In the late 1940s, guitar wizard and blossoming inventor Les Paul revealed to the universe the first of his sound-on-sound recordings. They were first issued by Capitol Records on 78 RPM discs and later on 45 RPM singles as well as 10- and 12-inch long playing 33 1/3 RPM record albums.
For his second album, Les brought along a new singer (who became his wife), Mary Ford. Together they created a stellar run of utterly ground breaking, multi-layered pop recordings which pretty much changed the face of the music industry as we know it today.
Somewhere along the way Les started a radio show to help promote his new music on a broader scale. The Les Paul Show is a fascinating snapshot of not only some of his earliest multi-channel music productions but also tracing the evolution of his “new sound.”
Sadly, only a few of these shows have been officially released (on Capitol Records’ excellent Legend & The Legacy CD boxed set from the mid 1990s).
Now… many of you know that I am a long-standing fan and collector of Les’ music. I’ve even written about him professionally in Mix Magazine and DISCoveries Magazine (the latter of which was absorbed into Goldmine Magazine). He’s a major musical hero for me.
Several years ago out of the blue somebody who knew of my Les fandom sent me some MP3s of a whole bunch of these radio shows (thank you and apologies whomever you are… I can’t remember at the moment!). Life being what it has been, I unfortunately never got around to listening to them until recently when I rediscovered the Zip file and loaded them up on a thumb drive to play in the car. Even in the compromised sound of the MP3 format, they have been a revelation to hear!
Back in the day (decades before the Internet), “transcription discs” were a common mechanism for distributing syndicated shows to multiple stations around the country simultaneously. Over the years these discs have been sought after and collected by people like myself.
Personally I have never seen one of the Les Paul Show transcription discs out in the wilds of record collecting. But, they must exist because there are some collections of key songs culled from these radio shows popping up on private pressing CD editions sold on the Internet (I have one of them, which is also streaming on Tidal, more on that in a moment).
Anyhow, this group of 19 or so radio shows got me excited and I started poking around on the Web to see if they might be streaming somewhere so I could share them with you, Dear Readers. Well, wonder of wonders, I found a bunch of them on archive.org (aka The Internet Archive)!
Again the shows are important not only because you’re hearing the roots of what morphed into multi-track recording but also many of these recordings are generally unavailable commercially.
These radio shows are thus essential listening.
Some of my favorites that I’ve heard so far include an early version of “Smoke Rings” which is very different from the more deeply layered version that appeared on the “Bye-Bye Blues” album. Also there’s a fantastic version of the George Gershwin standard “Summertime” (which, after double checking doesn’t seem to have been released anywhere else!)
Again, you can find these radio shows on compilation CDs sold by a quasi legitimate outfit on the Internet. However, they seem a little pricey to buy in full CD resolution (you can get the MP3 versions on a single disc for five bucks however!). Also, I don’t know that they are benefiting the Les Paul Estate or Foundation at all. I suspect they aren’t, thus I haven’t included a link here.
It would be great if Les Paul’s estate could figure out a way to get these radio shows officially released in a high-quality form. I could see this coming out as a boxed set for a Record Store Day or maybe a tasty Bear Family boxed set. It could also be great for a historical podcast series (I would love to be involved in this process if it could happen someday!).
Anyhow… There are several different postings of these recordings on archive.org so you’ll have to explore (as I am) to figure out which ones might sound best (I haven’t had the time to play them all yet!).
But I didn’t want to wait on this any longer so thought I’d just share it with you all to explore. Click here and here and here to go to the shows! Alternately if you just want to hear some of the highlights there is a handy compilation culled from a CD called Les Paul & Mary Ford Shows up on Tidal (click here).