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He Said, She Said, Starring Bob Dylan and a $1 Million Guitar.
July 13, 2012 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Bob Dylan famously "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. 47 years later, experts believe a woman in New Jersey has the guitar the Dylan played on stage that day.

She says her father was a pilot and Dylan left the guitar on board after a flight.

Dylan says he still owns the iconic guitar that he played on stage in Newport.

She says her father tried to return the guitar but nobody ever responded.

Dylan's lawyer says several guitars were stolen in 1965.

Experts say the guitar could be worth one million.

Lawyers say that Dylan might be entitled to all the proceeds if she tries to sell it.

Whatever the truth may be, the PBS show History Detectives will broadcast an episode on July 17th stating that the guitar is the guitar that Dylan played on stage that day.
posted by COD (46 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
We'll never forget you, Phil.
posted by brokkr at 6:31 AM on July 13, 2012


Judas!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:31 AM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I DONT BELIEVE YOU !
posted by vozworth at 6:40 AM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, the bitterness that my father still feels about Dylan "going electric"! He also refers to Joan Baez as "Joanie Phoney". He was a little bit older than the real hippie generation and a big fan of that whole late fifties/early sixties folk revival. He also has an anecdote about his much-loathed collage dorm-mate who both sold dope to and attempted to introduce my father to the Strawberry Alarm Clock - the selling of dope and the acquaintanceship with some kind of pot-smoking hippie band set the seal on my father's impressions of this guy's bad character*. I wonder if my griping about the Chumbas signing to a major label will seem as cute and iconic when I am older.

*It is indicative of my father's character that he supports drug legalization because he is a left-liberal but thinks it is absolutely appalling, slack, decadent and self-indulgent to use drugs.
posted by Frowner at 6:40 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]




(That's already touched on in the FPP, but the NPR piece highlights Dylan's own claims to the contrary a bit more.)
posted by saulgoodman at 6:47 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few more of the tantalizing clues.

It's a fascinating story, whether it's the real thing or not, when the evidence suggests one thing, but the man himself says it's not. Is it wishful thinking? Is Bob simply confused? What evidence does Bob himself have?

Add to that the legal question of whether Peterson actually has the legal rights to this thing, and we have the makings of a fine Rock 'n' Roll Mystery.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:48 AM on July 13, 2012


Peterson "said she had written to Dylan's lawyers in 2005 requesting that Dylan waive any claim to the guitar

Well that takes balls.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:50 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder if my griping about the Chumbas signing to a major label will seem as cute and iconic when I am older.

I doubt it. Even for real fans of Chumbawumba (that is, people who know them as a band worth their salt regardless of "Tubthumper"), they are still just kind of an 'also' band. Had Fugazi signed to a major you might have something iconic to gripe about in 50 years.
posted by OmieWise at 6:53 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


//Add to that the legal question of whether Peterson actually has the legal rights to this thing, and we have the makings of a fine Rock 'n' Roll Mystery.//

That was one point I couldn't find addressed anywhere. Is there a statue of limitations or something that applies here? If he left the guitar on the plane (regardless of if it is the guitar) but made no effort to recover it, does he have any claim 47 years later? If it is was stolen and he filed a police report, I imagine he would have a claim, even at this late date.
posted by COD at 6:55 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dylan never really "played" the guitar that much in his electric sets of the period, he tended to use it more as a prop.
posted by anazgnos at 7:01 AM on July 13, 2012


I own the actual air guitar that Dylan practiced with for those electric sets. Offers in excess of $100,000 only, please.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:05 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I doubt it. Even for real fans of Chumbawumba (that is, people who know them as a band worth their salt regardless of "Tubthumper"), they are still just kind of an 'also' band. Had Fugazi signed to a major you might have something iconic to gripe about in 50 years.

