Lester William Polfuss (Les Paul) was born in Waukesha in 1915 and lived in the 300 block of West St. Paul Avenue.
Les began his musical journey punching new holes into his mother's piano rolls for her player piano just to see what sounds he could make. At age 13, he set out with his harmonica and his guitar. In those days he was either known as Rhubarb Red or Red Hot Red. Soon after that he played on Marquette's radio station where he was offered to have his teeth fixed at the dental school if he played two songs.
In 1948 Les was traveling to California from Waukesha when his car went off an embankment into a creek. His right elbow joint was never the same. During this time he had met Mary Ford and they married in 1949. While he was healing from the accident, he practiced at his brother's tavern, the Club 400 in Waukesha.
Once he was well, Les and Mary began to sing and play together and recorded many songs at their home studio where Les invented overdubbing and multi-track techniques. People were used to hearing this unique sound on their records. So when Les and Mary performed anywhere, they had to run a tape in the background and then sing live with it as accompaniment. He came home rarely after 1949, but in 1961 he came back to Waukesha to play at the homecoming for Catholic Memorial High School.
At the age of 57 he moved to Mahwah, N.J.. During this time, he worked for Gibson Guitar inventing new guitars and amplifiers. A celebration of Les's musical accomplishments occurred in 1988 in Waukesha. This was also a celebration of his mother, Evelyn's, 100th birthday. A band shell at Cutler Park was named for him at this time. Later Highway 164 on the east side of Waukesha was named Les Paul Parkway.
Les received many awards for his many achievements. He also had a regular gig at Fat Tuesdays in New York City every Monday night where he played with many famous musicians, even into his 90s. "The Wizard of Waukesha" died in 2009. He was buried at the Prairie Home Cemetery where a beautiful memorial stands in his honor.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Waukesha police respond to 'rowdy' wrestling fans
- District 97 state assembly seat sees another Republican, libertarian file
- Neylon announces his re-election bid for his District 98 assembly seat
- Bunny Hop, Easter Egg Hunt scheduled for Saturday in downtown Waukesha
- Thursday paper delayed
- Waukesha Town Chairman John Marek battles car fire in Muskego
- Former Town of Waukesha Supervisor Joe Banske running for District 97 state assembly seat
- Shawn Reilly sworn in as Waukesha's new mayor
- Editorial: Renaming Central as Les Paul Middle School a strum of genius
- Appeals court reverses local ruling on Waukesha man's deportation