I watched a fascinating programme on Les Paul last night on BBC 4. I was in two minds beforehand as to whether to bother but it turned out to the best 90 minutes of TV that I have seen in a long time.
I have of course heard of Les Paul and his successful association with Mary Ford, especially "How High the Moon". But I did not realise how great a guitarist and creator he actually was. Most of all, though in his 90's when footage for the programme was shot, he turned out to be a wonderfully engaging personality.
Why was he so successful? Obviously he had a considerable inherent talent (indeed many great talents). Not alone did he develop a unique playing style (combining both country and jazz influences) he was a true innovator of sound and the first to develop overdubbing and multi track techniques which he exploited brilliantly in his own recordings (especially with Mary Ford). However the real secret that came across was a tremendous self confidence in his ability. He seemed to be lucky again and again at different points of his career. For example when he took his band at the time to New York he immediately gained an audience with the great band leader Paul Whiteman. Then when he went to Hollywood he once again gained the immediate attention of Bing Crosby. Later when he had come up with his exciting new instrumental sound he was able to wander into Capitol Records and come up with an immediate contract.
Clearly he had great gift.
However it is a sobering fact that a great many people of considerable talent who never manage to make any real impression throughout their careers (despite their best efforts).
I think the difference in his case was a calm though considerable self confidence that immediately won over all those that he sought out. This allied to an innate shrewdness and marketing ability acted to ensure his success. Luck generally only comes to those who are prepared to accept it and in this sense he was always prepared.
I rarely have seen a person who seemed so comfortable in his own skin (especially in his later years). As all his many admirers queued up to play with their idol he seemed utterly at ease, revelling in these impromptu sessions (which again is down to confidence in his own inherent ability).
He also displayed a wonderful stand up - or more accurately - sit down comic ability, as if he found it funnier than anyone that he could still be playing before an audience in his 90's.
He of course had no need to worry on this score as both in terms of his wonderful gift and his great natural humour he still outshone all his rivals.