The truth is, I think "Tubthumper" is a pretty good song - it expresses quite a lot of the band's basic beliefs about the potential in regular people, the sort of becoming-ness or efflorescence that is the good side of humanity taken as a whole. It's basically the same song as "Timebomb" with the addition of drinking. At the time, I was profoundly disappointed that they signed to a major label, but they really, actually didn't change what they were doing, unlike most bands who sign to a major, and so the whole thing came to naught anyway.

Also, "Tubthumper" was quite the hit at a variety of marches-with-soundsystems that I attended in the past few years - its history as a sell-out song totally stripped away by our collective short memory. It's quite something when you're on a big demo in the middle of the street surrounded by a bunch of twenty-year-olds bellowing out "I get knocked down/but I get up again" along with some rinky-dink PA system on a cart. And then the police come!)
posted by Frowner at 7:06 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was one point I couldn't find addressed anywhere. [...] does he have any claim 47 years later?

Offhand, the answer would be 'who knows?'. Does the limitations period kick in in '65, or when Bob was made aware of its location in 2005? Did his lawyer's request to return the guitar reactivate a limitations period and keep his claim alive, or was that claim already dead? Did Peterson simply wait out the time period, and have some kind of unjust enrichment in the process, or did she act in good faith?

Was the guitar originally mislaid or lost, or was it abandoned? Was the guitar stolen? Was the guitar ever properly Bob's, or of his touring company, and then what happens?

Much of the legal determinations are going to depend on evidentiary issues which are simply impossible to answer. It's the kind of mess that suggests some kind of settlement compromise, only Bob has no reason to settle whatsoever.

So yeah. Who knows.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:08 AM on July 13, 2012


I own the actual air guitar that Dylan practiced with for those electric sets. Offers in excess of $100,000 only, please.

I have replica air guitars that are completely indistinguishable from his original, which I can let go for $50 + shipping. Paypal accepted.
posted by Malor at 7:27 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The guitar remains in a safe place," she wrote, "away from my home."

Smart lady.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:29 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of disappointed that that guitar is in such nice condition. You'd think it would have been some beat-up, road-weary battleaxe, not some well-polished museum piece.
posted by entropone at 7:29 AM on July 13, 2012


If it says THIS GUITAR ANNOYS FOLKIES on the back, it's probably his.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 7:34 AM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


So if I can speculate on the legal question a bit more... It all depends on if everyone wants to play nice.

Peterson, as an ordinary person, is going to have a hard time carrying any serious litigation. A line of credit, a mortgage on her house -- those would be eaten up by legal fees fairly quickly. So right from the get-go, she's at a disadvantage, in that she can't afford to fight very long or very hard. So there's pressure to settle.

On the other side, Bob has tremendous resources, and no reason to come to any kind of agreement, particularly one where he admits that he was wrong, and that this IS the guitar.

With the inability to establish clean provenance, it's going to be tricky for her to sell this thing. The object only has value as being THAT guitar from Newport, '65.

To fast-forward to the likely end of the story, Peterson may not be able to sell it with all that uncertainty. She probably can't afford to store it, either. Thus, a long-term loan or donation to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, where they can look after it, she gets some kind of credit, and a little card goes by the display saying that authentification is disputed.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:35 AM on July 13, 2012


I wonder if my griping about the Chumbas signing to a major label will seem as cute and iconic when I am older.

Just popping in to say that their recent decision to knock off really saddened me. I don't have nearly all their back catalog, but their folk protest song record is one of my favorites.
posted by immlass at 7:36 AM on July 13, 2012


As someone who loves Dylan and loves History Detectives, I would like to thank you for making this post.

Now PLAY FUCKIN' LOUD!
posted by Rangeboy at 7:38 AM on July 13, 2012


The object only has value as being THAT guitar from Newport, '65.

Well, at least a 65 strat in that condition is still worth ~$10K!
posted by Lorin at 7:39 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The whole brouhaha about Dylan going electric at Newport is another bit of rock mythology that isn't quite what it seems.

