The Guitar Master's story...
'Chasing Sound': The Les Paul Story' is an absolute gem of a documentary profiling Les Paul the godfather of the electric guitar. But unlike countless other such well crafted documentary DVD's, it is the subject's own sparkling personality that overrides all those that come to pay homage to him as a real guitar master.
Les Paul is a vibrant nonagenarian who still possesses an inquisitive mind, retains an unquenchable love of life and remains a humorous master of the one liner. Most importantly he is still very much the working musician, holding down a weekly residency in New York at an unbelievable 93 years of age.
'Chasing Sound' is an apt title for a man whose commercial success was but one facet of a career that led him to become an inventor, innovator and ultimately a unique figure in the world of contemporary music. For as this biog pic superbly outlines, Les Paul was responsible for the solid-bodied electric guitar, and he was the pioneer of important recording techniques ranging from overdubbing to multi tracking and echo reverb.
Indeed right near the end of the film guitarist Eddie Van Halen accurately summarises that 'we can never have made the records we do if you hadn't invented multi tracking'. There are several insights into the man's restless and inquisitive spirit, notable when he says, 'When I switch on a light I want to know why the light went on', and it is this insatiable hunger for knowledge and a love of life that finds him still playing his Manhattan residency in his 90's.
In Les Paul's own words, 'I'm still here in the centre of the world and still have the privilege to be able to play'. 'Chasing Sound' historically unravels his insatiable love of life and spirit of independence (which he tells us he inherited from his mother) before it leads us through his 40's heyday with Mary Ford to six decades later as he is feted by the likes of Jeff Beck, Keith Richard, Eddie van Halen, BB King, Steve Miller (with whom he enjoys a lovely blues jam) and Paul McCartney, who confides that it was a Les Paul song that provided The Beatles with their first ever live song. But as Les himself significantly says, 'By playing the Les Paul guitar, Paul McCartney, Jeff Back, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, 'were looking for the same things as me', his inference being that music and sounds are not the preserve of one style of music.
The documentary outlines Les's musical career from Waukesha, Wisconsin to Chicago and ultimately New York. And further charts his unlikely profile boost courtesy of a musical career in the army before topping the charts with Bing Crosby and later turning his back on a commercially successful career with The Andrews Sisters to pursue that elusive sound he was looking for.
His subsequent startlingly successful career with Mary Ford, partly due to his own recording inventions and startling playing ability and a later dip in fortunes with the nascent rock and roll era provide a real insight into the man. But as Merle Haggard accurately put it in regard to his playing, Les Paul was 'the chief of tone, Charlie Christian never had that tone'.
Equally significant is the view Les imparted to Miles Davis that 'if you wanna play you have to play to the people', and perhaps it was this realisation that after a brief hiatus in 1965 when he gave up playing, that has sustained this most engaging of characters ever since.
'Chasing Sound' is a superbly filmed and excellently edited documentary that offers enough great musical moments in between the talking heads. With the accompanying bonus interview footage, live footage of his current exploits and archive material, this DVD is unreservedly recommended for purchase.
Review by Pete Feenstra