legendary guitarists les paul and mary ford -- 8/16/19

Today's selection -- from The Birth of Loud by Ian S. Port. In the early 1950s, with smash hits such as "How High the Moon" and "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," Les Paul and Mary Ford were a husband-and-wife musical act setting attendance and sales records across the United States. Today, Les Paul is remembered as one of the inventors of the electric guitar, with a famed Gibson electric guitar model that carries his name and has been used by countless rock stars:

"People were simply fascinated by this husband and wife, who, after all, resembled no other figures in public life. Features in Look, Pic, and Cosmopolitan probed the couple's creative domesticity in what was soon its dramatic new setting. In 1952, Les and Mary left the West Coast for good and moved to a sprawling mountainside ranch house in Mahwah, New Jersey, about an hour outside of New York City. Here, they could record all day and night without disturbing any neighbors, and without traffic noise or planes flying overhead. The home would also be the set­ting for their new television offering, The Les Paul and Mary Ford Show, sponsored by Listerine. Just as they recorded for Capitol in their Hol­lywood garage and living room, they'd tape these five-minute TV seg­ments around their house, emphasizing the normalcy of their lives even as they showed how, with a microphone over the sink, Mary could record her vocals while doing the dishes. Gags abounded, and usually not at Les's expense. Mary played a bewildered spouse who happened to make music while fulfilling her domestic duties -- her ability to have this multiple identity courtesy of a genius husband who ran the show.

"Les turned the whole New Jersey house into a recording studio, fill­ing it with the finest equipment and effectively guaranteeing that there was no moment during which he and Mary couldn't be working. It made a novel setting for TV; but soon ... living as Les's costar began to wear Mary out. Not only did she find performing in public intrinsically nerve-racking; there were so many events to get through, and each one asked a lot of her. She had to not only sing and laugh and play guitar, but look immaculate in a dress and full makeup for every show -- even a radio appearance. All this while traveling frequently on aggressive itineraries, eating badly on the road, and recording con­stantly with a partner who refused to rest. She began relying on vodka to help her cope with the stress. '[She] kept saying, "We have more money than we can ever spend. Why don't we take a break and just be us again?" ' Les would write later. 'And I wanted to do it, but then the phone would ring and there would be something else to do, more people to please, somewhere new to go, and I could never say no to more work.'

"By 1953, Les and Mary couldn't get away from their reputations even when they wanted to. They were recognized on weekend getaways while dressed in grubby clothes, and discovered and hounded while staying in foreign hotel rooms under fake names. And they were still getting big­ger. That year they released 'I'm Sitting on Top of the World,' their thir­teenth consecutive hit to sell more than five hundred thousand copies.

"With astronomical record sales, the Gibson endorsement deal, earn­ings from live performances, and a Listerine contract worth $2 million over three years, Les and Mary were becoming fabulously wealthy."


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Ian S. Port


The Birth of Loud




Copyright 2019 by Ian S. Port


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