Rock n' Roll Lost and Found
Famous Guitars Stolen (and sometimes returned)
Legendary Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster was the very first of its kind in Ireland. The guitar had been special ordered by another musician who decided the sunburst finish wasn’t what he had in mind. In 1963, Rory bought the guitar on layaway from Crowley’s Music Store in Cork for £100, an amount of money his mother worried would bankrupt the family. Gallagher instantly loved the guitar and played it throughout his time in the band Taste.
Unfortunately, in the late '60s the guitar, and a borrowed Telecaster, were stolen
from his van after a show at the Five Club in Dublin. Ireland had only one TV
channel (RTE) at the time, which meant everyone watched it; one of the most
popular shows was Garda Patrol, a weekly roundup of police cases. The theft
was profiled on the show and the notoriety made the guitars impossible to
sell. A few weeks after the episode first aired, Gallagher got a call that his guitars
had been found. Unfortunately, the rare instruments were treated like trash and
ended up spending several days in a wet
Irish ditch. During the follow-up episode of Garda Patrol, an elderly officer cracked that the thief had probably done his neighbours a favour by stealing the guitars. Rory was just glad to have his Strat back and continued to play it for the next 30 plus years.
The guitar was famously battered by the end of Gallagher’s life, with nearly all of the sunburst finish bashed off from near constant use (and, according to a weird legend, Gallagher’s mysteriously acidic sweat). After Rory Gallagher died in 1995, he was honoured in a unique way. A bronze replica of his well worn telecaster was mounted on the wall in the corner of Dublin’s famed Temple Bar, right over his favourite table.
Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols was involved in all kinds of instrumental shenanigans throughout his life. He has repeatedly talked about his early years growing up around the corner from the famous Hammersmith Odeon in London in the early 1970s. Jones didn’t really care about the shows though: he went there to steal stuff. Famously, he claims to have snuck past a sleeping roadie on a late night in July of 1973 after David Bowie’s final live performance as Ziggy Stardust. Jones and pal Wally Nightingale clipped all of the cables and
wandered off with the PA, including
Bowie’s lipstick smeared microphone. Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook remembered jamming on suspiciously expensive gear in the band’s earliest days.
Jones's other brushes with musical crime involve a beautiful white 1971 Gibson Les Paul Custom with pinup
girl stickers that he played from the beginning of the Pistols. While he didn’t steal it directly, the guitar was
given to him by Malcolm McLaren, who acquired it from the New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain under dubious
circumstances. Sylvain had apparently traded the guitar to McLaren for a plane ticket to London that never materialized.
In the 1980s, Jones struggled with a serious addiction to drugs and alcohol, and frequently funded his benders by selling off instruments. He would convince an adoring fan that he was selling THE guitar used to record “Nevermind the Bullocks” and then pass off a cheap electric (usually stolen from someone else) for big bucks. In the mid '80s, in the depths of his addictions, Jones lost the real thing. In 2006, the guitar was sold at auction for £33,000.
George Harrison owned hundreds of guitars but one of them, a 1957 Gibson, meant more than the rest. According to legend, the guitar already had a rock n’ roll history before entering Harrison’s collection. The instrument started its life as a Gibson gold-top, so-called because of the gold paint finish, and was originally owned by John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. After playing it live and recording with it for a few years, it was traded to Rick Derringer, then playing with the McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy”). Derringer had the already beat-up guitar refinished in bright red, and then decided he didn’t like the look of it and sold it to Dan Armstrong’s guitar shop in New York. Eric Clapton was the next owner, picking it up while on tour in the States. He brought the guitar back to England and gave it to his pal George Harrison (he would later steal Harrison’s wife, Patti,…but that’s another story).
George loved the instrument and named it Lucy, after Lucille Ball. He recorded and performed with the guitar, and even loaned it back to Clapton to play the lead on “While
My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Clapton himself has said he was too wasted to remember the session…also a story for another day).
By 1973, The Beatles were done and Harrison was living in Hollywood, where he was writing music, fighting with Patti, and snorting bucketfuls of cocaine. Someone broke into his
house and Lucy was stolen from underneath his bed. The guitar was
taken to LA music shop Whalin’s Guitar City, then quickly sold to Mexican musician Miguel Ochoa, who paid $650 for it. When Whalin, who was supposed to have waited 30 days before reselling, realized what he had done, he began to scramble. He managed to contact a friend of Ochoa’s, who called the musician in Guadalajara and explained what he had bought. Ochoa, a huge Beatles fan, was reluctant to return the guitar and considered keeping it for himself. A few weeks of negotiations ensued and Lucy was finally traded back to Harrison in exchange for a vintage 1958 sunburst Les Paul and an early Fender Precision Bass. Harrison would later describe the incident as a “kidnapping” and Michael Ochoa would receive death threats from angry Beatles fans for years after.