37. Battle of the Brands: Leo Fender vs Les Paul — Brought to you by..

When Leo Fender and Les Paul met, they didn’t have much in common — one was an introverted tinkerer, the other a rising star. But their electric guitars defined the sound of rock ‘n’ roll. Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix brought Fender and Paul’s rivalry alive onstage in a “battle of the brands” that spanned decades.

Produced by Sarah Wyman, with Charlie Herman and Julia Press.

Ian S. Port is the author of The Birth of Loud, Leo Fender, Les Paul and The Guitar Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Read more:

Transcript

Note: This transcript may contain errors.

CHARLIE HERMAN: In 1966, Eric Clapton’s name was all over England.

IAN PORT: He was well known as the best guitar player on the British scene. People were spray painting Clapton is God on underground stations in London.

CH: This is Ian S. Port. He’s written a book called The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the guitar-pioneering rivalry that shaped rock ‘n’ roll. And Ian tells the story of the day Eric Clapton—God—was struck down by a mere mortal:

IP: In September 1966, Jimi Hendrix comes to England. He is supposedly coming to make his career, become famous. About three weeks after he’s in town, Eric Clapton’s new band Cream is playing a show at the Regent Street Polytechnic University in London. And Jimi’s manager, Chas Chandler is friends with Clapton and the band and brings Jimi along and asks beforehand if Jimi can go and jam with them.

Clapton is a little weirded out because no one usually wants to go jam with the best guy on the whole London scene, but he it says, sure. So the lights go down,

[HENDRIX WARMING UP]

Jimi brings his Stratocaster up on stage, he plugs into a bass amp up there.

[GUITAR RIFF]

And then he calls out this song, Killing Floor. And we don’t have a recording of that actual night, but we do have a live recording from a few weeks later when Hendrix played it with his band.

ARCHIVAL: Jimi… Hendrix! [GUITAR TAKES OFF]

IP: And then Jimi Hendrix does Jimi Hendrix.

[GUITAR]

He starts unfurling these incredible licks up and down his Stratocaster,

[GUITAR]

He starts playing the guitar behind his back, he’s doing all these acrobatic moves and just wild playing, like no one has ever seen in London before.

And Clapton is literally standing there just gobsmacked . He cannot believe that he let this person whom he didn’t know on stage. And this person is trying as hard as they can to upstage him. So Clapton kind of retreats back into the darkness, his hands fall off his Les Paul and he starts sort of tremblingly lighting a cigarette going, ‘Is he really that good?’

He was the pinnacle of the British blues scene. And all of a sudden this unknown American with wild hair and a Stratocaster comes and unseats him.

JIMI HENDRIX: Thank you very much!

From Business Insider, this is Brought to you by… Brands you know, stories you don’t. I’m Charlie Herman.

When Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix faced off in 1966, each of them wielded a musical weapon:

Clapton, a Gibson Les Paul…

Hendrix, a Fender Stratocaster.

It was a monumental showdown in the battle of the brands. Leo Fender versus Les Paul.

Today, the story of two men, two guitars, and the rivalry that gave rise to rock ‘n’ roll.

Stay with us.

ACT I

CH: I grew up listening to ’80s New Wave Music — I think the first cassette tape I ever bought was Human League. Yes, Human League and yes, a cassette tape. Fortunately, I had brothers who listened to rock, like Boston, and soul, like Parliament, and a mom who loved country musicians, like George Jones, and the blues performers like Muddy Waters. What all that music had in common, was the electric guitar – the sound of rock and roll in all its variations.

[ELECTRIC GUITAR RIFF]

IP: People talk about the birth of rock ‘n’ roll as if it were this big bang. And really, it was more kind of a sunrise. It was a slow process. And rock ‘n’ roll had so much in common with what came before it that I think people don’t really recognize.

CH: Ian is an author and amateur guitarist in New York City.

And before diving into the story of Les Paul and Leo Fender, a little electric guitar 101 might help. Back in the 1940s, the guitar was acoustic. The kind of wooden, hollow instrument you might play around a campfire.