It's true that people were pissed off, but it was more because the big headliner played an insultingly short set with a very poorly-mixed band. All you can hear in tapes of the performance is Bloomfield's guitar.

Dylan was obliged to come back to the stage solo and play a couple more songs just to mollify the understandably annoyed crowd.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 7:42 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was one point I couldn't find addressed anywhere. Is there a statue of limitations or something that applies here? If he left the guitar on the plane (regardless of if it is the guitar) but made no effort to recover it, does he have any claim 47 years later?

If he can back up the claim that it is rightfully his, would she be entitled to 47 years worth of storage fees for keeping it in good shape?
posted by TedW at 8:03 AM on July 13, 2012


"History is a lie agreed upon" --Charlie Sheen
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:04 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also find the story about leaving the instruments on the plane very believable; it apparently happens all the time in taxicabs.
posted by TedW at 8:06 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]



Well, at least a 65 strat in that condition is still worth ~$10K!


It's a 64. Those are worth a lot more more because they were made before CBS bought Fender in 65 and the quality went down. Yes, Fender itself sold-out in 65. ;-)

It's also totally original, basically as new, with original hard case. Got to be worth $30k minimum even if Dylan never owned it.

They have good evidence that Dylan did play it though, even if he denies that it's that particular guitar, so it's worth a lot more than that.

However, these people do not own it, and they should send it back to the owner.
posted by w0mbat at 8:07 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


...would she be entitled to 47 years worth of storage fees for keeping it in good shape?

Absent some agreement beforehand, that her father was going to hold onto it and Dylan pay X per month for that (which no-one says is what happened), I'm thinking that a storage fees claim is probably a non-starter. However, if there were a settlement, dressing it up as storage fees would probably be convenient for everyone.

And with that, my proportion of comments on this thread is getting too high, and I'm leaving the conversation to others. Promise.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:23 AM on July 13, 2012


I have replica air guitars that are completely indistinguishable from his original, which I can let go for $50 + shipping. Paypal accepted.

If you're really going to be satisfied with a Chinese fake, go right ahead and buy one of these....
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:26 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I need the Mystery Detectives to examine a box of toothpicks my dad says was a semi hollow body Gibson Pete Townshend played at the Marquee in 1965. Or maybe it was an Epiphone.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 8:47 AM on July 13, 2012


Dylan never really "played" the guitar that much in his electric sets of the period, he tended to use it more as a prop.

Just because he wasn't wailing the lead-lines doesn't mean he wasn't playing some nice ham-handed rhythm guitar.

I'll have to ask mom if she remembers if this was or wasn't the guitar in question...she was there!
posted by JBennett at 9:34 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Mystery Detectives claim that they've matched the wood-grain pattern from high quality photographs of the Newport set to the guitar in question. If that claim is true then that pretty much establishes the provenance of the guitar in question and Dylan's denials are irrelevant (unless by some extraordinary stroke of fortune the guitar he has in his possession was made from match-grained pieces of wood). The only question remaining would be who legally owns the guitar in question. Any lawyer types have an answer to that? If you could establish that a genuine attempt was made to return the guitar and that Dylan and his management ignored it, would that imply that Dylan had somehow forfeited his claim?
posted by yoink at 9:49 AM on July 13, 2012


On the other side, Bob has tremendous resources, and no reason to come to any kind of agreement, particularly one where he admits that he was wrong, and that this IS the guitar.
The claim is that it wasn't the guitar, but it was still his guitar. This was established by looking at the pattern in the wood, to the photographs, which should be fairly unique. But in theory several pieces might have been made from the same block of wood, in which case they might have the same pattern.
posted by delmoi at 9:49 AM on July 13, 2012


PeterMcDermott: I have replica air guitars that are completely indistinguishable from his original, which I can let go for $50 + shipping. Paypal accepted.

If you're really going to be satisfied with a Chinese fake, go right ahead and buy one of these....
I run a side business investigating and authenticating such claims. For a reasonable fee, I can provide a Certificate of Authenticity.

