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American Master Les Paul Dies

Les Paul is one of those guys you just became aware of, but we didn't fully appreciate his genius until we saw a documentary a year or so ago which has since become one of our all-time favorite films. The guy was just a gem.

It wasn't so much his talent for invention, although inventing the electric guitar and overdubbing should be enough for anyone to be happy with. It was more what he did with those inventions.

When you hear the recordings he made in the first few years after introducing the two technologies, it's just dazzling - and immensely fun and fresh, even today. You can tell that this guy, this scrappy kid from Wisconsin, had been reaching for something musically, and then, all of a sudden, he found it. And his music was exuberant and sweet and overwhelmingly brilliant.

The music he made with Mary Ford still stands up.

Nonetheless, the electric guitar gave birth to rock and roll and the sophisticated uses Paul had for his instrument gave way to power and volume, and people fell away from older forms of music. A lot of musicians chased them - Louis Jordan for one added an electric guitar, to little avail - but it was a new era.

Still, his influence was massive and enduring and he played until the end, when he could only use two fingers due to arthritis in his left hand. It was more than enough.

Yet despite the outlandish energy of his peak years, his finest work may have been with Bing Crosby, who recorded Paul's post-war song, "It's Been A Long, Long Time," a song about a man coming back to the woman he loves after fighting the Axis.

The guitar work is absolutely flawless, as it was for most of his career.

Paul died on Thursday, but his influence will endure.