[ACOUSTIC STRUMMING]

It makes a lovely sound, but if you wanted to hear it in, say, a large dance hall, with a big band playing and people dancing, you’d need to plug it into an amplifier, basically electric loudspeakers.

IP: So the problem is that when you have an acoustic guitar in an environment where there is amplified sound, the amplified sound will go into the body of the acoustic guitar and get amplified and then get picked up by the electric pickup that’s already picking up feedback. So it was a cap on how loud an acoustic guitar could get.

CH: Translation, feedback.

[SOUND OF FEEDBACK]

But around 1940, two men set out to solve this problem. Leo Fender and Les Paul:

IP: Les Paul was kind of like a born star. He was born in Wisconsin, his mother was obsessed with him from the time he was a little kid. He was always telling jokes and going out and being the class clown when he was in school. Picked up the guitar when he was a young boy, along with other instruments, and just became obsessed with it. But at the same time, he had this tinkering side of himself too. He would pull apart light switches, pull apart phonographs, telephones, whatever he could to learn how it all worked.

CH: Les used to take his acoustic guitar to a barbecue stand in Wisconsin, where he’d play for tips in the parking lot.

IP: …and he had rigged up his microphone to a little portable radio and he was playing and singing and he had a guitar and someone in the parking lot came and brought him a note and said, ‘We can’t hear your guitar. We can hear everything else, but we can’t hear your guitar.’ So next week Les goes back, he steals his dad’s radio, so now he has two radios and he jams a wire from the top board of his guitar into that radio and very primitively amplifies it. So it must have sounded horrible, right? But finally these people in the parking lot could hear the guitar. And Les always claimed that his tips tripled that night. So he understood that being heard would elevate his fame and get him more money.

CH: By 1940, Les had graduated from dirt parking lots to the Vanderbilt Theatre in New York City, where performed alongside a forty-five-piece jazz orchestra. But his guitar still wasn’t as loud as he wanted it to be.

It was a state-of-the art instrument, made by a company called Gibson. And it was technically an electric guitar. It used electric power to amplify its sound.

But in reality, it was almost exactly the same as an acoustic guitar. It had a hollow body and a pickup you could plug into an amplifier.

CH: When does Les Paul become famous as a guitar soloist?

IP: So at the very end of World War II, Les Paul goes into a recording studio with Bing Crosby and records a duet with him basically with Les on guitar and Bing singing called “It’s Been A Long, Long Time.”

BING CROSBY: Kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again…

It’s a huge hit at the end of the war as GIs are coming back from all across the country and Les plays a 16-bar beautiful guitar solo that really cements his name as one of the finest guitar players around.

[GUITAR SOLO]

Les had come out to Hollywood during the war and was out there, a huge, thriving music scene. He was friends with a lot of country-western players because that was his background.

One of the big sounds in the west especially was Western swing, kind of a hybrid of jazz and country music whose main proponent biggest name was Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys from Oklahoma and Texas. And one of their big songs was Ida Red.

[IDA RED]

CH: And where is the guitar in all of that?

IP: So it’s there. You can hear it kind of in the very background, but it was very hard for a guitar to stand out in an ensemble, even as big as Bob Wills was, maybe nine, 12, at the biggest, 15 people with brass, with violins, with piano. The electric guitar just could hardly stand out in that kind of environment.

CH: By 1947, Les Paul was making a name for himself, not just as a star, but as an innovator. He’d set up a recording studio in his garage.

IP: It was kind of like a magnet for everyone in Hollywood who would just show up, whether they just came to record or came to hang out, came to drink beer in the back yard. And a lot of tinkerers would come and follow these musicians, and one of those tinkerers who came one day was Leo Fender.

CH: If Les commanded attention — outgoing, a born performer — Leo was introverted and a little bit awkward. He could take 20 minutes to answer a simple question. And not only was he not a rockstar, he didn’t even play guitar.

