The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

“The Wizard of Waukesha: The Life and Legacy of Les Paul” will celebrate the gifted musician and inventor with an ear for the future

CLEVELAND (September 2, 2008)
- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Case Western Reserve University and Gibson Guitar will celebrate the extraordinary legacy of musician and inventor Les Paul at the 13th Annual American Music Masters® series in Cleveland this November. The weeklong event begins on Monday, November 10, and will feature panels, films and educational programs. On Saturday, November 15, an all-day exploration of Les Paul’s impact on popular music Rock and Roll Retrospective: the Les Paul Phenomenon will be held at Case Western Reserve University. Paul is only the second living American Music Master® to be honored with this award; Jerry Lee Lewis was the first in 2007.

A tribute concert will take place on Saturday November 15, at 8 pm at PlayhouseSquare’s State Theater. Participating artists will be announced in the coming months. Tickets for the tribute concert are $30, $40 and $50. Tickets for the tribute concert go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, September 24 through and at the PlayhouseSquare ticket office (216) 241-6000. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum members will be able to purchase tickets beginning Monday, September 8, at 10 a.m., by calling (216) 515-1939.

“Les Paul’s contribution to the history of rock and roll is beyond compare,” said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum President and CEO Terry Stewart. “His history as a musician is unparalleled. He has played with everyone from the Andrews Sisters to Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen. Those who have witnessed him performing live can testify to his melodic genius and soulful phrasing. His innovations - the solid-body electric guitar, sound-on-sound recording and close miking - helped usher in a new era in recording. The Museum’s exhibit, showcasing his innovative instrument design and masterful performance technique, is a cornerstone of our permanent collection.”

“Les Paul is a preeminent musical master so it is fitting for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to pay tribute to such an exceptional man,” said Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO, Gibson Guitars. “There is no greater influence on music than the legendary Les Paul, whom I have the good luck of calling a close and personal friend. All of us at Gibson continue to applaud his many contributions to the world of music and look forward to experiencing the 13th Annual American Music Masters Series that will honor him.”

As a player, inventor and recording artist, Les Paul has been an innovator from the early years of his life. Born Lester William Polfus in 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the first instrument he learned to play was actually the harmonica at age eight. After brief experimentation with the piano, Paul picked up the guitar, not knowing he would one day shape the sound of songs composed by countless musicians around the world. By age 13 he was performing semi-professionally as a country-music guitarist and working diligently on sound-related inventions. With his newfound talent, Paul formed a trio and moved to New York. All the while he busied himself as a bandleader who could play both jazz and country music. After moving to Los Angeles, Paul and his trio backed Bing Crosby, and with Crosby’s encouragement, Paul built his first studio in his L.A. garage in 1945.

His career as a musician, however, nearly came to an end in 1948, when a near-fatal car accident shattered his right arm and elbow. Nevertheless, he instructed the surgeons to set his arm at an angle that would allow him to cradle and pick the guitar. Paul subsequently made his mark as a jazz-pop musician extraordinaire, recording as a duo with his wife, singer Colleen Summers (a.k.a. Mary Ford). Their biggest hits included “How High the Moon” (1951) and “Vaya Con Dios” (1953), both reaching #1.

Over the years, Paul had become frustrated that the audiences were not able to hear his guitar, so he set out to build one that they could. In 1941, he built “the Log,” his first attempt at creating a solid-body electric guitar. He continued to make refinements to this prototype throughout the decade. In 1952, his dream became a reality when Gibson introduced the solid-body guitar that bears Paul’s name. Because of his pioneering work, Paul is often called the “Father of the Electric Guitar.” The Les Paul guitar has become a staple instrument among discerning rock guitarists. This list of musicians associated with the Gibson Les Paul includes Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons and Jimmy Page. 

In 1956, Les Paul introduced yet another technological innovation: the first eight-track tape recorder (designed by Paul and marketed by Ampex). Over the ensuing decades, Paul himself has remained active, cutting a Grammy-winning album of instrumental duets with Chet Atkins, Chester and Lester, and still indulges his inventor’s curiosity in a basement workshop at his home in Mahwah, New Jersey. In celebration of his 90th birthday, a staggering number of musicians came together to record Les Paul & Friends: American Made and World Played.

Les Paul was inducted into the Early Influence category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Today, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has a permanent exhibit “The New Sound: Les Paul and the Electric Guitar” on the Museum’s second floor in the “The Architects of Rock and Roll” room. The exhibit highlights items loaned by Paul, including the first guitar he ever owned, a 1927 Sears Troubador acoustic guitar and many experimental guitars, including a reproduction of “The Rail” made out of a 2 1/2 -foot length of steel rail with a string held down by a screw at each end.

At 93 years old, Les Paul is still a weekly performer at the Iridium Jazz club in New York City. Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Tony Bennett are just a few of the stars that have played on stage with this living legend. It’s his perpetual love of music that keeps Les Paul rocking.

About the American Music Masters® Series

The American Music Masters® series, a co-production of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, celebrates the lives and careers of artists who changed the shape and sound of American culture. Each year, the series explores the legacy of one of those pioneering figures in a range of events that includes Museum exhibits, lectures, films, a major conference and a tribute concert benefiting the Rock Hall’s Education Department. Drawing together experts, artists, fans and friends, these events aim to provide new perspectives on some of the most beloved and influential musicians of the past century.

The American Music Masters® series began in 1996 when the museum paid tribute to Woody Guthrie with a 10-day celebration of his life and legacy. Other American Music Masters® series honorees have included: the father of country music, Jimmie Rodgers in 1997; blues legend, Robert Johnson in 1998; rhythm and blues pioneer, Louis Jordan in 1999; the legendary Muddy Waters in 2000; the “Empress” Bessie Smith in 2001; Hank Williams, the first country western superstar in 2002; Buddy Holly in 2003; folk-blues artist Lead Belly in 2004; Sam Cooke in 2005; Roy Orbison in 2006; and Jerry Lee Lewis in 2007. Artists who have performed at American Music Masters® include Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello, Aretha Franklin, Chrissie Hynde, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.

About Gibson Guitar

Gibson is known worldwide for producing classic models in every major style of fretted instrument, including acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, and banjos. Gibson’s HD.6X-PRO Digital Guitar and the Gibson Robot Guitar represent the biggest advances in electric guitar design in over 70 years. Founded in 1894 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and headquartered in Nashville since 1984, Gibson Guitar Corp.’s family of brands now includes Epiphone, Dobro,Kramer, Steinberger, Tobias, Echoplex, Electar, Flatiron, Slingerland, Valley Arts, Maestro, Oberheim, Sunshine Piano, Take Anywhere Technology, Baldwin, J&C Fischer, Chickering, Hamilton, and Wurlitzer. Visit Gibson’s website at or

About the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is the nonprofit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music. It carries out this mission both through its operation of a world-class museum that collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets this art form and through its library and archives as well as its educational programs.

The Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On Wednesdays, the Museum is open until 9 p.m. Museum admission is $22 for adults, $17 for seniors (65+), $13 for youth (9-12), $18 for adult residents of Greater Cleveland. Children under 8 and Museum members are free. The Museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. When you become a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the world of rock and roll becomes yours to explore. Call 216.515.1939 for information on becoming a member. For general inquiries, please call 216.781.ROCK or visit .