Longtime singer-songwriter and guitarist delivers rich collection of blues, soul, funk and jazz
It only took listening to the first few bars of Weight of the World, the title track of Joe Louis Walker’s new album, to get a feeling I would love the music. It turns out my gut was right. Weight of the World, released on February 12, is a warm-sounding and rich collection of original songs, including soul, funk, blues and jazz.
If you happened to catch my latest Best of What’s Newinstallment from Saturday, you may recall I highlighted one of the album’s tracks, Is It a Matter of Time? As I noted in the post, while I had featured Walker once before in June 2020, I hadn’t explored him any further then. Well, I’m glad I paid more attention this time!
Before getting to the album, I’d like to provide some background on Walker who picked up the guitar as a child and already started performing during his young teenage years in the mid-’60s. It appears for the first two decades as a professional musician, Walker was a sideman before launching a recording career in the mid-’80s.
From his current web bio: Walker has recorded with Ike Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, and Steve Cropper, opened for Muddy Waters and Thelonious Monk, hung out with Jimi Hendrix, Freddie King, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and was a close friend and roommate of Mike Bloomfield.
Walker’s 1986 debut album Cold Is the Night on HighTone announced his arrival in stunning fashion, and his subsequent output for Verve, Alligator, HighTone, and others only served to further establish Walker as one of today’s leading bluesmen. The New York Times raved, “Walker is a singer with a Cadillac of a voice. His guitar solos are fast, wiry, and incisive, moaning with bluesy despair.” Rolling Stone calls him “ferocious.”
Walker, who is in the Blues Hall of Fame and has won various blues awards, is primarily known as an electric blues guitarist. But his latest album demonstrates his influences extend beyond the blues. Time to take a closer look!
I’d like to kick things off with the great aforementioned title track The Weight of the World. The beautiful soul tune was penned by album producer Eric Corne who shared writing duties with Walker and provided guitar and backing vocals. Corne is a Canada-born and Los Angeles-based producer, engineer and singer-songwriter. His bio reveals impressive recording credits, including John Mayall, Glen Campbell, Kim Deal (The Pixies), Lucinda Williams and Walter Trout, among others.
I’m skipping the previously noted Is It a Matter of Time? and go right to Hello, It’s the Blues. The soulful ballad was written by Walker. Beautiful!
Don’t Walk Out That Door is another standout on the album and may in fact be my early favorite. This gem, which was co-written by Walker and Gabriel Jagger, sounds like sweet “old-fashioned” soul you could picture having come out of Stax – so good!
Next things turn funky on Count Your Chickens. This is another track written by Corne -groovy stuff!
How ’bout some kickass rock & roll? Look no further than Blue Mirror, penned by Walker. Yeah, baby, it’s only rock & roll but I like it. Check out the neat guitar and honky tonk piano action!
Let’s do one more. Did I mention jazz? Here’s the album’s fun closer You Got Me Whipped, another track written by Walker.
Weight of the World, which appears on Forty Below Records, was recorded “just outside of Woodstock, NY.” This review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the fine musicians who backed Walker. In addition to Corne, they include Scott Milici (keyboards), Marc Pender (trumpet), David Ralicke (saxophone), Eric Gorfain (violins), Gia Ciambotti (backing vocals), Geoff Murfitt (bass), Eddie Jackson (bongos) and John Medeiros Jr. (drums).
Here’s a Spotify link to the album:
Walker is supporting the album with a tour that is kicking off this Friday (February 24) in Beacon, N.Y. After a few additional dates in Woonsocket, R.I.; Northhampton, Mass. and Boston, Mass., he’s going to Europe, including France, Switzerland and Norway. The current schedule is here. I would love to see him, but unfortunately, none of the current dates work for me. I’m hoping for a second U.S. leg later this year or catch him some other time!
Sources: Wikipedia; Joe Louis Walker website; YouTube; Spotify
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All featured tracks are on brand-new albums that appeared yesterday (February 17).
