Friday, August 14, 2009

“Somewhere there’s music/How faint the tune/Somewhere there’s heaven/How high the moon…”

Guitarist and music innovator Les Paul passed away at the age of 94 yesterday, as you may have already read by now, and I honestly can’t add anymore to what’s already been written on the Internets and blogs except that the more reading I do on Paul, the more fascinated I become with the man’s career. Not that I didn’t know who he was; I was familiar with many of the duets he recorded with wife Mary Ford (Bye Bye Blues, Vaya Con Dios, The World is Waiting For the Sunrise and, of course, the tune whose lyrics became the inspiration for this post’s title, How High the Moon) but I was amazed to learn that he was responsible for such innovations as multi-track recording and sound effects like guitar reverb. Keith Richards, who I freely admit I expected to die before Les, remarks in this nice obituary: “He actually taught himself to play guitar in order to demonstrate his electronic theories. All of us owe an unimaginable debt to his work and talent.” Well said.

Character actor John Quade has also shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 71, and while the name may not mean much to some, you’ve most assuredly seen his work as Cholla, the leader of the biker gang The Black Widows in the hi-larious Clint Eastwood orangutan epics Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980). Fortunately, Quade had much more on his resume than these two colossal turkeys so he won’t have to do too much time in Purgatory: his movie appearances also include Bad Company (1972), High Plains Drifter (1973), Papillon (1973), The Sting (1973) and 92 in the Shade (1975). He was also a fixture on television as well; among the series on which he guested: Gunsmoke, The Wild Wild West, Bonanza, Kung Fu and The Rockford Files.

Finally, the demise—and I apologize for being a little too facetious by including it here—of the musical career of country duo Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn came as a bit of surprise; surprise in that I did not glean this information from my usual source, Bill “Death be not proud if it won’t stay off my lawn” Crider but from my blogging compadre Doghouse Riley, who jovially described it as news that made the front page of his beloved Indianapolis Racist Beacon (Mr. Riley, in his never-ending quest to make iced tea come out of my nose described it as such: “…the breakup of something called Brooks & Dunn, some law firm I’m guessing…”) instead of a much more important story (and I do concur it’s much more urgent) regarding the city’s raising of the hotel tax.

No, Messrs. Brooks & Dunn are calling it quits not because of irreconcilable differences but because they feel they’ve milked their nearly twenty-year career for what it’s worth and have simply run out of ideas. I would certainly have to agree with this; the last B&D song that I can honestly say I enjoyed was Proud of the House We Built…since that time they’ve been coasting on fumes. Brooks & Dunn were one of the few “New Country” acts I can honestly say I liked (although technically both men had been plugging away for years before their 1991 smash duet Brand New Man with writing songs for other stars and working on solo careers); a few of their chart toppers were first-rate covers of established hits like My Maria (a Top Ten pop hit for B.W. Stevenson in 1973) and Husbands and Wives (one of Roger Miller’s best-written and performed tunes, which peaked at #3 on the country charts in 1966). Their record label, Arista Nashville, claims that the country duo scored 23 Number One hits but methinks they exaggerate a tad; I count (with Billboard as my source) 20 chart toppers with 40 Top Ten hits in all.

R.I.P, Messrs. Paul and Quade. You will be missed.


X-Ray Specs said...

I have always had ZERO interest in Brooks and Dunn. The blond headed one's hair cut always gave me the creeps. However, they did co-author a book with one of my favorite writers Bill Fitzhugh called The Adventures of Slim and Howdy. Nice country music comic crime novel. It was good enough that I had always hoped for a sequel.

Pam said...

I think we all expected Keith Richards to die before Les Paul!

Les Paul probably has influenced more musicians than any single performer. I don't know one guitarist who has not been influenced by him (myself included). The sad thing is there are a couple of generations who don't even know it. Or know him.

You'd think that one of the world's most populat electric guitars being named "The Les Paul" would be a hint. But it is amazing how many musicians over the last 30 or so years are clueless as to why the guitar had that name or for what Les Paul did and meant.

Guitarists are well know for always buying more guitars. I know people with rooms full. It's not uncommon for some Les Paul models to sell for $15,000 - $20,000. That was before his death. I can't imagine what they will sell for now.

Paul performed most Monday nights at one club or another in NYC for decades. I saw him a couple of times. About the only bright spot on my horizon when I moved to NYC was that I could see Les Paul. (At ridiculously low cost by NYC standards.) Even in his later years, when he was certainly not at his top form, he was still awe-inspiring. Not only because he was well into hin 70's and 80's when I saw him, but also because he was crystal clear - embarrassingly clear - he forgot more than most of us will ever know.

It was also a bit of a kick to see his legendary bent arm. It was only of things everyone had heard about but suspected it was more myth than truth. It was truth.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Beautifully put, Pamerella. You should have written the TDOY obit in the first place.

The mentioning of how top guitarists collect and worship their Paul guitars reminds me of something Dan Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) once wrote (and I'm gonna have to paraphrase it): "Never give a roadie anything of value. I now own a large collection of toothpicks that used to be a Les Paul."