PAUL: LIVING THE LEGACY:
documentary by John Paulson and James Arntz, shown recently as part of
PBS's "American Masters" is loaded with adulation, and why not? Paul is
one of the most significant musical figures of the 20th century, and if
he'd never played a note, he'd still be a music legend for his
inventions. Music producer Phil Ramone insists that not a day goes by
when musicians and producers are not influenced by something Paul wrote,
played or invented, which is why he's the only person to be inducted
into both the
Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame and the
National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Paul, the father of modern
electric guitar with the iconic Gibson solid-body guitar that bears his
name, fueled the rise of rock-and-roll in the '50s and '60s. He invented
multi-track recording and overdubbing, as well as reverb and echo
effects. And, oh yeah, he was a jazz guitar virtuoso and monstrously
popular pop artist in the '40s and '50s with his then-wife, Mary Ford.
from his longtime home in Mahwah,
Paul expresses appreciation for the film that captures his own
unquenchable joy of playing his regular two-set show every Monday at the
New York City.
"Chasing Sound" is built around Paul's 90th birthday celebration there
DVD extras include
more from the birthday celebration, vintage duets with
Kay Starr and Chet Atkins, among others, and classic Les Paul and Mary
Ford TV appearances.
"These are things I
didn't expect," he says of the film and the attendant renewal of
interest in his achievements. "It's great that it's happening, in many
cases letting youngsters know where it started from. It's good that we
have a chance to explain how these things came about. I can't imagine
that anybody knows who I am, that I have done anything or any of it. I
think of it all as a dream."
excerpted, reviewed by
Richard Harrington/Washington Post Staff Writer/Friday, August 10, 2007
you play the electric guitar with any frequency, then the name Les Paul
probably means at least something to you. Whether it's pure knowledge of
his signature guitar's sexy curves or the incredible nimbleness of his
fingers dancing along the fretboard, Les Paul has left massive imprints
across all of music. At 90 when this documentary was filmed, the man is
going as strong as ever. Les Paul: Chasing Sound gives us an
intimate portrait of this master's life and times, from his youthful
roots with ramshackle bands to the massive prestige his name carries to
Paul: Chasing Sound,
his authorized biography, makes certain that you get to know the roots
of this magician in an engrossingly intimate way. Featuring exquisite
historical performances and a wonderful editing and narrative style,
even casual viewers will find a lot of magic within this documentary
material integrated within footage of one of his recent live
performances. We're taken from Wisconsin and Chicago all the way across
the country to Hollywood as Les Paul's adventures in music grasp us on
screen. It's not in a chronological list form either, like reading off a
timeline. His life takes on an intricately displayed persona with very
insightful and emotive glimmers. Les Paul himself tells us about it all
in wonderfully candid form.
The structure of
this beautifully shot documentary is outstanding. When you blitz through
some other documentary pieces, especially music-related docs, you get a
little lost in the cookie-cutter format following an
interview-clip-interview pattern. Chasing Sound, however, is just
a purely enjoyable piece of work to watch, both for content and the
format. Historical footage wedges into the flow, but they're edited in
with such a seamless fashion that you just soak in the material while
watching the interviews. Also, the marvelous musical accompaniment is a
barrage of wonderful choices to backdrop this feature. It's wholly
possible to just kick back and soak in the music and scrolling images
flushing across the screen. Posters, records, lyrics, and sweeping shots
of awards and guitars cross our sight. However, it's in a very humble
fashion void of arrogance.
You see the legit jubilation across several artists' faces that have
absorb influence from Les Paul. Chasing Sound packs in a lot of
influential musicians affected by him, including small glimmers from
Bonnie Raitt and Paul McCartney to prolonged portraits regarding Chet
Atkins and B.B. King. That's not even including all the artists
mentioned that utilized his Gibson-branded works of art. The list is
astronomical, one hardly worth starting to mention. This documentary
makes certain to do a bit of name dropping, and it's to our amazement
and joy to see our man Les standing next to such an amazing range of
Not only did I learn a lot about Les Paul watching Chasing Sound,
but I just had a great time listening to his performances and his
stories. If you're not aware of the full influence he's played on the
world of music as a whole, not just as a guitarist, then Chasing
Sound is a great way to pick up on it. This isn't a documentary
shackled by dates and times to remember, but instead takes us along a
comfortably enjoyable pace while educating us.
is one of the lusher and more pleasurable musical portraits I've had the
delight to see.