Inhaler/Just to Keep You Satisfied
My first pick is a tune from the latest album by Inhaler, an Irish indie pop rock band from Dublin I first featured in July 2021. Initially founded as a trio in 2012, they adopted the name Inhaler in 2015 and shortly thereafter became a four-piece. The current line-up includes co-founders Elijah Hewson (lead vocals, guitar), Robert Keating (bass, backing vocals) and Ryan McMahon (drums), together with Josh Jenkinson (guitar) who has been with the group since 2015. And, yep, Hewson is one of the sons of U2 frontman Bono. In 2018, the band self-released their debut single I Want You. Inhaler were voted no. 5 in BBC’s “Sound of 2020” poll and were also included in the NME 100: Essential New Artists for 2020 list. Just to Keep You Satisfied is the pleasant opener of their new sophomore album Cuts & Bruises. The song is credited to British musician and composer Antony Genn and all four members of the band. My initial impression of Inhaler hasn’t changed: While they don’t sound like U2, there’s definitely some Bono in Elijah’s vocals.
Screaming Females/Morning Dove
Screaming Females are an indie rock trio right from my backyard of New Brunswick, N.J. From their AllMusicbio: New Jersey’s Screaming Females combine scorching guitars, straightforward but melodic tunes, and a clever approach to dynamics with a firmly D.I.Y. approach to create their own brand of punk-infused indie rock. Mixing equal parts Dinosaur Jr. and Sleater-Kinney, the Brunswick trio of Marissa Paternoster (guitar/vocals), Michael Abbate (bass), and Jarrett Dougherty (drums) strive to embody the spirit of indie rock in its purest form, pringing their guitar-driven rock to the people without compromise. The straightforward swagger of their first album, 2007’s Baby Teeth, would give way to more ambitious structures and greater guitar heroics from Paternoster by the time of 2012’s Ugly, 2018’s All at Once, and 2023’s Desire Pathway showed that trickier song structures and more full-bodied production didn’t sap their passion and energy. Off their eighth and latest album, here’s Morning Dove, credited to all three members of the band – pretty good tune!
Grade 2/Fast Pace
Grade 2 are a British punk rock band. From their website: 50 years after the genre turned the music world upside-down, Grade 2 bring the raw power of old school punk to a new generation…Formed on their native Isle of Wight when they were just 14 years old, Jack Chatfield (guitar & vocals), Jacob Hull (drums) and Sid Ryan (bass & vocals) honed their craft covering punk pioneers before creating a sound uniquely theirs: ten years on, the eponymous ‘Grade 2’ is their magnus opus. From the complex rhythms and brutal two-note guitar of opening track ‘Judgement Day’, the record grabs by the scruff of the neck and never lets up. With a commitment to the cause, lead single ‘Doing Time’ is a thunderous hardcore punk track…Intertwined are upbeat bangers (‘Under the Streetlight’, ‘Celine’), classic pop-punk (‘Don’t Stand Alone’, ‘Fast Pace’), and savage old-school grit (‘Parasite’, ‘Gaslight’). The result is a bone-crunching 35-minutes that agitates, intoxicates and liberates in equal measure. Here’s Fast Pace, credited to the group – my kind of punk combining hard-charging rock with a decent melody!
Joe Louis Walker/Is It a Matter of Time?
My last pick for this week is another artist I featured previously, in June 2020: Joe Louis Walker. From his previous web bio: Joe Louis Walker, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Blues Music Award winner celebrates a career that exceeds a half a century…A true powerhouse guitar virtuoso, unique singer and prolific songwriter, he has toured extensively throughout his career, performed at the world’s most renowned music festivals, and earned a legion of dedicated fans…Born on December 25, 1949 in San Francisco, at age 14, he took up the guitar. Just two years later, he was a known quantity on the Bay Area music scene, playing blues with an occasional foray into psychedelic rock. For a while, he roomed with Mike Bloomfield, who introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. If my math is correct, the above means Walker has been performing since the mid-’60s. Yet it wasn’t until 1986 that he released his debut album Cold Is the Night. Since then he has recorded more than 20 additional albums. Apple Music tags his latest, Weight of the World, as R&B and soul. While it also has some blues, I would agree with that characterization. Here’s Is It a Matter of Time? penned by Walker – love this!
Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist of the above tracks and a few additional songs by the featured bands and artists.
The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.
Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues
Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s Newinstallment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.
John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me
Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.
Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods
Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.
Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads
Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.
Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know
Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!
Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions
Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!