Just email me the air guitar. I accept Paypal. USD only, please.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:49 AM on July 13, 2012


Because I can't leave this story alone, apparently...

The claim is that it wasn't the guitar, but it was still his guitar.

I don't think that's correct. In the Rolling Stone link, Dylan's lawyer says that Bob still has 'possession' of the guitar. The CBC story I linked earlier fleshes that out a bit more:

Dylan's lawyer, Orin Snyder, said late Wednesday that the singer had the guitar. [...] In a response, History Detectives spokesman Eddie Ward said the show continues to believe Peterson has the guitar in question and would "welcome the opportunity" to examine the guitar that Dylan says is the one he played that day.

From that, there are two competing claims for having the Newport guitar -- the one held by a woman in Jersey, and the one held by the artist himself.

It's entirely possible that Peterson's claim is correct, and that Bob is simply mistaken. Until someone has a look at whatever Bob has in his garage, there's going to be doubt attaching to Peterson's claim.

As I read it, Bob's lawyer is saying that the Peterson guitar is not the Newport guitar, but it's a Dylan guitar, and Bob would like it back.

OK, seriously going to try to step out now. For reals.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:14 AM on July 13, 2012


I have a feeling that she could get more than 30k at this point by just ebaying the thing, without even claiming it's 'the' guitar. Let the bidders pay what they think it's worth.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:10 PM on July 13, 2012


"The guitar remains in a safe place," she wrote, "away from my home."

Mystery solved: she's storing it in Dylan's house.
posted by davejay at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Mystery Detectives claim that they've matched the wood-grain pattern from high quality photographs of the Newport set to the guitar in question.

It would have to be a hell of a photo. The finish looks like no photo from the show could show wood grain patterns at all.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:42 PM on July 13, 2012


"The 1964 Stratocaster came with 13 pages of typed and handwritten song lyrics tucked inside its guitar case...and there's this line, 'the six white horses,' ” Gold says. "In one of these manuscripts, Dylan had written 'six flying horses,' and then above 'flying' he'd written 'white' and 'the.' It was obvious the same person had written both of them.""

Wow. Handwritten Dylan lyrics.
posted by marienbad at 4:25 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just email me the air guitar. I accept Paypal. USD only, please.

Scam warning! It's a huge red flag when someone wants you to email an air guitar. Don't be fooled! Air guitars must be faxed.
posted by stebulus at 5:10 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The whole brouhaha about Dylan going electric at Newport is another bit of rock mythology that isn't quite what it seems.

It's true that people were pissed off, but it was more because the big headliner played an insultingly short set with a very poorly-mixed band. All you can hear in tapes of the performance is Bloomfield's guitar.

Dylan was obliged to come back to the stage solo and play a couple more songs just to mollify the understandably annoyed crowd.


I find the whole Dylan Newport 1965 thing to be quite fascinating, actually.

He'd just finished a giant breakthrough about songwriting (there was an FPP here on the Blue not too long ago which linked to an article about Dylan's writer's block and the subsequent discovery of some sort he made about songwriting which led to "Like A Rolling Stone"), and he was in the midst of doing the typical Dylan thing and challenging those who felt like they were comfortable with him.

So, we get the album Bringing It All Back Home, and the single "Like A Rolling Stone", and then literally 5 days after the single is released, he's at Newport with a hugely underrehearsed electric band, and they do three songs:
  • "Maggie's Farm" (Dylan's declaration of independence from the folk music scene)
  • "Like A Rolling Stone" (perhaps a commentary on the shifting within the folk music, political, and general culture of the US, definitely a song meant to provoke reactions to any who feel comfortable enough to assume they can tell others how to live their entirely different lives)
  • "Phantom Engineer" (a song which would be taken in to the studio 4 days later and recorded, with very slightly changed lyrics, as "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" for Highway 61 Revisited.)
That was all the band had rehearsed, and Dylan seemed to think it was enough, and so they left the stage.