Paul: Chasing Sound
is a thoroughly solid documentary piece that remembers to keep us
entertained while we're enjoying the material about a master of his
craft. It takes a low-key, sweeping narrative style accompanied by
wonderfully selected music that we enjoy from start to finish. Packed
with a solid transfer and dense special features, any fan or curious
party will find something to thoroughly enjoy in this package. For that,
Les Paul: Chasing Sound comes Highly Recommended.
THIS WEEK'S PLATINUM PICKS: Inventor, innovator, role model for
aging gracefully - and, man, after six decades, those recordings with
Mary Ford still don't sound like anything else produced on this planet.
What Edison was to the light bulb, 92-year-old Paul is to electric
guitars and most recording advances you can think of since the days
when, say, the Sons of the Pioneers were charting. This American
Masters paean gave me the best time I've had in a while, especially
the parts about then-wed Paul and Ford fashioning their classics in
self-rigged echo chambers around the house. Greatest moment:
watching Richard Carpenter and other enthusiasts listening to the team's
How High the Moon. FOUR STARS out of Four.
Mike Clark/USA Today/
August 17, 2007
dare anyone to spend the time to find one musician who can say they have
not had their musical career influenced by Les Paul. Maybe they aren’t
aware of his career as a country and jazz great, but if they play
guitar, record or listen to music from the last 50 years, they have been
touched in part by the master, the wizard, himself, Les Paul. One might
be able to extend inevitability to anyone who listened to music in the
last half century. Can that be said about any other musician or person
for that matter?
Vision released a 90-minute documentary of the life and times of Les
Paul on August 14th from the renowned PBS series American Masters.
Just as one would expect from this highly regarded series, it contains a
complete and accurate portrayal of Les Paul, his life, music and
achievements. The presentation covers his childhood as a tinkerer, his
time in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles developing his music career
and the stories about his perfection of multi-track recording, the
relationship with Gibson to produce his solid-body electric guitar and
finally his weekly Monday night gig at the Iridium in New York City. The
presentation possesses all the ingredients of entertainment and
information to make the hour and a half program feel like it has lasted
only a handful of minutes.
Having watched many documentaries in my career, I can easily say that
this one ranks as one of the best, owed in large part to Paul and his
willingness to comment on all facets of his life in the most candid of
fashions. My hope was that the presentation would have lasted longer as
it was most engaging and fascinating. I kept saying to myself that it is
one thing to be the best in a creative field, but to also have such
technological curiosity and accomplishment raises questions of about the
brain that worked that way. We may never know the “how” but the evidence
of the “what” exists in this DVD.
Masters Les Paul: Chasing Sound
provides a trifecta of entertainment, education and inspiration in one
90-minute package. In addition to the original PBS presentation, this
DVD package contains bonus footage of a full-length Les Paul performance
at the Iridium with is trio, vintage cuts of Paul playing with Keith
Richards, Kay Starr, Merle Haggard and Chet Atkins,
classic television appearances, including great cuts with Mary Ford and
extended interviews and photos of Les Paul.
Production Notes: Director: John Paulson. With Paul McCartney, Keith
Richards, Bing Crosby, Chet Atkins, B. B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck,
Jimmy Page, Bonnie Raitt, The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Tony
by Charlie B. Dahan
LEGEND OF LES PAUL: At 92, the great Les Paul serves as one of the
hidden faces of American music, a man whose hands and heart are alive in
myriad aspects of our sound, as much a part of the musical
landscape as visionaries like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha
Franklin and Robert Johnson.
years after he hit the scene, Paul’s contributions to music are used and
reused, are heard and reheard, on every stereo and on every radio
throughout the world. In point of fact, this is the innovator who gave
the world the most influential instrument of the modern musical era -
the solid body electric guitar.