IP: Leo Fender could not play an instrument. He was not rhythmically gifted. He had such a lack of player’s romance. Since he couldn’t play an instrument, he looked at it almost just as a problem to be solved. And so he would think about mechanical details and the practicality and how sturdy it would be and how long it would last and he had that talent for sort of usability as well as just that ability to craft a circuit to make it sound the way the players wanted.

So you got this great contrast between these two people who came together at this key moment in music where Leo the introverted tinkerer was trying to build a business and wanted to hear how musicians use their equipment. And Les, who was trying to build a popular reputation as a musician, wanted better equipment for his own purposes.

So they are sitting there watching these musicians play, watching them use this primitive gear. And they both had this ambition to improve that gear.

CH: And what was the problem that both of them were interested in trying to solve?

IP: They both knew… It was clear by then that the electric guitar as had been envisioned was too quiet. That the amplifier technology was too primitive and that it needed to get louder and clearer and more reliable in order for music to keep going the way it was going.

CH: Les and Leo were both already working on solving this problem by building solid-body guitars, or instruments that weren’t hollow.

In fact, Les had created a prototype of his own that, at one point, he pitched to the famous Gibson guitar company. But they’d basically laughed him out of the room.

In California, however, musicians were taking this idea seriously. One man, Paul Bigsby, was developing his own electric guitar… it became the first one to look anything like the ones we see today. But the guitars Bigsby made were one-offs… Bespoke masterpieces.

IP: And Fender thought, ‘hey, if everyone could have one of these simple, solid body electric guitars, we could sell a million of them and musicians would have a lot of their problems solved. The thing would sound good, it would get loud, it would be durable, it would be reliable and they would want to use my amplifiers if they bought one.’ So in 1948 Fender started working on this. And that’s when he ultimately had the series of breakthroughs that led to the Telecaster.

[LIMESTONE BLUES]

IP: So the Telecaster was very clear and bright and sharp and you could kind of hear it in Jimmy Bryant’s Limehouse Blues.

[LIMESTONE BLUES]

He’s plucking out these bright little notes that just ring out. And you can hear these accents, you can hear so much fine detail of how he’s playing this.

[LIMESTONE BLUES]

And the instrument is not woody like an acoustic guitar. It doesn’t have that airy thickness. It’s bright and thin and sharp, which was the signature of a solid body electric guitar that had no hollow ring out.

CH: What did musicians like about this guitar?

IP: For one thing, they liked that they could turn it up as loud as they want. Guitar players are always turning things up loud. And that was part of how they got here. The other thing they liked about it was that it really cut through a band. And for the first time you could be playing with horns, you could be playing with drums, you could be playing with a huge ensemble and with this Telecaster you could turn it up and people in the room could hear you all the way in the back. Even playing single notes. So you didn’t just have to play chords in order to play with a big band. You could solo over one.

[LIMESTONE BLUES]

That was a breakthrough.

LIMESTONE BLUES: That’s the kind of guitar player we like around here!

CH: And what happened once Fender guitars started getting into the hands of the stars of that day?

IP: So I mean then you just really hear it go everywhere in music. You heard it on stage with a large number of country-western stars of the 1950s.

[TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD AND KAY STARR]

Playing in the background, playing solos,

[TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD AND KAY STARR]

Scratching out that classic twangy country sound.

[BUCK OWENS]

CH: While Fender is rolling out his Telecaster, what was going on with Les Paul?

IP: Les Paul was working his magic of multitrack recording, where you play one instrumental part and then you go back and layer another instrumental part over it. So that can mean four layers of guitars or three layers of vocals or all of the above.

[LES PAUL]

You can hear those high twinkly notes are Les speeding up the recording of different layers of guitars.

[LES PAUL]

He is just playing them and then speeding up the record and recording that onto another record. And we are not even talking about tape here, we are talking about vinyl shellac discs. Like being spun one after another. And he has to play each of those parts exactly right or the entire recording is broken, the entire recording has to be thrown away.

