Family, friends, fans pay final respects to Les Paul

Associated Press

Family members, longtime friends and music fans of all ages lined up Friday at a public visitation for Les Paul, the inventor whose creation of the first solid-body electric guitar helped pave the way for rock 'n' roll.

Adam Bollinger never got a chance to see Paul play live.

But the 15-year-old from Plainfield, Ill., knows how important Paul was to rock 'n' roll. That's why he and his mother, Coleen Bollinger, drove 2 1/2 hours to be among the first in line.

"It's just about me paying respects and being here for him," Bollinger said.

Billy Soutar, 46, met Paul in 1985 and struck up a friendship that lasted until Paul's death Aug. 13 in White Plains, N.Y., 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."

Soutar, a musical instrument repairman, drove from Chicago on Friday to be at the closed-coffin viewing at the Discovery World museum.

It was the public's only chance to pay respects to Paul, and about 1,500 people came during the four-hour viewing, according to the museum.

Paul's coffin 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 there.

Paul was active until his final days, said his manager, Mike Braunstein of New York.

"Les did not believe in retirement," said Braunstein, whose family had managed Paul's career since the 1930s. "You do work. You go from project to project. . . . He left his mark on this planet. Most people don't."

Most of the visitors were like Tim Glander, a music fan who never got to see Paul live.

"It's just my way of saying thank you to him," said Glander, 59, a former school music teacher who drove an hour from Whitewater, Wis.

Paul's New York City funeral on Wednesday, like his burial at Waukesha's Prairie Home Cemetery following the visitation, was private.

Paul, nicknamed the "Wizard of Waukesha," 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.

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