Obituaries

Les Paul: 1915-2009

Les Paul, acclaimed guitar player, entertainer and inventor, passed away today from complications of severe pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plain, New York, surrounded by family and loved ones. He had been receiving the best available treatment through this final battle and in keeping with his persona, he showed incredible strength, tenacity and courage. The family would like to express their heartfelt thanks for the thoughts and prayers from his dear friends and fans. Les Paul was 94.

les-paulOne of the foremost influences on 20th century sound and responsible for the world’s most famous guitar, the Les Paul model, Les Paul’s prestigious career in music and invention spans from the 1930s to the present. Though he’s indisputably one of America’s most popular, influential, and accomplished electric guitarists, Les Paul is best known as an early innovator in the development of the solid body guitar. His groundbreaking design would become the template for Gibson’s best-selling electric, the Les Paul model, introduced in 1952. Today, countless musical legends still consider Paul’s iconic guitar unmatched in sound and prowess. Among Paul’s most enduring contributions are those in the technological realm, including ingenious developments in multi-track recording, guitar effects, and the mechanics of sound in general.

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 9, 1915, Les Paul was already performing publicly as a honky-tonk guitarist by the age of 13. So clear was his calling that Paul dropped out of high school at 17 to play in Sunny Joe Wolverton’s Radio Band in St. Louis. As Paul’s mentor, Wolverton was the one to christen him with the stage name “Rhubarb Red,” a moniker that would follow him to Chicago in 1934. There, Paul became a bonafide radio star, known as both hillbilly picker Rhubarb Red and Django Reinhardt-informed jazz guitarist Les Paul. His first recordings were done in 1936 on an acoustic—alone as Rhubarb Red, as well as backing blues singer Georgia White. The next year he formed his first trio, but by 1938 he’d moved to New York to begin his tenure on national radio with one of the more popular dance orchestras in the country, Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians.

Tinkering with electronics and guitar amplification since his youth, Les Paul began constructing his own electric guitar in the late ’30s. Unhappy with the first generation of commercially available hollowbodies because of their thin tone, lack of sustain, and feedback problems, Paul opted to build an entirely new structure. “I was interested in proving that a vibration-free top was the way to go,” he has said. “I even built a guitar out of a railroad rail to prove it. What I wanted was to amplify pure string vibration, without the resonance of the wood getting involved in the sound.” With the good graces of Epiphone president Epi Stathopoulo, Paul used the Epiphone plant and machinery in 1941 to bring his vision to fruition. He affectionately dubbed the guitar “The Log.”  

Les Paul’s tireless experiments sometimes proved to be dangerous, and he nearly electrocuted himself in 1940 during a session in the cellar of his Queens apartment. During the next two years of rehabilitation, Les earned his living producing radio music. Forced to put the Pennsylvanians and the rest of his career on hold, Les Paul moved to Hollywood. During World War II, he was drafted into the Army but permitted to stay in California, where he became a regular player for Armed Forces Radio Service. By 1943 he had assembled a trio that regularly performed live, on the radio, and on V-Discs. In 1944 he entered the jazz spotlight—thanks to his dazzling work filling in for Oscar Moore alongside Nat King Cole, Illinois Jacquet, and other superstars —at the first of the prestigious Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.

By his mid-thirties, Paul had successfully combined Reinhardt-inspired jazz playing and the western swing and twang of his Rhubarb Red persona into one distinctive, electrifying style. In the Les Paul Trio he translated the dizzying runs and unusual harmonies found on Jazz at the Philharmonic into a slower, subtler, more commercial approach. His novelty instrumentals were tighter, brasher, and punctuated with effects. Overall, the trademark Les Paul sound was razor-sharp, clean-shaven, and divinely smooth.

As small combos eclipsed big bands toward the end of World War II, Les Paul Trio’s popularity grew. They cut records for Decca both alone and behind the likes of Helen Forrest, the Andrews Sisters, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Dick Hayes, and, most notably, Bing Crosby. Since 1945, when the crooner brought them into the studio to back him on a few numbers, the Trio had become regular guests on Crosby’s hit radio show. The highlight of the session was Paul’s first No. 1 hit and million-seller, the gorgeous “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.”

