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Gone now, but never forgotten. An amazing duo with spectacularly unmatched performances...


Les Paul & Mary Ford
... by Jim Reeves


The following is a visit with the father of multi-track recording,

Les Paul

and his wife, vocalist, guitarist partner and my harmony heroine,

Mary Ford

in their home studio.

Les Paul and Mary Ford

You never know what brings greatness together. Who'd have thought it would be
Gene Autry . For it was his introduction of Mary to Les that started an historical era.

Between the years 1950-1954, Les Paul and Mary Ford had 16 top-ten hits. They had five top-ten hits within nine months. "Tennessee Waltz","Mockin' Bird Hill""How High the Moon" ( #1 for nine weeks), "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise", "Nola", "Lover." and "Whispering". From August 1952 to March 1953 they had five more top-ten hits; "My Baby's Coming Home""Lady of Spain""Bye Bye Blues""I'm Sitting on Top of the World" and "Vaya Con Dios" (#1 for 11 weeks). From 1949 to 1962, they earned 36 gold records and11 No.1 pop hits, including "Vaya Con Dios," "How High the Moon," Many of their songs used overdubbing techniques that Les and Mary developed and made famous and pioneeered the road to today's recording techniques.

Les and Mary


Iris Colleen (Summers) Hatfield (a.k.a. Mary Ford), pioneering her close mic'd vocal recording technique at an Altec 21c Lipstick condenser microphone with Lester Polsfuss, the "Wizard of Waukesha", Wisconsin, (a.k.a. Les Paul) at the old broadcast mixer.

Les and Mary They were a couple from 1946, and married in 1949.
Rehearsing at home Les and Mary Rehearsing
The New Studio Their "new" studio in New Jersey
The Control Room.
There's the historic custom Ampex 8 track deck
that friend Dave Sarser helped Les Paul develop
from Ampex on the right.
"I could take my Mary and make her three, 
six, nine, 12, as many voices as I wished"
The Control Room
The Studio Console The console
and the disc mastering "Cutting Room" The Cutting Room

Les at work
and soldering circuitry inside his mixing console.
(Everything was custom made in those days!)
Les Soldering Inside His Console




I was in New York City, invited by the 2005 AES convention committee to speak on the history of engineering in Manhattan in the 60's and '70's based on my recording studio session experiences. As it happenned, the first person I came across there was none other than Les Paul. I had left a message with Les on his home phone. And he called me back. Wow! Following an hour and a half long phone conversation with Les (he sure loved to talk! and what a sense of humor), I posed the idea that we get together with his long time colleague, Dave Sarser. Les loved the idea and graciously invited Dave and I to the sound check at the Iridium that following Monday to just hang out. I drove out to Northport Long Island, spent Sunday night at Dave's and his wonderful wife, Gloria's oceanfront mansion, (which is a museum of Dave's audio treasures and innovations in itself), had a great breakfast together and then drove off with Dave and Gloria into Manhattan. Les greeted us at the door of the Iridium and we spent the afternoon reminiscing with Dave. I was incredibly gratified at the coo to reunite Dave and Les finally. As we were about to depart, Les replied, "Oh no, you guys can't leave. You are my guests tonight! Please stay and see the show.". Of course Dave was delighted with that and we all had a blast. Les encouraged me to take as many photos and videos as I liked and, what can I say, it was an incredible night to remember.


Les still strong at 90.
Les Paul On Stage
had played at the Iridum every Monday night in NYC (photo10/17/2005-J.R.)


