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November 2007

Les Paul
Les Paul: Chasing Sound!

Those who may have already seen this excellent American Masters documentary when it was originally broadcast on PBS this past summer will be pleased to know that there’s 90 minutes of bonus material on the DVD release. The extras include full-length performances of Paul and his trio during his 90th birthday celebration at Iridium with special guests Jay Leonhart (“How High the Moon”), harmonica ace Jon Paris (“Let the Good Times Roll”), vocalist Sonya Hensley (“Route 66”), guitarist Tommy Emmanuel (“Blue Moon”) and rock star Steve Miller (“Natural Ball”). Also included among the extras are collaborations with Chet Atkins (a 1996 performance of “Avalon”), country star Merle Haggard (a sweet rendition of “Pennies From Heaven”), singer Kay Starr (“Someone Like You”) and the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards (“Cold Pork Chop”), along with complete segments from the popular Les Paul and Mary Ford TV show from the ’50s and movie clips of Paul and his trio from the ’40s. An added treat is a vintage clip from Alistair Cooke’s Omnibus educational television show from 1954, in which Les and Mary demonstrate how they built up 10 layers of guitar and 12 layers of voices on their multi-tracked hit “How High the Moon.”

The main 90-minute documentary, Chasing Sound!, is the definitive portrait of the man who single-handedly changed the face of the recording industry with his various inventions, including reverb, sound-on-sound recording, multi-track recording and the solid body electric guitar, which laid the foundation for the rock ’n’ roll revolution. As great a player as Les Paul was and still is, the most fascinating aspects of this documentary are the segments detailing the development of his various inventions.

Director John Paulson utilizes rare recordings and video footage to trace Paul’s progression, and Paul reminisces fondly about after-hours sessions in Chicago with the likes of Art Tatum and Earl Hines, jams in Harlem with Lester Young and Charlie Christian, and one memorable cutting contest with Nat “King” Cole at a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert.

Interview segments with guitarists Jeff Beck, B.B. King and Bucky Pizzarelli, along with singers Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt and Kay Starr, help illuminate the remarkable story of the indefatigable “Wizard of Waukesha.” But, of course, the best source is Les Paul himself. Now 92, the guitarist and inveterate tinkerer is an engaging storyteller with his irascible, irrepressible sense of humor still very much intact.

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