[LES PAUL]

By 1951, 1952 he was one of the biggest pop stars in the country, selling millions of records, touring all over the country, touring even to London which was not common then, and using his new wife, Mary Ford, and her beautiful voice, to kind of rise up the charts in a record time. We are talking multiple tracks in the top 10. Number one hits. I mean 15 million records a year. You know, their face in every magazine, every newspaper, playing sold-out shows for months at the big city theaters.

LES PAUL AND MARY FORD: [Theme plays] It’s the Les Paul show.

IP: Les and Mary also had a TV show sponsored by Listerine. And it was kind of centered around their domestic life interspersed with these songs and really painted them as the first family of American pop music.

LES PAUL: Mary, are you down in the basement?

MARY FORD: Uh huh, we’re down in the basement!

LP: Well how do you like that? You can’t trust these women! Mary Ford, you get up here this minute with my Paulverizer!

MF: Okay, I’m coming up- I didn’t know you were looking for me. [sings] Leeeeees!

LP: How corny can you get? And Mary, quit twisting those dials…

CH: Les and Mary were pre-rock ‘n’ roll stars. And Les, who was becoming famous for his multi-track recording technique and his guitar-playing, was exactly what Leo Fender needed to take his new instrument to the next level.

IP: Leo knew that Les would have been an amazing endorsement for the Telecaster. Having the Telecaster in Les’s hands would have elevated it from just this country-western, this California thing, to a really respected, national kind of instrument in a way that it wasn’t quite yet in the early ’50s. And they tried to do it. So Leo Fender’s business partner actually drove up to Les Paul’s house in Hollywood one day with an amplifier and a Telecaster, one of the very first that rolled out of the factory and said, ‘Hey Les, why don’t you take a look at this, we want to know what you think about it and if you’d think about endorsing it.’ He basically kind of looked at the Telecaster and gave it a strum and thought, ‘No, this isn’t for me.’

CH: So when Les Paul told Leo Fender, ‘Thanks but no thanks,’ what exactly did he do?

IP: Well, according to Les, he called up the head of the company that owned Gibson and said, ‘Hey, Fender is building this solid body guitar. I know you guys think it’s crazy, but you should really build something like it because if you don’t… Fender is going to take over the world.’

CH: More on that… after the break.

ACT II

CH: We’re back.

Les Paul and Leo Fender were racing to change the way music sounded. And Leo Fender’s Telecaster was leading the way.

But when Leo offered one of his guitars to Les Paul, the rockstar said ‘no thanks.’ Instead, he took the idea and ran with it… straight to Gibson — the guitar company that had laughed him and his prototype out of the room a decade earlier.

But this time, Gibson was happy to see Les Paul walk in the door. Because, as it turned out, it was already working on its own answer to the Telecaster…

IP: But they were very concerned that the solid body electric guitar was so radical and so controversial that it would hurt their brand a little bit by putting it out. So they wanted to have a celebrity endorser who could put their name on it and they would make that person’s name as big on it as the Gibson was and try to get it out there in a way that people would forgive Gibson for making such a wild instrument. So of course who did Gibson think of? They thought of Les Paul.

So in 1951 some Gibson execs and Les’ accountant go and find Les and Mary and they show them this prototype, Les is kind of strumming on it, they are at this cabin up in the woods, and Les is like, ‘I think we’ve got a contender here.’ So they do some deals and Les gets a deal where he’s going to get a royalty on every one of these Gibson Les Paul’s sold. And the next year Gibson announces the Gibson Les Paul model. Its very first solid body electric guitar.

CH: Was this, in a way, a birth of a rivalry between the two guitars and the two men?

IP: Yes, it was. The moment that Gibson had put out the Les Paul model, Fender knew it had to answer with something. And at this point the two guys are really both in their trenches fighting for the success of the guitars that have their names on them.

CH: So for musicians who are trying to make a choice between the two guitars, what’s the difference between them?

IP: On the one side you have the Fender Telecaster and its incredibly successful follow-up, the Fender Stratocaster, which have these thin, spanky, twangy classic sounds which you can hear in, for example, the music of Buddy Holly.