"Octopus" 8 Track creators Dave Sarser and Les Paul together again in 2005
Dave Sarser and Les Paul


Les Paul and Jim Reeves


Jim Reeves, Les Paul, Dave Sarser, Gloria Sarser


Les during sound check




Hitmakers Album front

The front and back of my original album signed by Les Paul in 1989

Hitmaker Album rear




Since harmony and singing groups was my main interest in the '50's, Mary Ford was at the top of my list of incredible singers. Actually, I discovered Les Paul through hearing her! And more than his out of this world ability to play guitar, Les's knowledge of multi-tracked recording techniques pulled me in closer. I couldn't get enough of her (their) records. I, as a teenager, as young as 13, would sing the third part harmony to her "self" duets, I.E., Vaya Con Dios, Mockingbird Hill. She was as smooth as velvet. She still is a part of every vocal production I work on. She truly is an inspiration. I was deeply saddened by her passing and still feel robbed about not hearing more about her throughout her career and her life.

When Mary died in 1977, not much was published about her. I've always been interested in what her relationship with Les was from a collaborating point of view. What must it have been like developing their sounds? What were Mary's interest's? What caused their split and what did she go on to do?

I know they had children. I once met Les with Les, Jr. at Harvey Radio on 45th Street in Manhattan in the '60's. Les was buying a mic for him, as I recall. I was just there buying some audio supplies at the time for Skitch Henderson (my other employer at Studio 3). And I worked with Gene Paul in the '70's at Atlantic Records during vocal group, The Manhattan Transfer's debut Atlantic album.

I guess my love of her work crossed the barriers of unknown forces because I've received a series of emails from various neighbors and family members and particularly one who had seen this site and I asked her about Mary. Here is was she's told me:

- Jim Reeves




 

 

From Ester "Suzee" Williams on 6/3/2002:


I am the niece of Les & Mary and really appreciate your acknowledgment of Mary as your "harmony heroine." She was indeed amazing as is he.


- (Continued on 8/13/02 10:06 AM):


Good Morning Mr. Reeves:

You know, I was quite young at the time, and was never sure why they split.

Mary married her high school sweetheart (a non-musician) and basically retired from the music business. She lived in Monrovia, California until her death in 1977. She did perform at charity benefits and would stop in to sing with my Mom and their two sisters, Carol (who sang back up off stage with Les & Mary) and Eva. Mary also has three brothers, Fletcher (deceased), Bruce (jazz organist) and Bob Summers (a musician and scores music for films). She was really something, she'd be playing her guitar and singing and then reach down and give Mom an alternate chord (the right one she would say) to play. All of Mary's brothers and sisters could practically pick up any instrument and play it and play it well. The family started in gospel music and ran the first Christian radio station in Pasadena. They used to fight over who got to play what instrument. Mary's father was a Nazarene minister and her mother and father traveled from Missouri singing and preaching at revival meetings across the United States until they finally settled in Southern California.

In 1970 I worked at Bank of America. While filing checks, I noted that the woman, Mrs. Hatfield, had presented a check at the grocery store and instead of signing her name, she signed it "Groceries." My operations manager asked me to call the woman and ask if she wouldn't mind coming in to re-sign the check since it was rather a large check. She laughed and said she would be right down. A little later I saw my Aunt Mary at the counter. I went over and asked what she was doing there. She told me that she had received a phone call about signing her check "Groceries." I was stunned. I said to her "Your name is Iris Colleen Hatfield?" I never knew. I enjoy telling people that I was named after Aunt Mary and my name is Esther Colleen. Our family is a wee bit screwy with names.

My mother, Esther Williams (Mary's sister), used to play the organ in a restaurant called The Village in Downey, California, many years ago, after Les and Mary split. There was one singer that came in to sing with my Mom. His name was Lou Monica. Well, Mary asked him to learn the song "Donkey Serenade." It's not an easy song to sing, however, Mr. Monica agreed and after a couple of weeks, he said he was ready. As he began to sing, the doors of the club opened wide and in came Mary, dressed in black with a black goucho hat, on top of a donkey!!! Mr. Monica never skipped a beat.

A few months ago a woman came to my door and told me that when I had last had a garage sale that she had stolen things from me, including Les & Mary memorabilia. She claims she will return it, however, I have not heard from her. I will see what I can find for you with what is left.

- Ester Colleen "Suzee" Williams






1951

Mary Ford and Les Paul

 

Thanks forever!
...JR




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