lesMeanwhile, Paul began to experiment with dubbing live tracks over recorded tracks, also altering the playback speed. This resulted in “Lover (When You’re Near Me),” his revolutionary 1947 predecessor to multi-track recording. The hit instrumental featured Les Paul on eight different electric guitar parts, all playing together. In 1948, Paul nearly lost his life to a devastating car crash that shattered his right arm and elbow. Still, he convinced doctors to set his broken arm in the guitar-picking and cradling position. Laid up but undaunted, Paul acquired a first generation Ampex tape recorder from Crosby in 1949, and began his most important multi-tracking adventure, adding a fourth head to the recorder to create sound-on-sound recordings. While tinkering with the machine and its many possibilities, he also came up with tape delay. These tricks, along with another recent Les Paul innovation—close mic-ing vocals—were integrated for the first time on a single recording: the 1950 No. 1 tour de force “How High the Moon.” This historic track was performed during a duo with future wife Mary Ford. The couple’s prolific string of hits for Capitol Records not only included some of the most popular recordings of the early 1950s, but also wrote the book on contemporary studio production. The dense but crystal clear harmonic layering of guitars and vocals, along with Ford’s close mic-ed voice and Paul’s guitar effects, produced distinctively contemporary recordings with unprecedented sonic qualities. Through hits, tours, and popular radio shows, Paul and Ford kept one foot in the technological vanguard and the other in the cultural mainstream.

All the while, Les Paul continued to pine for the perfect guitar. Though The Log came close, it wasn’t quite what he was after. In the early 1950s, Gibson Guitar would cultivate a partnership with Paul that would lead to the creation of the guitar he’d seen only in his dreams. In 1948, Gibson elected to design its first solidbody, and Paul, a self-described “dyed-in-the-wool Gibson man,” seemed the right man for the job. Gibson avidly courted the guitar legend, even driving deep into the Pennsylvania mountains to deliver the first model to newlyweds Les Paul and Mary Ford. “Les played it, and his eyes lighted up,” then-Gibson President Ted McCarty has recalled. The year was 1950, and Paul had just signed on as the namesake of Gibson’s first electric solidbody, with exclusive design privileges. Working closely with Paul, Gibson forged a relationship that would change popular culture forever. The Gibson Les Paul model—the most powerful and respected electric guitar in history—began with the 1952 release of the Les Paul Goldtop. After introducing the original Les Paul Goldtop in 1952, Gibson issued the Black Beauty, the mahogany-topped Les Paul Custom, in 1954. The Les Paul Junior (1954) and Special (1955) were also introduced before the canonical Les Paul Standard hit the market in 1958. With revolutionary humbucker pickups, this sunburst classic has remained unchanged for the half-century since it hit the market.

“The world has lost a truly innovative and exceptional human being today. I cannot imagine life without Les Paul. He would walk into a room and put a smile on anyone’s face. His musical charm was extraordinary and his techniques unmatched anywhere in the world,” said Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar. “We will dedicate ourselves to preserving Les’ legacy to insure that it lives on forever. He touched so many lives throughout his remarkable life and his influence extends around the globe and across every boundary. I have lost a dear, personal friend and mentor, a man who has changed so many of our lives for the better.”

“I don’t think any words can describe the man we know as Les Paul adequately. The English language does not contain words that can pay enough homage to someone like Les. As the “Father of the Electric Guitar”, he was not only one of the world’s greatest innovators  but a legend who created, inspired and contributed to the success of musicians around the world,” said Dave Berryman, President of Gibson Guitar. “I have had the privilege to know and work with Les for many, many years and his passing has left a deep personal void. He was simply put – remarkable in every way. As a person, a musician, a friend, an inventor. He will be sorely missed by us all,”

les-paulWith the rise of the rock ’n’ roll revolution of 1955, Les Paul and Mary Ford’s popularity began to wane with younger listeners, though Paul would prove to be a massive influence on younger generation of guitarists. Still, Paul and Ford maintained their iconic presence with their wildly popular television show, which ran from 1953-1960. In 1964, the couple, parents to a son and daughter, divorced. Paul began playing in Japan, and recorded an LP for London Records before poor health forced him to take time off—as much as someone so inspired can take time off.  In the 1977, Paul resurfaced with a Grammy-winning Chet Atkins collaboration, Chester and Lester. Then the ailing guitarist, who’d already suffered arthritis and permanent hearing loss, had a heart attack, followed by bypass surgery.

Ever stubborn, Les recovered, and returned to live performance in the late 1980s. Even releasing the 2005 double-Grammy winner Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played, featuring collaborations with a veritable who’s who of the electric guitar, including dozens of illustrious fans like Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Joe Perry. In 2008, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid tribute to Les Paul in a week-long celebration of his life which culminated with a live performance by Les himself.  Until recently Les continued to perform two weekly New York shows with the Les Paul Trio, at The Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, for over twelve years where a literal who’s who of the entertainment world has paid homage.  It has been an honor to have Les Paul perform at The Iridium Jazz Club  for the past twelve years hosting such luminaries as Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and others and is a tragic loss to owner Ron Sturm both personally and professionally. Iridium intends to celebrate Les Paul's music and legacy every Monday night.

