Les Paul

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Les Paul was born Lester William Polfuss on June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Mary Alice Shaughnessy, a PEOPLE magazine staff reporter, first met Les Paul in 1985. Shaughnessy convinced Paul that they should collaborate on a biography about him. Paul remained cooperative with the project until December, 1988, when he learned that Shaughnessy had begun interviewing members of the family of Paul’s ex-partner/ex-wife, Mary Ford. Even though the author was disappointed that Paul had withdrawn his support from the biography, she was determined to continue doing the research necessary to complete the project. She interviewed more than a hundred individuals who knew Paul well enough to help pull together the pieces of this complex story. The portrait that emerges is one of a musician who was driven to succeed, to be the best at his chosen craft, never allowing personal consequences to himself or others around him get in the way of that success.

Paul burst onto the music scene in the 1930’s. Always curious, he found a way to amplify his guitar, which would eventually lead to the electric guitar becoming the premier instrument in popular music. Paul was always looking for new technological ways of enhancing his playing. With the capacity to excel at playing either hillbilly or jazz guitar, Paul became an international star by the late 1940’s. In 1949, Paul teamed with vocalist, Mary Ford, and they took the music world by storm. Always a hard worker and a perfectionist, Paul was not an easy person with whom to work, and as popular music began to change in the 1950’s, the partnership and marriage became strained.

The couple finally separated in 1963, but Paul was determined not to let the setback get in the way of his music. As an electric guitarist, Paul is now regarded by generations of rock guitarists as a living legend. In 1988, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Shaughnessy presents Paul as a musical giant who deserves great respect for his contributions to popular music, but not without pointing out the personal shortcomings of an all-too-human individual who just happened to be vastly talented.