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LYNN NEARY, host:

It was just about a year ago when my stepson hightailed it up to New York on one of those cheap buses that run up and down the Jersey turnpike these days. A Canadian who was living in this country for a few years, he was determined to check off one of the most important items on his things to do while living in the States list. And he knew the clock was ticking on this one, see Les Paul in person and get his autograph. And though Paul was already several years past 90 last summer, he was still appearing regularly at a New York club. And you could still watch him work his magic with a guitar.

Lots of people made that same pilgrimage, musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. That's because Les Paul wasn't just a great guitar player, he was revered by great guitar players. Rock 'n Roll would not have been the same without him. He paves the way for a new kind of music, when he pioneered multi-track recording and popularized the solid body electric guitar. Les Paul died today at the age of 94, after a career that spanned two centuries. Getting to the top, he once told an interviewer, was the fun part. Staying there was hard work. No question, Les Paul went out on top. And my stepson, he has an autographed picture sitting on this mantle piece.

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

NEARY: I'm Lynn Neary, this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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