[BUDDY HOLLY]

So you can hear the staccato notes there, the way they don’t really sustain, the way they are sharp. And they’re almost just short and snappy. And that was really a signature Fender sound.

[BUDDY HOLLY]

And it’s kind of raw. It’s unpolished. It’s a little scrappy.

[BUDDY HOLLY]

So on the other side you have the Gibson Les Paul which is the grand dame, the Cadillac of electric guitars.

CARL PERKINS: Well it’s one for the money, two for the show…

IP: It’s got a real thick wooden body and a glued-in neck. And it has this warmer more growly, somewhat mellower sound that you can hear in Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes.

CP: Blue… blue… blue suede shoes! 

IP: So there is a brownness or a warmth, a sense that those notes aren’t quite as prickly as they are with the Telecaster.

[CARL PERKINS GUITAR SOLO]

And there’s just a little sense of the power that’s in that guitar and how much you can really wring out of it that people would discover later on.

CH: This … was rock ‘n’ roll.

Fender’s Stratocaster was scrappy and technical—just like Leo Fender. And the Les Paul was a crooner… growly and powerful and made for the spotlight. Who does that remind you of?

Now, rockers had a choice: they could sound like Fender or play like Paul.

CH: So what did that do to the friendship between Paul and Fender?

IP: So basically at this point, Paul and Fender basically have no relationship as far as we can tell. Les had moved to the East Coast, he was living in New Jersey with Mary. Leo Fender was back in California, head down, trying to grow his company, trying to run a factory which was not something he was great at. And they knew that both of their instruments were really gunning for the kind of prize of the electric guitar market which was growing very quickly at the time. So they are in their trenches going at it.

CH: This is the period where really rock ‘n’ roll starts to emerge. Where did that term even come from?

IP: Well, rock ‘n’ roll is old, old black slang for doing it. It had been a term used to describe music of a certain kind for a long time. A certain kind of boogie beat. It goes way back to before… Long before Elvis or any of those folks. But it became a shorthand for this basically what was Black R&B played by white kids.

CH: And that’s what’s interesting is that so much of the history of the music from this time period, while it’s also tied into these guitars, it’s also tied into issues of race and white musicians taking from Black musicians. How did the guitar feature into this?

IP: The guitar was important because Black musicians had adopted it and used it to advance Black blues music, Black rock ‘n’ roll long before it was even acceptable for white people to listen to it. And they had really defined, even going back to the late 40s, long before rock ‘n’ roll, the styles, the moves, the way to play it like how to get that great sound and what to do with it.

[MUDDY WATERS]

One of the examples of this is Muddy Waters. He electrified blues music, brought it from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago, started playing it with electric instruments and really kind of gave it that impact, that guttural power that it had that the electric blues had.

[MUDDY WATERS]

He came to England in the mid-50s and brought that sound, that really deep, electric sound to white audiences in England who were completely scandalized by it. Had never heard anything by it.

[MUDDY WATERS]

IP: And one of the people he would influence most were the early members of the Rolling Stones who saw him on that first tour and heard him and adopted that same style, that same kind of shuffling rhythm and that heavy blues sound for a lot of their early hits. Like Satisfaction.

[ROLLING STONES]

IP: Just by putting that really dirty electric guitar front and center and letting it shape the rhythm of the entire song and giving it that gritty, guttural quality.

ROLLING STONES: I can’t get no! I can’t get no!

IP: The new electric guitars are really driving the sound of the music forward. They are making it louder, more energetic, more rhythm-focused in a way that scandalizes people who don’t like rock ‘n’ roll because suddenly it’s all about the movement of the hips and the beat. But which of course really excites a lot of the kids listening to it.

CH: Now Muddy Waters when he was performing in England had a Fender, so obviously Fender is becoming more and more popular. What is happening at the same time to Les Paul’s guitar from Gibson?

