Les Paul & Mary Ford©2006JCMarion


Born Lester Polfus in June of 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Les Paul became one of the most influential figures in the music industry both in
recording advancements and the development of the electric guitar as a leading instrument in the world of modern music. By the late thirties he was heading his own trio, playing jazz licks heavily influenced by Django Reinhardt, and played hillbilly songs under the name Rhubard Red. In 1941 he was with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians then moved to California where he formed a new trio and then became a rising star with his appearance at Norman Granz Jazz At The Philharmonic with a memorable duet with Nat Cole on piano trading riffs. By the mid forties Paul had recorded with Bing Crosby and recorded with his own trio for Decca. At about this time Les Paul built the first solid body electric guitar and began to experiment with overdubbing in the studio.

In October of 1946 Paul had his first hit record with “Rumors Are Flying” with vocal by the Andrews Sisters. The record on Decca # 23656 stayed on the top sellers charts for more than three months and got as high as number four in the country. Two years later in early 1948 “Lover” and “Brazil” on Capitol # 15037 was released featuring a multi-dubbed version by Paul that was a sound no one had ever heard of or probably never even imagined. The unique sound propelled the record to a top twenty position in sales for both sides. At about  this time a serious auto accident laid Paul in a long rehabilitation period, and it was a close call to prevent the amputation of his right arm. In mid 1948 Capitol released Paul’s version of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” on # 15070 for Capitol, which was a top ten seller. In late 1946 Paul had met a country singer named Colleen Summers who ws born in 1924 in Pasadena, California. She had been in the cast of the radio program "Gene Autry's Melody Ranch". They were together for the next three years until they were wed in 1949. It was Les that gave her the stage name Mary Ford, which he supposedly picked out of a phone book as he looked for a short name to match his own.

In 1950 the Les Paul Trio had a radio show that featured some vocals by Mary Ford. In June of 1950 Capitol released a version of “Nola” on #1014 that was another remarkable instrumental that stayed on the charts for four months and got into the top ten in sales nationally. “Goofus” on # 1192 followed and made the top twenty.  In late 1950 the first collaboration to hit the charts with Les Paul and Mary Ford was released by Capitol. It was a cover of Patti Page's huge national hit "Tennessee Waltz" on # 1316 originally recorded by PeeWee King and the Golden West Cowboys with Redd Stewart. The Paul and Ford version was a solid hit on its own getting as high as number six nationally and remaining on the charts for almost four months. The flip side, a Les Paul instrumental of the tune "Little Rock Getaway" was also a decent seller - two months on the charts and getting inside the top twenty in sales. As 1951 dawned, the duo of Les Paul and Mary Ford were just hitting their stride. The next two recordings for Capitol would by themselves, cement their stature as one of the top recording acts of the post war years. Both would spend an incredible six months on the top sellers charts and get to the top of the pop music world. "Mockingbird Hill" on # 1373 got to number two where it would remain for six weeks, while its follow up "How High The Moon" on # 1451 remained at number one in the country for more than two months, one of the top selling pop music records in history. The ingenious use of multi-tracking on both vocal and guitar instrumental on this song surpassed anything anyone including Paul had ever accomplished. More than fifty years after its release it still has the musical and technical skill to boggle the mind of the listener, and it is safe to say that no one has ever matched its virtuosity in the recording studio.

Paul continued his instrumental forays while the Paul-Ford vocal records topped the charts. "Jazz Me Blues" on # 1825 was a top twenty seller in early 1951, while "Josephine" on the flip side of the Mary Ford vocal on "I Wish I Had Never Seen Sunshine" on # 1592 gave both sides good sales in the top fifteen in the country. They combined again during the summer of the year with Paul's overdubbed guitar work on "Whispering" and the vocals on "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise" on # 1748, million seller number three for the year for the husband and wife team. "Just One More Chance" was another solid hit for the duo on Capitol # 1825 getting to number three and having a three and a half month stay on the best sellers. Les closed out a remarkable year with a seasonal tune, his version of "Jingle Bells" on # 1881 which also sold nicely.
In 1952 Les and Mary open with another big hit - their version of the old warhorse tune "Tiger Rag" on # 1920. It turns out to be a number two seller and had a three month stay on the charts. That was followed by a solid two sided hit - "I'm Confessin'" on the vocal side and "Carioca" (from the film "Flying Down To Rio") on the instrumental side. Both sides sell well on their own merits and both get into the top fifteen sellers in the country and are around for about three months.

