The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll

Category: Book
By (author): Port, Ian S.
Subject:  MUSIC / Business Aspects
  MUSIC / General
  MUSIC / Musical Instruments / Guitar
  SOCIAL SCIENCE / Popular Culture
Publisher: Scribner
Published: November 2019
Format: Book-paperback
Pages: 352
Size: 8.37in x 5.50in x 1.00in
Our Price:
$ 25.00
Available to order

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*"A hot-rod joy ride through mid-20th-century American history" (The New York Times Book Review), this one-of-a-kind narrative masterfully recreates the rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar's amplified sound-Leo Fender and Les Paul-and their intense competition to convince rock stars like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instruments they built.

In the years after World War II, music was evolving from big-band jazz into rock 'n' roll-and these louder styles demanded revolutionary instruments. When Leo Fender's tiny firm marketed the first solid-body electric guitar, the Esquire, musicians immediately saw its appeal. Not to be out-maneuvered, Gibson, the largest guitar manufacturer, raced to build a competitive product. The company designed an "axe" that would make Fender's Esquire look cheap and convinced Les Paul-whose endorsement Leo Fender had sought-to put his name on it. Thus was born the guitar world's most heated rivalry: Gibson versus Fender, Les versus Leo.

While Fender was a quiet, half-blind, self-taught radio repairman, Paul was a brilliant but headstrong pop star and guitarist who spent years toying with new musical technologies. Their contest turned into an arms race as the most inventive musicians of the 1950s and 1960s-including bluesman Muddy Waters, rocker Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton-adopted one maker's guitar or another. By 1969 it was clear that these new electric instruments had launched music into a radical new age, empowering artists with a vibrancy and volume never before attainable.

In "an excellent dual portrait" (The Wall Street Journal), Ian S. Port tells the full story in The Birth of Loud, offering "spot-on human characterizations, and erotic paeans to the bodies of guitars" (The Atlantic). "The story of these instruments is the story of America in the postwar era: loud, cocky, brash, aggressively new" (The Washington Post).
Review Quote*"In The Birth of Loud, Ian S. Port has sorted out the facts of the electric guitar's much-mythologized genesis and cultural conquest. He turns them into a hot-rod joy ride through mid-20th-century American history. With appropriately flashy prose, he dismantles some misconceptions and credits some nearly forgotten but key figures. He also summons, exuberantly and perceptively, the look, sound, and sometimes smell of pivotal scenes and songs. The Birth of Loud rightfully celebrates an earlier time, when wood, steel, copper wire, microphones and loudspeakers could redefine reality. Tracing material choices that echoed through generations, the book captures the quirks of human inventiveness and the power of sound."
-Jon Pareles, New York Times Book Review
Review Quote*"Fascinating . . . one of Port's true strengths [is] his ability to marry an agreeably anecdotal writing style to a musician's ear. The way a Telecaster snaps and sizzles, the way a Les Paul purrs with liquid, violin-like tones; he just gets it. . . The story of these instruments is the story of America in the postwar era: loud, cocky, brash, aggressively new."
-Washington Post
Review Quote*"[An] excellent dual portrait . . . In the second half of the book, Mr. Port, a veteran music journalist, touches on the work of every major guitar player of rock's golden age, from Muddy Waters to Buddy Holly-whose appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" electrified (the pun is unavoidable) Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney and John Lennon-and continuing through Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and, of course, Bob Dylan, whose notorious switch from acoustic to electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival scandalized his fans. Not everyone played a Fender or a Les Paul-the Beatles were Rickenbacker fans, and Gretsch guitars had a significant market share-but, as Mr. Port says, the wildfire popularity of those two guitars fueled a world-changing demand for electric guitars of every type."
-Wall Street Journal
Review Quote*"Rich in description . . . full of imagist sound-summonings, spot-on human characterizations, and erotic paeans to the bodies of guitars . . . Port can write lovingly, such as when he describes an early, solid-wood model that belonged to the country twanger Merle Travis. . . And he can write with technical lyricism . . . He even made me like Eric Clapton for a minute. And from the fumbled genesis of the electric guitar to its expressive climax, he draws us a beautiful, educational arc."
-The Atlantic
Review Quote*"Ian S. Port's The Birth of Loud reframes the standard history of rock 'n' roll around the dual creators of the modern electric guitar. . . . Instead of a parade of frontmen and songwriters dueling it out in the charts, Port presents a ground-up account of an at-times begrudging friendship between two Angelenos who created the sound of what we instinctively understand as ‘rock.' . . . Port's research is thorough and his prose is lucid. If the evanescence of the internet and the machine-like qualities of synthpop make you want to put words to that vague cultural hunger for something more tactile, more connected to physical reality, this is your book. . . . The Birth of Loud is a compelling addition to the misremembered history of the time."
-SF Weekly
Review Quote*"[Tells] the story of the development of the electric guitar through the lives of its two most famous names….Port deftly toggles between their parallel paths, as if swiveling from one effects pedal to another."
-James Sullivan, San Francisco Chronicle
Review Quote*"Ian S. Port knows a thing or two about guitar heroes. . . . [With] lyrical, evocative prose, The Birth of Loud includes vivid scenes of Muddy Waters inventing Chicago blues, the Rolling Stones' sex-drenched appearance on The T.A.M.I. Show, Buddy Holly's TV debut with Ed Sullivan, Bob Dylan going electric at Newport and more. Along the way, Fender and Paul hone their inventions to perfection, vie for endorsements from the hottest players, and engage in that age-old driver of American innovation: cutthroat competition."
-KQED "Arts"
Review Quote*"A rip-roaring journey through the early days of rock 'n' roll, told through the lives of the men whose innovative guitars helped usher it into existence . . . A lively, difficult-to-put-down portrait of an important era of American art that enhances readers' appreciation for the music it depicts."
-Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
Review Quote*"A page-turning look at two central players [Leo Fender and Les Paul] in the sonic evolution of popular music. Port explores their trials and tribulations with an expert hand. This is a long-overdue cultural biography of music innovation. VERDICT: Thoroughly entertaining and deeply informative, this love letter to American creativity and rock and roll belongs in every library and should be read by all rock fans."
-Library Journal (Starred Review)