If you love a good mystery I’ve got one for you. And if you love a good story about finding a valuable guitar in the closet you’ll really love this one. This is also a great story about how a vintage guitar is authenticated.
The Concert: Newport 65
I’m not sure if you remember the story, but Bob Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 was filled with controversy. That was when he went electric and showed up with a rock and roll band instead of playing solo like the folk crowd was expecting. He was booed heartily by the crowd and eventually stopped after three songs because he was so upset. There was even a story that Pete Seger, an organizer of the concert and well-known folkie, was so upset at Dylan he threatened to have the electricity turned off.
Anyway, Dylan went back on and finished the concert solo playing what the audience expected.
During that rock and roll version of the show Dylan played a sunburst 1964 Fender Stratocaster. He could clearly be seen playing it in many of the pictures of the concert. Supposedly that guitar disappeared or was lost, although Dylan disputes this version.
Here’s a video of Dylan at Newport playing Like A Rolling Stone. Sound is good but the video is a bit out of sync. Still very cool.
Stratocaster In The Closet
Fast forward to this year when the PBS show History Detectives was contacted by New Jersey resident Dawn Peterson saying she had a guitar that she wanted to have investigated. She got it from her deceased father who had said it belonged to Dylan and he got it when he was a pilot and flew Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary and other musicians around the northeast briefly.
If you are not familiar with the show History Detectives, the concept is… people bring historical items to them and they do the research to determine if the back story is true and item has any value. They usually work with things like paintings, and pictures, and old antiques. They find experts on the subject and ask them to evaluate the pieces and sometimes do scientific evaluations to test for authenticity.
So Dawn had claimed her father got it when it was left on the plane after the concert. She said he tried to contact Dylan’s management to come get it but they never responded. So it sat in the closet for many years until she decided to contact the show. The guitar case even had some old hand-written and typed lyric sheets in it. So there were some clues that were just waiting to be examined.
And examined they were. The show contacted a Dylan-memorabilia expert by the name of Jeff Gold to take a look. He verified it could be the guitar but the real kicker was he examined the song sheets and concluded that it was clearly Dylan’s handwriting and some of the lyrics had actually been used later on songs on Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde classic album.
The show also took the guitar to a vintage guitar expert, Andy Babiuk, and he took the guitar apart and compared it to photos. He said he was 99.9% sure it was the same guitar in the pictures from the show.
So Who Actually Owns It?
Well the story is not over yet. Dylan claims he actually still has the guitar from the concert and that it might be one of several that was stolen from him around that time.
My personal opinion is he doesn’t know himself. Stratocasters were very common back then and he may have had several that look similar. He could have just lost track of them during the hub bub of touring and roadies carrying around equipment. After all they were left on the plane and no one even claimed them.
You know those rock and roll guitarists of the time were notoriously undependable. I’ve heard rumors that some were even on drugs.
Ms Patterson is still deciding what to do. But whatever happens there’s a lot of money involved. Some say the guitar could be worth close to $1 million dollars. The lyric sheets could be worth in the $50,000 range themselves. So you can bet this story is not finished and will be continued.
If you’d like to watch the show here’s the video from the History Detectives website.