The Great Album Series: Les Paul and Mary Ford- The Hitmakers

Les Paul and Mary Ford
The Hit Makers!
Capital Records (1950)
jazz, country, guitar, vocal, nostalgia

A couple of weekends ago I finally bought a record player.  I'd had a crappy one, about 4 years ago, but it made so much noise I ended up tossing it.  So a new player, means going through all my old records, and the one I can't stop playing is Les Paul and Mary Ford's The Hit Makers!  
I don't think Les Paul needs too much introduction.  His guitar is legendary.  He invented 8 track recording.  I saw an interview with him once, where he walked into a studio and pointed at various pieces of equipment and said "I invented that, I invented that..." The world of studio recording (not to mention legions of guitar wankers) owe it's existence to this man.  But less talked about, is the fact that he's always been a fantastic guitarist.  
In 1946, Paul was introduced, by Gene Autry, to his soon to be second wife, Mary Ford.  Ford and Paul released a string of multi layered records for capital, making hits out of mostly jazz standards.  Many of these singles were put together to make The Hit Makers!  LP.  

The Album begins with the very popular Jazz Standard "How High the Moon".  The duo take a far more country-rock approach to the tune, Paul's bouncy comping supporting the multi-layered vocals of Mary Ford.  Les Paul's solo is playful, and his recording techniques are in full effect; an ascending vocal line separating the solo is particularly effective.

"Josephine" starts out with a rock and roll riff, that leads into a very laid back, Hawaiian guitar melody.  Hawaiian music was very popular at the time, Paul himself released a record of Hawaii inspired songs a few years earlier.  Tone is key.  Paul's invented sounds, and staccatoed  palm muting, are a revelation, Almost synth like, in a time without synths.  

"Mocking Bird Hill" is simply waltz, centering on Mary Fords lush vocals.  Les Paul's recurring melody sounds like a zither.  

The second solo guitar piece on the album is "Whispering".  I counted 7 guitar tracks on this.  That's the only instrument used.  It took me 3 listens to realize it.  Check out arpegiated lines in the second chorus, and again at the end, his technique is flawless.  

It actually took a few listens to realized that there is only vocals and guitar on this album (maybe I'm slow).  His 1,2,3 strum acts as percussion on "Vaya Con Dios", a lazy waltz with a spanish feel.

Side A (that's right, Side A) closes with the beautiful, and sultry "I'm a Fool To Care".  Les Paul Rakes and bends his way through the solo section, all the time underlined by Fords quiet humming, and sexy singing.  

"The World Is Waiting for The Sunrise"  sounds like something the Andrew Sisters would have made popular 10 years earlier.  Although no guitarist would have been adventurous.  Tapping, 40 years before Eddie Van Halen.  

In "Meet Mister Callaghan", Paul's guitar mimics a harpsichord, well one does anyways... there are roughly 8 tracks of guitar.  It's amazing that he keeps such order with all these guitar overdubs, each compliments the next.  

"Tiger Rag" is the most fun song on the album.  Les Paul guitar playing is in top form.  Tapping, 16th note runs, and pitch bends mock/mirror Mary Fords Oh's, meows, and calls of "here Kitty".  

One of my favorite tracks is the country standard "Tenesse Waltz".  This song belongs to Mary Ford.  Her vocals are heart breaking, as is Les Pauls subtle interpretation of the melody in the solo section.  Rivals Cash and Carter's version.  

"Sitting On Top of the World" is one of the weaker songs on the album, but has probably the best solo section.  Les Paul's rhythm is all over the place, clearly ahead of his time.  

The album closes with the Sombre "Wither Thou Goest".  This gospel tune is almost entirely made up of vocals, supporting the beautiful spiritual melody.  Guitar is limited to a (relatively) bare 3 tracks!

I think what makes this album unique is Les Paul's total control over it.  He plays all of the instruments (actually just guitar, multi layered), Engineered and produced the sessions, and, in most cases, invented the equipment!  His guitar work is way ahead of it's time.  In 1950 he was making use of tapping, pitch harmonics, pitch bends and flurried 16th note runs, rather liberally.  But it was supported with such playfulness, it does not become obtrusive.  Mary Ford, as well as being a gifted singer, was also a good guitarist (check out this video!). Their collaborations lasted until their divorce in 1965.


Lesley Denford said...

This album is so good, especially when you realize that it is years ahead of its time in sound and technique. Thanks for introducing it to me. :)

Shawn William Clarke said...

no problem buddy... but don't thank me... thank the record player!!

Anonymous said...

I've got a few other les paul records if you'd like to expand your mind, as well as chet atkins... and duran duran, but that's another story.

Joel Emberson said...

sorry, that last comment was from me!

Shawn William Clarke said...

Awesome, I'll gladly borrow those records.