MILWAUKEE — Family members, longtime friends and music fans of all ages lined up Friday at a public visitation for Les Paul, a renowned inventor whose creation of the first solid-body electric guitar helped pave the way for rock ‘n’ roll.
Paul’s closed casket was on display in a small theater in front of a row of windows overlooking Lake Michigan. His music played over loudspeakers. Paul’s son Rus and other family members were on hand.
It was the public’s only chance to pay respects to Paul, and more than 100 people showed up in the first hour. Paul’s New York City funeral on Wednesday, like his burial at Prairie Home Cemetery in his hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was private.
Milwaukee native Steve Miller, of the Steve Miller Band, was expected to sing at the burial service.
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Born Lester William Polfuss in 1915 to a German immigrant family in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Paul built his first crystal radio at age 9, about the time he first picked up a guitar.
Nicknamed the “Wizard of Waukesha,” Paul built his first electric guitar prototype in 1929 and the first solid-body version 12 years later. Gibson began mass-producing a six-string electric guitar based on his design in 1952.
Versions of that guitar became the standard in rock music, used by such guitar heroes as Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page.
Paul also was a master in the studio, developing technology and recording techniques that set the standard in the industry. They included using tape echo, multitrack recordings and overdubs.
He was a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Billy Soutar, 46, met Paul in 1985 and struck up a friendship that lasted to Paul’s death Aug. 13 in White Plains, New York, at age 94.
“He was the kind of guy that no matter how big or lowly you were, he’d be interested in you,” Soutar said. “I’m just a schmuck from Chicago who plays guitar. He took me into his house.”
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