Les Paul has since become the only individual to share membership into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Les is survived by his three sons Lester (Rus) G.  Paul, Gene W. Paul and Robert (Bobby) R. Paul, his daughter Colleen Wess, son-in-law Gary Wess, long time friend Arlene Palmer,  five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. A private Funeral service will be held in New York. A service in Waukesha, WI will be announced at a later date. Details will follow and will be announced for all services. Memorial tributes for the public will be announced at a future date.   The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Les Paul Foundation, 236 West 30th Street, 7th Floor, New York, New York 10001.

David 'Fathead' Newman | 2.24.33 – 1.20.09

David “Fathead

David "Fathead" Newman, legendary saxophonist/flutist and composer who was a prominent member of the Ray Charles band in the fifties and the sixties and a renowned bandleader in his own right thereafter, passed away on January 20, 2009 in upstate New York, succumbing to the pancreatic cancer that he heroically battled for the past year.  He was 75 years old.

David Newman was born in Corsicana, Texas on February 24, 1933 and soon moved with his family to Dallas, where he graduated Lincoln High School, following which he attended Jarvis Christian College where he studied theology and music on a scholarship while working in local bands. After two years of college, Newman went on the road full time with fellow Texan Red Connor's group which featured Ornette Coleman and with the band of Charlie Parker's mentor Buster Smith, playing dance halls, throughout the southwest. While on tour he met Ray Charles, who was working as a sideman with another group. The two bonded, both musically and personally and when Charles began leading his own band in 1954, he called upon Newman to join the group, beginning a twelve-year association with the organization, helping to define the Charles orchestra's sound as its star tenor soloist.

Charles was instrumental in helping Newman set out on a solo career, bringing the saxophonist to his label, Atlantic Records, leading to his debut album as a leader in 1959, Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman. The date included Newman's soulful rendition of Paul Mitchell's classic "Hard Times," with which he would be identified for the rest of his life.  Newman would record numerous more records as a leader for Atlantic.  His versatility on saxes and flutes also made him a first call session player and his presence contributed to studio dates by the likes of Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Dr. John, Joe Cocker, The Average White Band and Garland Jeffreys, as well as jazz greats Lee Morgan, Herbie Mann and fellow Charles alumnus Hank Crawford.

In 1980, Newman, determined to pursue his own musical identity, recorded several mainstream jazz albums for the Muse label. Artists such as Cedar Walton, Jimmy Cobb, Buster Williams, Louis Hayes and other fine NY musicians, helped round out the rhythm sections. He returned to Atlantic Records in the late eighties to record several more albums for the label that he started out with. One of the recordings Live at the Village Vanguard, featured Stanley Turrentine and Hank Crawford. Newman's next recordings were on Herbie Mann's Kokopelli label, a beautiful CD in tribute to Duke Ellington, titled Mr. Gentle, Mr. Cool and another that he produced, Under A Woodstock Moon, the title referring to his move to upstate New York.  Newman began a productive relationship with High Note Records at the close of the 1990s, releasing an impressive series of albums, including Chillin', Keep the Spirits Singing, Davey Blue, The Gift , Song for the New Man , I Remember Brother Ray (a moving tribute to Ray Charles became the #1 Most Played Jazz Album nationwide), Cityscape, and Life.  His latest album Diamondhead was released in 2008. David went into the Rudy Van Gelder studio for the last time in December, 2008 for what was to be his last recording, The Blessing, which will appear on High Note later in 2009.

Newman appeared on many television shows including Saturday Night Live, David Sanborn's Night Music, David Letterman, and Michael Jackson: Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration. He appeared in Robert Altman's film Kansas City and did a national tour with the Kansas City Orchestra for Verve Records.  He was portrayed by Bookeem Woodbine in the feature film Ray, the award-winning movie on the life of Ray Charles starring Jamie Foxx.

David Newman is survived by his loving wife and manager of twenty eight years, Karen Newman, four sons, eight grandchildren, three great grandchildren, an uncle and an aunt and a father-in-law who was his best friend, Izzy Goldstein. Memorial services are to be announced in the near future.

Message from Merl Saunders' family

Merl Saunders - (2.14.34 - 10.24.08)- for the Grateful Web

Merl Saunders stood for music and love – his smile alone told you that.  We loved him very much – and we know that you, his fans, did too.  Sad as we are to lose him, we're very aware of being comforted by the affection coming from all those touched by that smile and that wonderful music.  He was a special man, a beautiful companion, father, grandfather, and family patriarch, and the proof of that spirit is in the way you've reached out to us at his passing.  From our hearts, thank you.  And we know Merl thanks you too.   

Keep on keepin' on, The Saunders Family

A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, October 29th, at 11 am at First AME Zion Church, 2159 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco.  

In lieu of flowers, we request that donations be made to either the Rainforest Action Network or the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic.

