Monday, September 24, 2007

Les Paul: Still Chasing Sound

Les Paul: Chasing Sound
Directed by John Paulson
Koch Vision

Hip New Yorkers look forward to Monday nights. With both teams at 1-2, it’s not for football. Guitar innovator Les Paul has held a long-term Monday night residency at the Iridium, transforming a traditionally slow club night into their busiest (usually) of the week. Profiled as part of PBS’ American Masters series in July, Les Paul: Chasing Sound is now available on DVD, with notable bonus footage.

Paul has worked as a musician of the highest order in jazz, pop, and country genres, but perhaps his greatest contribution was an innovator, pioneering the use of multi-tracking, over-dubbing, and the solid body electric guitar. Paulson’s documentary shows Paul as an amiable artist, enjoying his lofty position as the beloved father of the electric guitar. Reviewing Chasing before it aired I wrote:

"Wisely, Paul is the dominant voice of Chasing, in interview segments and performance clips. We also hear from figures like Gary Giddins, Bucky Pizzarelli, Kay Starr, Tony Bennett, B.B. King, and Johnny Frigo. . . Throughout the film, Paul comes off as a likeable, witty individual. Ultimately, Chasing is as much a tribute to Paul’s continuing longevity, still playing at a highly accomplished level every Monday night at age 92, as it is to his audio innovations. It is well worth catching."

Chasing is still entertaining on second viewing. Paul’s humor and charm come through clearly, even more so when you watch the extensive bonus performance footage, as when he reacts in mock horror when Steve Miller (his god-son) pulls out a Fender (Paul of course is the original designer of Gibson’s solid body Les Paul, called: “by far, the most successful endorsement relationship ever in the history of musical instruments”).

A predictable complaint with docs about musicians at this blog is the frequent lack of complete, unedited musical performances. After all, is not that what their subjects are really all about? The extras here rectify that handsomely, including one of his Iridium sets (celebrating his birthday), featuring an array of guests sitting-in, including a blues with Miller and a very tasty, finger-picking duet with Tommy Emmanuel on “Blue Moon.”

We also see some of the musical features from his television show Les Paul and Mary Ford At Home (1953-1960), sponsored by Listerine (there ought to be another DVD release there, if not a complete set, there should be plenty of highlights to collect). Also of interest are expanded interview segments, covering Paul’s love of jazz, and the reaction to his first electric guitar, which actually occurred during his time with Fred Waring.

The greatest aspect of Chasing is the extent to which it captures Paul’s personality. Most would be happy to be as witty and spry as Paul at 92, let alone have the chops for a weekly gig. Collecting Chasing with a choice Iridium set, archival film footage, and rare film of Paul duets with the likes of Keith Richards and Chet Atkins, makes this great viewing for anyone who ever strummed an electric guitar. After all, they could not have done it without him.