The sound of a well played slide guitar is one of the coolest in music in my opinion. I’ve always loved it. It’s also one of the most challenging techniques that requires great precision and lots of feeling. You can easily be off, which to me is the equivalent of a violin player who hasn’t mastered yet how to properly use the bow or a trumpet player who is still working on their blowing technique – in other words real torture, if you miss!
I thought it would be fun putting together a post that features great slide guitarists from different eras. Before getting to some music, I’d like to give a bit of background on the technique and a very brief history. More specifically, I’m focusing on slide guitar played in the traditional position, i.e., flat against the body, as opposed to lap steel guitar where the instrument is placed in a player’s lap and played with a hand-held bar.
Slide guitar is a technique where the fret hand uses a hard object called a slide instead of the fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The slide, which oftentimes is a metal of a glass tube aka “bottle neck,” is fitted on one of the guitarist’s fingers. Holding it against the strings while moving it up and down the fretboard creates glissando or gliding effects and also offers the opportunity to play pronounced vibratos. The strings are typically plucked, not strummed with the other hand.
The technique of holding a hard object against a plucked string goes back to simple one-string African instruments. In turn, these instruments inspired the single-stringed diddley bow, which was developed as a children’s toy by Black slaves in the U.S. It was considered an entry-level instrument played by adolescent boys who once they mastered it would move on to a regular guitar.
The bottleneck slide guitar technique was popularized by blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta near the beginning of the twentieth century. Country blues pioneer Sylvester Weaver made the first known slide guitar recording in 1923. Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and other blues artists popularized the use of slide guitar in the electric blues genre. In turn, they influenced the next generation of blues and rock guitarists like Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band) and Ry Cooder.
Time for some music. Here’s Sylvester Weaver with the instrumental Guitar Blues, one of the earliest slide guitar recordings.
One of the masters of Delta blues who prominently used slide guitar was Robert Johnson. Here’s the amazing Cross Road Blues from 1936 from one of only two recording sessions in which Johnson participated. If you haven’t heard this version but it somehow sounds familiar, chances are you’ve listened to Cream’s cover titled Crossroads.
Are you ready to shake it? Here’s smoking hot Shake Your Money Maker written by Elmore James. James released this classic blues standard in December 1961.
The Rolling Stones were fans of the Chicago blues. One of their blues gems featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar was Little Red Rooster, which they released as a single in the UK in November 1964. It was also included on their third American studio album The Rolling Stones, Now! from February 1965. Written by Willie Dixon, the tune was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in October 1961.
Next is Walkin’ Blues, which The Paul Butterfield Blues Band covered on their second studio album East-West from August 1966, featuring Mike Bloomfield on slide guitar. The tune was written by Delta blues artist Son House in 1930.
In May 1969, Muddy Waters released his sixth studio album After the Rain. Here’s slide guitar gem Rollin’ and Tumblin’, which was first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern (gotta love this name!) in 1929. It’s unclear who wrote the tune.
Here’s one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time: Duane Allman with The Allman Brothers Band and One Way Out. This amazing rendition appeared on an expanded version of At Fillmore East released in October 1992. The original edition appeared in July 1971, three months prior to Duane’ deadly motorcycle accident. Co-written by Marshall Sehorn and Elmore James, the tune was first recorded and released in the early to mid-’60s by Sonny Boy Williamson II and James.
A post about slide guitar wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Bonnie Raitt, an artist I’ve dug for many years. Here’s Sugar Mama, a song co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, which she recorded for her fifth studio album Home Plate from 1975.
Let’s do two more tracks performed by two additional must-include slide guitar masters. First up is Ry Cooder with Feelin’ Bad Blues, a tune Cooder wrote for the soundtrack of the 1986 picture Crossroads, which was inspired by the life of Robert Johnson. This is a true slide beauty!
Last but not least, here’s Derek Trucks who is considered to be one of the best contemporary slide guitarists. Trucks is best known as an official member of the Allmans from 1999-2014 and as co-founder of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he formed together with his wife Susan Tedeschi in 2010. Here’s a great live performance of Desdemona by The Allman Brothers, featuring some amazing slide guitar playing by Trucks. Co-written by Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes, the tune was included on the band’s final studio album Hittin’ the Note that came out in March 2003.
While I don’t ever feel I need a specific reason to write about the blues, I can’t deny the timing of this post isn’t entirely coincidental. The other day, I watched a Q&A with Walter Trout that was streamed online, during which he answered questions fans had submitted. At some point, he talked about his influences and in this context noted The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and their eponymous debut album from October 1965. Well, evidently, Trout’s got great taste!