Paul’s ingenious curiosity didn’t stop there, as his cutting-edge ideas
on making records found their way into the studio in the guise of the
now universal over-dubbing technique that so many sound engineers
Chasing Sound, which is part of the acclaimed American Masters
series that has entertained and educated us for decades, we
finally have been granted a true examination of the dynamic Les Paul and
his many revolutionary accomplishments.
“It would be
difficult to overstate Les Paul’s influence on popular music in the
twentieth century,” muses American Master’s creator Susan Lacy. “He
pioneered the electric guitar and revolutionized our concept of what
recorded music could be. Ironically, his inventions ushered in rock ‘n’
roll and pushed him out of the spotlight…”
In the minds
of many, Les Paul is the rock and roll melody line, his
solid-body electric axe the heart that drives the blood through the vein
of the song. Consequently, every player owes a debt to his genius:
Without his diligence and curiosity and hard-edged drive, our music
would sound quite differently (and most certainly would lack much of its
wanton bring-down-the-walls passion).
film, Paul’s story is told in pure documentary form, but with a twist:
Instead of using a narrator, Paulson allows his subject to propel the
flow of the piece, Paul painting the picture of his life through sweet
remembrances and anecdotes (taking us from the bitter basics of his
Wisconsin hometown, to the Depression-sick streets of Chicago playing
along side Art Tatum and Louie Armstrong, and then onto Hollywood, days
of World War II, where he backed the legendary Bing Crosby on guitar).
throughout the production are classic bite-sized capsules of the music
Paul helped to make famous, in addition to interviews with the likes of
Jeff Beck, the late Ahmet Ertegun, B.B. King and Tony Bennett – these
voices who remain indebted to Paul now looking back on him with fond
respect, these intimate pebbles of memory serving to give this
film-record ‘body’ and ‘shape’ and present-day relevance. Moreover,
these interviews offer much new information on multiple levels, helping
to humanize Paul in a way that those staid biographies and formulized
magazine snapshots never could.
there are many reasons why this is an important film, not least of which
is the fact that it weaves the bits and pieces of a huge life
into a single shard of fabric that is as broad as it is introspective –
a true reference point that will enlighten a series of generations.
Simply, any kid who boots up his I-Pod and retreats into a rock
‘n’ roll moment should know who Les Paul is and why his work is
considered utterly indispensable to the face of our popular culture.
reviewed by John Aiello/The Electric Review
TEN MINUTES WITH JOHN PAULSON:
John, let’s begin with a bit about how you started directing films.
I was actually a film-maker at the
Smithsonian Institute for 14 years, and that’s how I cut my teeth on the
documentary form. That was also where I learned to make films about
culture and music and the arts. While I was at the Smithsonian I was
able to work with a variety of themes, in a variety of styles. But I
always seemed to gravitate towards films which possessed a strong
cultural expression. That part of my career came to an end in 2002, when
the Smithsonian terminated its film department. And that’s when I became
a true independent film-maker.
Some would say that it’s
pretty bold doing a film on Les Paul, holding to the theory that it’s a
narrow subject-line, since most young viewers probably are not aware of
Paul’s place in music history. Given this, how did you come to make
You know, that’s probably true – most people
don’t have a real sense of who Les Paul is, other than being some dusty
name from the past. And that was exactly my mission with this movie – to
increase awareness of this very important component of music history. In
fact, Les was the first guy playing electric guitar coast-to-coast, the
first to ‘electrify’ and bring this music to the radio. Personally, I
met Paul while I was at the Smithsonian. Of course, I’d known about him
for a long time, with his name embroidered on the necks of so many
guitars. And as I got to know him, I found Paul to be an amazing
character full of exuberance. And as I got to know him better, I came to
understand his special place in history, I came to see that he was
indeed a candidate worthy of an American Masters
It must have been a daunting
assignment – trying to bring this multi-dimensional man to the screen…
Yeah, it was. There was so much to the
story. Plus, I was absolutely stunned by his ability as a guitar player.