IP: All through the 1950s, Fender is on this huge upswing. Meanwhile, the Gibson Les Paul is kind of proving to be a little bit of a failure in the market. They sold a couple thousand in 1953, but by 1957, 1958, 1959, even though they had revamped the model a little bit, the sales figures were going down. And so Gibson was a little worried about this. So the music was going in the wrong direction for them, their guitar was not futuristic enough, it was not sexy enough immediately. And they were looking for something new.

CH: So from the late ’50s into the 1960s, really Fender is winning this rivalry with the Les Paul Guitar and then something changes. What is that?

IP: Eric Clapton goes into a London pawnshop, pulls out a Les Paul Gibson guitar and uses it to record an album that guitar fans would remember forever.

[BLUESBREAKERS]

CH: That song, “Stepping Out” and Clapton’s amplifier, cranked up to the max, would impact the sound of music for decades to follow.

That’s after the break.

ACT III

CH: We’re back.

By 1966, Gibson’s original Les Paul guitar had been off the market for five years. And Les was sliding rapidly into obscurity. He and Mary Ford had recently divorced. And the end of their relationship—and their musical partnership—was bitter, and very public.

IP: Les Paul was kind of in self-imposed retirement at his house in New Jersey. He was having arthritis and losing his hearing and having a lot of problems.

CH: But then, something weird started happening. Teenagers —”whippersnapper-longhairs” — started knocking at Les’s door at his house in New Jersey. They were looking for his guitar.

He had fallen so far off the radar that, when he opened his front door, a lot of these kids were shocked to learn that Les Paul—the name embossed on Gibson’s guitar—was also a real person.

IP: Les is finally hearing that the kids are wanting a Les Paul guitar and he’s like, of course, thrilled that this is happening but has no idea initially what is going on. And what’s going on is that basically Eric Clapton has made it clear that with a Gibson Les Paul you can get this incredible new sound. And suddenly everyone wants it.

[BLUESBREAKERS]

One of the great examples is from the album John Mayall’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton called “Stepping Out.” With this Les Paul guitar, you can blow out an amplifier so hard that it makes this beautiful distortion. And no Fender or other instrument at the time was really capable of producing that kind of sound.

[BLUESBREAKERS]

You can hear not only just the presence of the guitar so high up in the mix, and really that song being ruled entirely by the guitar, but just the sense of aggression, the sense of almost fury that comes out of that guitar, it really goes back to some of the music that Muddy Waters had created, but it was so much less innocent, so much more aggrieved. And people really seized on that in the late ’60s.

When you think about Led Zeppelin, that was largely a Gibson Les Paul. You think about Black Sabbath, that was a Gibson. You think about Eric Clapton’s work with Cream, that really heavy, distorted sound that went on through the ’70s and ’80s. Gibson really owned that. Meanwhile, Leo Fender had sold his company and gone into obscurity. Started hanging out on his fishing boat a lot and was thinking about getting into the instrument game again.

CH: So this rivalry between these two guitarists takes off even as the inventors or the people whose names are on them have faded into the background?

IP: Exactly. And I think what’s interesting about the story is that it was just not in the capacity of Leo Fender or Les Paul to understand where their instruments allowed music to go. They didn’t like rock ‘n’ roll. They weren’t really interested in it. Les Paul’s career basically was ended because of rock ‘n’ roll. And yet, of course, their instruments enabled it and it made them incredibly famous and wealthy.

[JIMI HENDRIX]

CH: It’s around this time though that Clapton meets Jimi Hendrix in this very famous moment that in a way is kind of a showdown on stage.

ARCHIVAL: Jimi… Hendrix!

CH: So Hendrix is playing the Stratocaster that is created by Fender and Clapton is playing the Gibson Les Paul and now you have these two men and these two guitars meeting on stage. What does it mean and what is the consequence of this encounter?

IP: So I think what it means initially is that people on the British blues scene watching Hendrix do what he did with the Stratocaster are stunned, because they didn’t know you could really get these tones out of a Stratocaster. They didn’t know you could really bring it to this level with that guitar. He made it so that the Stratocaster was seen as the Gibson Les Paul’s equal in this new field of blues-driven hard rock.