The crowd was furious, and Peter Yarrow spent time begging Dylan to come back to the stage to sing a bit more. He came back out and did two more songs:
  • "Mr. Tambourine Man" (if there was ever a song about being demanded to perform on cue, that is pretty much it)
  • "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (regarded by some as his farewell to the folk music scene, certainly speaks about evolution and moving away from what had gone before)
Contrary to a lot of opinions , Dylan was not the headliner that night. Three acts performed after him, with Peter Paul & Mary closing out the night.

It's a pretty fascinating weekend of music and changing times overall. There is a really good writeup of the entire weekend looking at it from the activities and experiences of Michael Bloomfield, which includes descriptions of Dylan's sudden decision to "go electric", the short rehearsal time, and the concert night of Sunday when Dylan performed. It's a recommended read if you're interested in how pivotal Newport 1965 was to folk music and its evolution and expansion.
posted by hippybear at 6:18 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


But in theory several pieces might have been made from the same block of wood, in which case they might have the same pattern.

Nah... The chances that two guitars owned by the same person would have come from the same hunk of wood in the fender factory in '64 is 0%. Plus, If you look at a guitar with a solid body, the grain will vary even from the front to back side enough to differentiate the two. The wood grain should be a virtual fingerprint. They might look similar at first glance (they would always go for a dominantly horizontal grain angle) but it would be obvious where the two were unique.

These are the best color photos I've seen of the '65 performance. Looks like the guitar Dylan has on stage has a slightly different 3-tone "sunburst" distribution to my eye.

Note, the three tone sunburst is created when the body is first finished in a transparent amber/yellow. Then a thicker transparent red spray was sprayed (freehand so there is a lot of variation) around the perimeter of the body, followed by an opaque black outer edge.

Here is a big shot that shows dylans guitar with him on stage. It has a shallower red ring from the guitar on PBS.

Sorry, I'm a huge nerd with no-friends.
posted by JBennett at 7:19 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The sunburst pattern looks exactly identical to me. You can measure against specific spots like the screws in the pick guard, or the output jack. If it looks different in the concert pics, that's just the harsh lighting washing out the transparent lacquer paint, and the color balance is a bit different.

And I am really picky about sunburst, I rejected a dozen perfectly good new guitars until I found one with a sunburst I liked (and was decently built).

Anyway, this one thing pisses me off:

Luray took the guitar to Babiuk, an appraiser of instruments who consults for the rock hall. He took the guitar apart to find a date written inside (1964) that made its use in Newport plausible.

Not again! Why oh why do these idiot appraisers always want to disassemble a perfectly good instrument? Nobody will ever get it back together quite the same way it was built.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:42 PM on July 13, 2012


Nah. Any working fender might be taken apart a dozen times in its life time and it makes no difference.

Taking the neck off a Fender guitar is like opening the hood of your car. And remember, the way it was built was in a hot, non-airconditioned partially open air factory in southern California with a screw-driver by a guy who wasn't wearing a shirt.

As for the burst. I want to see a photo where Dylan's arm isn't covering that one distinct bit of grain... but, sure it could be lighting... OR it could be a heavier red spray. I look forward to the episode of History Detectives.
posted by JBennett at 7:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last note: Here is an unrelated '64 strat that has a sunburst pattern that looks more like the Newport-caster. It has more of that amber behind the bridge while retaining the same coverage by the jack-insert and over the pickups.
posted by JBennett at 8:01 PM on July 13, 2012


Right. With vintage Fenders it's standard practice to unbolt the neck and see what's written in there, generally a date and sometimes the name of the craftsman. That date can then be compared against the serial number. It's a crucial part of determining whether it's the year it's claimed to be, whether the neck matches the body, etc.
posted by w0mbat at 11:01 AM on July 17, 2012


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