Les Paul and Mary Ford Show Alistair Cooke How They Record Multi-Track Songs Live on Television in 1953

While appearing on the classic CBS television show Omnibus in February 1953, legendary musicians Les Paul and Mary Ford showed host Alistair Cooke how they record multi-track songs at home using an early Ampex tape machine.

Les Paul demonstrates the handy playback system that allows him to add tracks to his recordings.

Les Paul and Mary Ford

Cooke was eager to have the couple demonstrate this process as some people didn’t believe that they were being honest about their music. Les explained how he first recorded the initial rhythm track, and then played that back to add a lead solo, drum, etc. Mary then showed how her voice was recorded in much the same way.

We turn the tape machines on, they’re just standard regular Ampex tape machines, and we play the first part on the guitar. This is the rhythm part. …now you put your earphones on and you play another part to it. It’s as simple as that.

After that, Cooke played a recording that he made earlier.

Before you got here I did this quintet with six voices. You’ll hear these six voices in the cooked version of “The Madrigal” from the “Mikado” and I’ll put in a seventh.

Here’s a photo of Les and Mary working from home.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.