CH: And when we think about Hendrix and one of his most iconic performances, that being at Woodstock, what role did the Fender play in that?

IP: The Fender was really front and center. The Fender was the medium on which he etched a new Star-Spangled Banner.

[JIMI HENDRIX]

He used all the instrument’s possibilities. Every input, every place he could press on it, he pressed on it to get the wild sounds that we now remember so well.

CH: And you couldn’t have done that with a Gibson?

IP: [Shouts over music] It would have been really hard.

CH: And Eric Clapton, after he sees this performance from Jimi Hendrix?

IP: So Clapton, not too long after, decides to start playing a Fender himself.

[ERIC CLAPTON]

He goes through the heavy rock period of Cream and then after that decides that he wants something a little more eloquent, a little more delicate and he picks up a Stratocaster and has been playing one ever since.

[ERIC CLAPTON]

CH: Years later after that moment in 1966 when Clapton is really blown out of the water watching Jimi Hendrix play, the two of them have become friends, in fact?

IP: Yes, they have. And so there’s a moment in September 1970, when Clapton knows that Sly And The Family Stone are coming to town, he knows that Jimi is going to be there and he just happens to be rummaging around in a pawnshop that day in London and he sees a white Stratocaster which, of course, is like the iconic Jimi Hendrix Strat. And he buys it for Jimi. And he brings the guitar to the gig that night. Jimi doesn’t show up, Clapton doesn’t know what’s going on and then a day or so later Clapton learns that Jimi Hendrix has died due to an overdose of sleeping pills.

CH: Wow.

IP: Yeah. That’s Clapton I think wanting to… It sounds like wanting to complete the circle, wanting to kind of show the mutual respect, the regard of these two great instrumentalists. And then, of course, finding out that Jimi just wasn’t there anymore.

CH: Do you think there’s parallels between this relationship that develops between Clapton and Hendrix and that between Paul and Fender, especially at the end of their lives?

IP: Yeah, I think you can see that Clapton and Hendrix recognized in each other, kind of fellow travelers along this path of becoming a blues great. And as with Les and Leo, I think each of them recognized in their rival this sense of another person whose interest and obsession in this one thing matched theirs and who were going to do anything they could to get what they wanted out of it.

CH: And the legacy of that rivalry?

IP: You know, It’s the sense that the two of them in both cases, Les and Leo, Jimi and Eric, they made each other stronger, they pushed each other to be even better I think than either would’ve been alone.

CH: Ian, thank you very much.

IP: Thank you so much for having me.

CREDITS

CH: Ian Port is the author of The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul and The Guitar Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll. You can buy Ian’s book in paperback, starting November 19. And there’s a playlist of the songs in the book available on Spotify. You really should check it out… It’s an amazing walk through the history of rock and roll. We’ll link to it in our Facebook group. Just search Brought to you by… Podcast.

You can also email us at broughttoyouby@insider.com, or find us on Twitter. We’re @btybpod.

This episode was produced by Sarah Wyman, with Julia Press and me, Charlie Herman. Special thanks this week to Matt DeBord.

The music you heard in this episode was:
Killing Floor, by Jimi Hendrix
It’s been a long, long time by Bing Crosby and Les Paul
Ida Red, by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
Lover, by Les Paul
Limehouse Blues, by Jimmy Bryant
That’ll Be The Day, by Buddy Holly and The Crickets
Blue Suede Shoes, by Carl Perkins
Hoochie Coochie Man, by Muddy Waters
Satisfaction, by the Rolling Stones, who else?
Steppin’ Out by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner
Ain’t Nobody’s Business but my own and I’ll never be free by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Kay Starr
There goes my love by Buck Owens
And Crossroads, by Eric Clapton

Bill Moss is our sound designer, and Casey Holford composed our theme. Music from Audio Network. Our editor is Carolyn Dubol. Sarah Wyman is our showrunner.

Brought to you by… is a production of Insider Audio.


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