The Songs of Summer Day 8: ‘In the Good Old Summertime’ by Les Paul & Mary Ford
Yesterday would’ve been Les Paul’s 100th birthday, so I thought I’d bump one of his recordings up in the Songs of Summer lineup. Most famous nowadays for his trademark Les Paul Gibson electric guitar, Les Paul was a bit of a genius, in my estimation. A brilliant guitarist and musician for sure, but he’s also famous for his many technical innovations. I think it’s fair to say that without Les Paul, music as we hear it today would sound much, much different.
Les Paul, the musician, scored many hits with his wife Mary Ford. A completely self-taught guitarist, he performed early in his career with Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and others. As a performing musician, he wasn’t happy with the sound of his acoustic guitars, and began to tinker. And tinker.
A nearly fatal electrocution in 1941 (while working on an early electric guitar in his apartment) and a severe car accident in 1948 didn’t slow him down. In fact, after the accident he had doctors reset his shattered elbow at a 90 degree angle (the only other option was amputation) so that he could continue to play guitar. This cat was serious about his music.
Les Paul: Mad Scientist Inventor
As he was wowing audiences across the country with his dynamic guitar playing, Les Paul virtually revolutionized the state and the art of recording. At Bing Crosby’s suggestion, Les Paul built a home recording studio in order to achieve the kind of sounds he was hearing in his head. Using early tape recording machines (again, inspired by Bing Crosby who was an early investor in the Ampex tape company, which made him fabulously wealthy) Paul helped create multitracking recording, which would lend his recordings with Mary Ford their distinctive sound. Also known as ‘sound on sound’ recording, it gave Paul the ability to layer sounds (like guitar tracks or singing voices) on top of each other. For the first time, listeners could hear a singer (like Ford) harmonize with themselves. It’s an amazing sound, and a technique that is still used in recording today (although today it’s done digitally and is much easier to do.)
Les Paul married Mary Ford in 1945, and they soon began recording together. Along with the multi-track tape recording, Paul and Ford also revolutionized the studio technique known as ‘close miking,’ placing the microphone less than 6 inches from the singer’s mouth. This produces a more intimate, relaxed sound. Combined with Paul’s multi-tracking of guitar and voice, the results were magical and still sound modern today, decades later.
Finally, there’s the guitar. Unhappy with acoustic guitars, Les Paul approached Gibson Guitars in 1948 with a design based on ‘The Log,’ a solid body electrical guitar he had created. The Gibson Les Paul solid body guitar would go on to give early rock and roll it’s trademark sound, and a new music genre was born.
Fun fact: Les Paul is the ONLY person to be inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. And the Grammy Hall of Fame. And the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And the Big Band Hall of Fame. And the Jazz Hall of Fame. Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Nashville Walk of Fame. I can keep going if you’d like…
So how does all this fit in with songs about summer? Well, in 1952 Les Paul and Mary Ford went into the studio and recorded their own version of the popular 1902 ode to summer, ‘In the Good Old Summertime.’ Like all of their hits, it features their trademark multi-tracked vocals and guitars. And nothing else, because with Les Paul and Mary Ford, voice and guitar are all you really need for a magnificent recording.
So here in all its technical and musical glory, Les Paul and Mary Ford’s version of the old-timey ‘In the Good Old Summertime.’ Enjoy.
BONUS TIME!!! Les Paul never stopped performing, and he never stopped innovating. Ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the 18th Greatest Guitar Player in Rock History, Les Paul was revered by the legions of guitar players that came after him, all of whom owe him a debt of gratitude for his musical and technical innovations. Here’s a great video of one of Les Paul’s many disciples, and good friend, Eddie Van Halen, paying tribute to his idol during a 1988 television special.