History of Guitar Faces

Bing Crosby: The Ozzy of the early 20th Century

by James H.

Bing Crosby Randy Rhoads Modern music fans are very familiar with Ozzy's king-maker status for breaking hot new guitarists. When you look back to the first generation of recorded guitar legends, all roads lead to Bing.

Crosby, like Ozzy had a great ear for guitar and appreciation of skilled and unique players and provided a platform for them to not only make the boss sound good but to step into the spotlight themselves. 

In the 1920s the slot was filled by Eddie Lang. This, of course, is pre- electric so Lang was usually found to be playing a Gibson L-4 or L-5 acoustic . His lyrical articulate style made for great inter-play with voice or with his recording partner, violinist Joe Venuti.

Meanwhile in Waukesha WI, a young Lester Polfus is greedily copping every lick he can as he wears out Lang's recordings. Simultaneously, in Paris, Django is excited by the playing and the unique combination of guitar and violin which he later put to great use with Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club Quintet.

Fast forward a few years and Lester Polfus has morphed into Rhubarb Red and finally into Les Paul. Along the way he discovered Django and again went in for a deep study of his playing and synthesized it with the myriad other musicians that inspired him as well as his own quirky, humorous personality resulting in one of the most singular guitar voices to this day . Les had admired Eddie Lang and Bing for some time and had set his mind on eventually becoming the next guitar man for Crosby.

After settling in Los Angeles Les got his trio hired at the same TV studio where Bing's show was produced. Through a series of classic Les Paul maneuvers he finally met the mega star of stage, screen, radio and now television. Crosby immediately recognized the sublime talent and Les achieved his goal. Check out Bing's 1945 hit "It's Been A Long Long Time" , Les decorates the verses in an unobtrusive understated style and Crosby encouraged a nice full solo spot for his new wizard to fill.

Back in France, Django has progressed from playing sidewalk cafe's to backing popular Bal-Musette accordionists in dance clubs, and the popular singer Jean Sablon before forming the Hot Club Quintet. Hearing wartime recordings of Les Paul, Reinhardt was inspired to get that electric tone and when he did it got mixed with the early Be-Bop power and passion into something more expansive and expressive than his early acoustic work. This did not escape Crosby's ear and he set off to France to entice the mysterious Gypsy to record and tour with him. Unfortunately for them and us, Bing was unable to locate the nomadic genius but it still speaks to the fact that the man really loved great guitar playing and helped bring some world changing players to the public consciousness and for that I am eternally grateful.


Bing Crosby And Les Paul Trio - It's Been A Long, Long Time

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