During the early summer "In The Good Old Summertime" and "Smoke Rings" both with vocals by Ford are released on Capitol # 2123, and both hit the top fifteen in sales. In September "Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me" and the instrumental "Meet Mr. Callahan" are issued on # 2193, and this time it is the guitar instrumental that outsells the vocal side. "Callahan" goes to the top five and stays on for four months bettering the vocal side. In November the guitar wizardry of Les Paul is on exhibit again with his version of "Lady Of Spain" on # 2265 which results in a top ten seller. "My Baby's Coming Home" and "Bye Bye Blues" both vocal tunes by Ford closes out the year on # 2316 with another solid seller with both sides getting into the top five. The Ford multi-tracked vocal is on display again with "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World" which is backed with Paul's instrumental version of "Sleep" the theme song from his old boss Fred Waring. The result is another top ten seller.

In June of 1953 Mary Ford does a sensational vocal on a ballad tune "Vaya Con Dios (God Be With You)" with the beautiful guitar backing of Les Paul. The recording on # 2486 turns out to be their greatest selling record ever staying on the best seller charts for an astounding eight months. It holds the number one spot for an equally astounding three months. Almost as unbelievable with those huge sales numbers is the fact that the flip side "Johnny Is The Boy For Me" sells well enough on its own to place in the top fifteen in sales. Les Paul and Mary Ford are certainly the king and queen of American pop music. They have one last chart hit in the year of 1953 - the gospel tinged "Hear Them Bells" coupled with a lovely instrumental called "The Kangaroo" on # 2614. In 1954 the twosome have a syndicated five minute television show and also during the year they have three solid sellers, but nothing like the blockbusters of the past. "I Really Don't Want To Know" on # 2735 is a top ten seller, while "I'm A Fool To Care" on # 2839 has a stronger showing peaking at number six and having a three and a half month stay on the charts. The final record to chart in the year is a two sided effort - "Whither Thou Goest" with a Ford vocal hitting the top ten, and a Paul instrumental "Mandolino" which is a top twenty seller.

In 1955 as the rock 'n roll age was upon the world Les Paul and Mary Ford had their last substantial seller during the summer of that year. "Hummingbird" on # 3165 was a solid seller with more than three months on the charts and topping out at the number seven position. Late in the year a song called "Amukuriki (The Lord Willing)" on Capitol # 3248 barely charted in the top forty, and in 1957 their last chart hit for Capitol was "Cinco Robles" on # 3162 had an equally short stay on the best sellers. In 1958 now recoring for Columbia after more than a decade with Capitol  "Put A Ring On My Finger" on # 41222 had a four week stay in the lower end of the top forty, and three years later in the summer of 1961 the final chart record for Les Paul and Mary Ford was "Jura (I Swear I Love You)" on # 41994. Three years later in 1964 Les Paul and Mary Ford divorced and that ended this prolific and successful musical duo. Mary Ford immediately retired from performing music and lived out her life in California until she passed away in 1977. Les Paul after a time away from performing music returned to do some recording and club dates and was a spokeperson for Gibson guitars, maker of the top rated Les Paul models. The last few years, even at an advanced age, the master has performed on Monday evenings at a New York City club called the Iridium Room. He is still "THE man" when it comes to the electric guitar, and remains the once and always genius.

There are many cds of the music of Les Paul & Mary Ford. As with most prolific performers there is a lot of duplication among the many recordings available. The best for hearing their biggest pop hits is "Best Of The Capitol Masters" from 2005 with 23 tracks. Another good compilation is "The Ultimate Collection" an import on Xtra with 30 tracks also from 2005. For the more completist at heart there are two multi disc issues from Collectables : "How High The Moon" is a six disc 158 track history of the duo. The more selective "At Their Best" is a three disc 76 track  collection. An interesting cd is a live aircheck from their television show called "Les Paul & Mary Ford Shows : May And June 1950" with 25 tracks issued on Jazz Band.

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