Grateful Memorial for David Kramar

Please visit this memorial site for a fellow deadhead, David Kramar, who recently passed away.  Grateful Web sends out our condolences to David's friends and family.

David Frederick Kramar my brother-in-law's life from Huntington, New York to St Augustine, Florida to Southern California. He dearly loved the Dead.

The Band's Rick Danko Remembered In Luke Doucet Song

photo by Carrie Musgrave- for the Grateful Web

Guitarist/songwriter Luke Doucet found himself in Woodstock, NY on the day fellow Canadian and The Band's singer/bassist Rick Danko died. In the southern rock inspired ballad "The Day Rick Danko Died" Doucet commiserates on the passing of Bob Dylan's former bandmate with an interesting character he met at a local bar upstate on December 10, 1999:

I was in Woodstock the day Rick Danko died.
I climbed up on a barstool beside a perfect stranger and both of us cried.

He said he was a guitar man- used to play with Bob Dylan.
I don't know if I believed him but to call his bluff tonight would surely kill him.

Do not cry old man, it's not what today is for.
Two dead rocks stars in one night is more than anybody's gonna cry for.

Bottoms up stranger, let's tip one for the bass man.
Let's bury him tonight, at the bottom of this mason

Luke Doucet's 'Blood's Too Rich' (Six Shooter, 6.24) marries Crazy Horse rhythm with The Band's swaggering melodies to tell candid tales of drifters and ne'er do-wells. The in-demand guitarist follows up his Juno nominated 'Broken (and other rogue states)' with this folk rock opus.

'Godfather of Soul' James Brown dies

RIP James Brown- for the Grateful Web

'Godfather of Soul' James Brown dies at 73.  Grateful Web sends our thoughts to his friends, family and fans.

Vince Welnick Died Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Vince Welnick- for the Grateful Web

Vince died Friday, June 2nd.  He played keyboards with the Grateful Dead from September 1990 - August 1995.  Though he received a lot of criticism during his tenure, Vince was a loving, happy guy who played his heart out with the band.  Grateful Web sends our thoughts to his family and friends.  Thanks for your loving nature, Vince. We'll miss you...

***

"No fear, no hate, could be greater then the size of;
The love that I am seeing deep in the eyes of;
All of my friends, True Blue"
Vince Welnick "Missing Man Formation"
 
 
This song by Vince Welnick was a key inspiration for Quixote's True Blue and the guiding spirit of each of the places that we created successively.  Vince Welnick, the last keyboardist for the Grateful Dead, passed away today, June 2nd.  This bright and charming keyboardist eagerly took the place of Brent Mydland in the Grateful Dead hotseat creating some very memorable moments in the golden days of the Grateful Dead.  He led me to a greater understanding of Jerry Garcia when he said that "he could be ornery at times, but I have never met a kinder gentler man in  my life.  When I first saw Jerry Garcia I believed in Santa Claus.  Everybody is asking the big question and love is the answer.  And I'll always believe in Santa Claus."  Shortly after Jerry Garcia died, Vince Welnick, created a band called Missing Man Formation which was probably the strongest post-Dead band that I ever saw.  In fact when I first saw this band in 1996 and they did the long forgotten song, Saint Stephen,I thought I was going to explode.  Yes, spontaneously combustion was on my mind and I was giddy like a child.  Vince also played at my wedding August 9th at Red Rocks with Gregg's Eggs.   He was all about love and his presence on that day made it all the more special.  His heart was full of compassion in a seemingly heartless world.  He left his mark on my family and will always be considered a member of it.  In short, he will be missed as a friend and a brother.
 
February 21st, 1951 - June 2nd 2006
 
Stay True Blue,

Coretta Scott King Died This Week At The Age Of 78

Coretta Scott King -- (1927-2006)- for the Grateful Web

Coretta Scott King was the wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. She gained an international reputation as an advocate of civil rights, nonviolence, international peace, full employment, and equal rights for women. She died at the age of 78.  She embodies everything good about human beings and were not for her, MLK's voice would not have shined so bright.

King remained largely in the wings of her husband's fight for civil rights, while participating in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and efforts to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

After her husband was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, King stepped up efforts to promote nonviolence, fight poverty and began work establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. She also led the Coalition of Conscience, which sponsored the 20th Anniversary March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1983.

Lennon Remembered 25 Years Later...

John Lennon was killed 25 years ago today- for the Grateful Web

Your music inspires us every day of our life, John.

The Grateful Web

Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005)

Carson died today at the age of 79 from emphysema- for the Grateful Web

Born in Corning, Iowa - Raised in Nebraska  and attented The University of Nebraska -  Johnny died today at 79 -   His show was the stepping stone for countless acts today, including David Letterman, Rodney Dangerfield, and so many more.

May 21st, 1992 was his last Tonight Show -   Johnny died of emphysema.

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