that he would have to set it in a permanent position. Always the pragmatist, Les made certain the doctor set it at an angle best suited for his guitar playing.
We can all reach plateaus in our guitar playing, in our professional aspirations and in life, but we should all take inspiration from Les and apply his spirited “Can Do” approach.
At the end of our first interview, I asked Les if he had any advice that he would give to “the young Les Paul” having lived to 90 years old with phenomenal success.
“…I’d tell anyone young to first be prepared! I set my sights high and with determination. If you believe in yourself you need to only reinforce all your dreams. People need to raise their sights. I was able to get everything I set out to do…”
Check out GI’s interviews with Les Paul and his son, Rusty, to learn more about the legendary Les Paul, his contributions to our world of music and be inspired toward greater things.