Frankly, I could have picked any tune from this record, which is just outstanding from the first to the last bar. So let’s kick it off with the opener Born in Chicago. It was written by blues, rock and folk singer-songwriter Nick Gravenites, who became best known as the lead vocalist for The Electric Flag and his work with Janis Joplin and Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Mike Bloomfield.
Apart from the great music, I’d like to call out the tune’s lyrics. These words could have been written in present-day America – something to think about as the country’s so-called leaders present alternate facts, while they pretend to celebrate the nation’s birthday with grandiose and thoughtless mass gatherings in the middle of a deadly pandemic!
I was born in Chicago 1941/I was was born in Chicago in 1941/Well, my father told me/”Son, you had better get a gun”/Well, my first friend went down/When I was 17 years old/Well, my first friend went down/When I was 17 years old/Well, there’s one thing I can say about that boy/He gotta go…
As frequent visitors of the blog know, I just dig vocals, so let’s shake things up a little with a great instrumental. Thank You Mr. Poobah was co-written by Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield and the band’s keyboarder Mark Naftalin. I love that tune’s groove fueled by Jerome Arnold’s walking bass and Sam Lay’s drum work. And there’s also Bloomfield’s masterful guitar-playing and Butterfield’s great harmonica work. Frankly – dare I say it – when the music is so nicely rockin’ and rollin’, who needs vocals! Yes, that just came from the guy who likes to wine about certain tracks, especially in prog rock, which seemingly have endless instrumental parts with no vocals! 🙂
While it’s perhaps an obvious choice, I just couldn’t skip I Got My Mojo Working – what a killer rendition of the Muddy Waters tune that originally came out in April 1957! ‘Nuff said, here it is!
Let’s move on to another original, Our Love Is Drifting, co-written by Butterfield and the band’s second guitarist Elvin Bishop. It’s a great mid-tempo blues track. Butterfield’s singing, Bishop’s guitar work and Arnold’s bassline are the standouts to me in this tune.
I’d like to wrap up things with another blues classic: Mystery Train written by Junior Parker and produced by Sam Philips in 1953. Elvis Presley was the first among many other artists who covered the tune.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was the first of six albums Butterfield released under that name between 1965 and 1971. The band saw various line-up changes already starting with its sophomore album East-West from August 1966, which featured Billy Davenport on drums. Bloomfield who had tired of the band’s intense touring schedule left in 1967 to form The Electric Flag. Among others, that band included the above-noted Gravenites (rhythm guitar, vocals), Barry Goldberg (keyboards), Harvey Brooks (bass) and Buddy Miles (drums), who later became a member of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s eponymous debut album essentially was ignored when it came out, at least from a chart perspective. It only climbed to number 123 on the Billboard 200. I’m also a bit surprised it merely ranked at no. 468 on Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Well, it least they did include it, along with the following commentary: Where American white kids got the notion they could play the blues. This band had two kiler guitarists: Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Jeez, there’s even a typo in there – what an embarrassment!
Just like the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson’s Les Paul is one of the defining electric guitars
As Jim, who writes the excellent Music Enthusiast blog, pointed out a couple of weeks ago after I had published my post about the Fender Stratocaster, I could just as well have called the Gibson Les Paul the model that embodies the electric guitar. I couldn’t agree more; in fact, I had planned all along to do a post on the Les Paul as well, so let’s get to it!
Obviously, the legendary guitar is closely associated with American guitarist, songwriter and inventor Les Paul. The origins of the electric guitar that would bear his name date back to 1940 when Paul built the so-called “Log” at the Epiphone guitar factory. The crude instrument, which consisted of a 4″ × 4″ chunk of pine wood with strings and a pickup, was one of the first solid-body electric guitars. To improve the look, Paul took the wings of an Epiphone archtop body and added them to the pine body.
When Paul offered his idea to the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1941, they initially turned him down. That changed when rival Fender started marketing their Esquire model in 1950, a solid-body electric guitar that later turned into the Broadcaster and eventually the Telecaster.
After Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty realized the enthusiasm about the Esquire and the Broadcaster, he asked Paul to become a consultant to the company. In 1951, Paul, McCarty and his team started developing a solid-body. While apparently there are differing recollections who contributed what, the result was the first Gibson Les Paul, introduced in 1952. Paul used it for the first time in public in June that year during a live performance at the Paramount Theatre in New York.
The initial Les Paul featured a mahogany body and neck, two P-90 single coil pickups and a one-piece, trapeze-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under a steel stop-bar. In 1953, a second Les Paul model called the Les Paul Custom was introduced. A more important development happened in 1957, when Gibson introduced humbucker pickups on the Les Pauls. According to Wikipedia, a humbucker is a double-coil pick-up to cancel out the interference picked up by single-coil pickups, i.e., bucking the hum.
While the Les Paul models were formidable instruments, they were pretty heavy, which is why initially they weren’t widely embraced by guitarists. As a result, in 1961, Gibson introduced the Gibson SG, a lighter solid-body guitar that became the company’s best-selling model of all time. The company also stopped producing the traditional Les Paul.
Initially, Gibson launched the SG as the new Gibson Les Paul. But since the model had been developed without Paul’s knowledge and he was unhappy with the design, he requested that his name be removed from the headstock. Gibson agreed and Paul remained as a consultant with the company. Personally, I’ve always found the SG is a really cool looking guitar.
Ironically, a few years after production had been discontinued, Les Paul models started to become en vogue when guitarists like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton discovered and began using them. Other guitarists followed, such as Mike Bloomfield from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Grateful Dead’sJerry Garcia. Again reacting to popularity trends, Gibson reintroduced the Les Paul single cutaway guitar in July 1968. While there have been some tweaks over the years, the model remains in production to this day.
As indicated above, many guitarists have used Les Pauls. Following is a list of some of them.
The legendary session musician and lead guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band has used various Les Paul models. Here’s a great clip of the band’s epic live performance of Whipping Post at the Fillmore East in 1970. I believe Allman was playing a 1957 Les Paul Goldtop.
While Clapton is better known for Fender Stratocaster guitars, he has also used Gibson models, including a 1960 sunburst Les Paul and a 1957 goldtop Les Paul Custom. In 2010, Gibson announced the Clapton 1960 Les Paul Standard signature model, also known as the “Beano Burst.” Here’s a clip of Clapton playing his 1960 Les Paul.
Page has used various Les Paul models, including from 1959 and 1973. He also owned a modified 1960 Les PaulCustom “Black Beauty,” which was stolen in 1970 and has never been found. Gibson has produced three Jimmy Page signature models. In this clip from Led Zeppelin’s live performance of We’re Gonna Groove at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1970, Page can be seen using a Les Paul.
Slash has used many different Les Paul models including his own custom shop Les Paul. Altogether, he has collaborated with Gibson on eight signature models. Here’s a clip of a 1988 Guns N’ Roses’ live performance of Sweet Child O’ Mine, featuring Slash on a Les Paul.
The Aerosmith lead guitarist has used many Gibson guitar models, including various Les Pauls. Gibson has released two Joe Perry signature Les Pauls, the first in 1996, the second in 2004. The latter is known as the Boneyard Les Paul. In the following clip of a live performance of Toys In the Attic, Perry is playing the Boneyard.
Moore played a Les Paul Standard. There were also two Gibson Gary Moore signature Les Pauls. Here’s the blues rocker and his Les Paul in action live with Walking By Myself.
Among other Gibson models, The Who guitarist used various customized Les Pauls from 1973 to 1979. In 2005, Gibson introduced three Townshend signature Les Paul Deluxe guitars, based on his heavily customized “#1” Wine Red 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, “#3” Gold top 1976, and “#9” Cherry Sunburst 1976. Here is a great clip of a 1978 live performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again, which became the closing scene of The Kids Are Alright rockumentary, in which Townshend plays one of his customized Les Pauls. Sadly, one of the most iconic moments in rock also captured the last performance of Keith Moon, who died in September that year.
Of course, this post would not be complete without a clip of the maestro himself, Les Paul. Not only does it show Paul perform one of his biggest hit singles, How High the Moon (1951), but he also demonstrates one of his inventions called Les Paulverizer. According to Wikipedia, the little device attached to his guitar allowed Paul to access pre-recorded layers of songs during live performance, so he could replicate his recorded sound on stage.