The layers to his recordings are astonishing. But the story was big and
broad; there was so much to say in 84 minutes. As a film-maker, I had to
give it everything I had. I didn’t hold anything back, because when
you’re working with a legend like Paul, you owe him as much. Really,
there’s a lot to Paul that most listeners don’t know about, things like
his wonderful sense of humor. I wanted to bring that element out. I
wanted to make a film to match up with Les Paul’s rascal-sense of humor.
Why is it important for
young fans of the rock idiom to see this movie?
I think the over-all message is important –
that you can’t take what came before you for granted. Listen to your
soul and your vision and where it wants to take you. Paul heard these
guitar sounds in his head that no one else heard and he worked like hell
to make them real. He willed them into being, creating technical
advances to make them a reality.
After creating this movie,
tell me who you think the real Les Paul is…
Paul is a guy who always knew what he wanted
to do, and he worked like hell to make these things happen, dedicating
many years of his life to his art. And because of his dedication, his
contributions to music are permanent.
In terms of making the
movie, how long did it take – start to finish?
It took about 2 years start-to-finish,
though it wasn’t done continuously. I started it during his 90th
birthday celebration and the filming continued for another 6-9 months.
After the filming was done, it took another 6 months to edit and shape
the movie. I guess it might be hard for some to understand, but with
Les, you don’t just rip out the camera and start filming. There’s some
camaraderie to the process.
Given Paul’s advanced age,
this production could have presented some challenges. What was it like
working him? Did you run into any unforeseen problems?
Well, Les’ age wasn’t a problem at all. In
fact, Les didn’t even want to make this film in the beginning, he didn't
want to stop his own work that he was doing. It took me 9 months to
convince him to do the project. Actually, Les is really a night owl. He
gets up in the afternoon and lives his life at night. Thus we’d start
filming around 6 PM and stop around 2 AM. We’d finish and leave, and
he’d be off to work on something else. “Chasing Sound” is actually a
phrase Paul uses to describe his own quest. And it was a perfect title
for the movie. But, really, Paul’s age wasn’t a consideration. He’s
still incredibly sharp-witted with extraordinary recall, with such
extraordinary memories stored in his mind.
Where do you go from here
John? What’s your next project?
As far as I am concerned, music is the
fabric of our beings. It’s as important as drinking water. It’s what
moves us. It’s what soothes us. And in my eyes the music-makers are
standard-bearers for each of us. I’ve done a lot of music stories in
documentary form and I want to continue this work. Art is what moves my
soul. And I want to continue on this path…
by John Aiello/The Electric Review
The commercial DVD version of Chasing
Sound available from Koch Vision
allows viewers to commit this very important and very influential music
documentary to their own libraries. The DVD brings the legend of Les
Paul right to your home projectors and captures some rare footage of
Paul at work, playing with his Trio at the Iridium Jazz Club.
These are the special moments that the film’s director John Paulson
alludes to in the preceding interview: Paul’s considerable skill as a
musician placed center-stage as he drowns his spirit in sacred ideas of
sound and rhythm. Going further, viewers are treated to extended
discussions with this ‘architect of rock ‘n’ roll’ as we come to create
a very real and very intimate relationship with the man responsible for
so much of what we hear on FM stations across our scattered countryside.
Aside from its subject matter, the film’s production work stands out –
sparkling clarity marks the shape of each and every frame. In addition
to being appropriate for fans of the electric guitar, Chasing
Sound should be strongly considered for use in the classroom as
an instructional aid: Too many younger students of the idiom fail to
realize Paul’s place in the history of our music, and this film serves
to right that course, reacquainting us with this innovator of many faces
and many passions who took the bare-white thirsty bones of an idea and
shaped them into a world-wide revolution.
by John Aiello/The Electric Review