Ownership of Dylan's historic guitar in dispute

 

Bob Dylan and historians at PBS are in a dispute over the whereabouts of an electric guitar that the singer plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, quite possibly the most historic single instrument in rock 'n' roll.

The New Jersey daughter of a pilot who flew Dylan to appearances in the 1960s says she has the guitar, which has spent much of the past 47 years in a family attic. But a lawyer for Dylan claims the singer still has the Fender Stratocaster with the sunburst design that he used during one of the most memorable performances of his career.

If the authentic "Dylan goes electric" guitar ever went on the open marketplace, experts say it could fetch as much as a half million dollars.

The guitar is the centerpiece of next Tuesday's season premiere of PBS' "History Detectives," and the show said late Wednesday it stood by its conclusion that Dawn Peterson, the pilot's daughter who works as a customer relations manager for an energy company, has the right instrument.

On July 25, 1965, that guitar was more an object of derision than desire.

With his acoustic songs of social protest, a young Bob Dylan was a hero to folk music fans in the early 1960s and the Newport festival was their Mecca. Bringing an electric guitar and band with him onstage to launch into "Maggie's Farm" was more than an artistic change, it was a provocative act. Most folk purists disdained rock 'n' roll.

What happened next is a little foggy. Did an enraged Pete Seeger really try to cut Dylan's electric power? Was the crowd upset about the noise, or by Dylan leaving the stage after only three songs? Was it even upset at all? He later returned for a couple of acoustic songs.

Either way, Dylan never looked back.

Music has its share of memorable instruments, like Paul McCartney's Hofner bass or the Gibson guitars that B.B. King calls Lucille. Yet it's tough to think of any instrument that was the focus of an event more meaningful than the electric guitar Dylan played that day, said Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum.

"This is not just kinda cool. This is way cool," said guitar expert Andy Babiuk. "We all love Bob Dylan, but this is really a pinnacle point not just in his career but for music in general. I don't think music in the 1960s would have been the same if Dylan had not gone electric."

Victor Quinto briefly flew music stars like Dylan, The Band and Peter, Paul & Mary around during the 1960s. Peterson, his daughter, said Dylan left the Fender behind on an airplane and Quinto took it home. She was told that her father contacted Dylan's representatives to get them to pick it up, but no one ever did. Quinto died at age 41, when his daughter was 8, and she treasures any remaining connection to her dad. The guitar was in her parents' attic until about 10 years ago when she took it.

Peterson had no idea about its history until a friend of her husband's saw it and mentioned the possible Newport connection. After unsuccessfully trying to verify it on her own, she turned to "History Detectives" about a year ago for help.

"When I heard it, I was like, 'Yeah, right,"' said Elyse Luray, a former Christie's auction house appraiser and auctioneer who co-hosts the PBS show. But there were intriguing clues. Peterson's father left behind an address book that included a phone number for "Bob Dylan, Woodstock." Luray showed the guitar case to a former Dylan roadie who recognized the name of a little-known company that Dylan had formed at the time stenciled on its side.

A sheaf of papers with handwritten song lyrics was in the guitar case and PBS took them to an expert, Jeff Gold, who said the handwriting matched Dylan's. The fragmentary lyrics later appeared, in part, on songs that Dylan recorded but rejected for his 1966 "Blonde on Blonde" album.

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. He drew upon blown-up color photos from Newport to compare the wood grain on the guitar Dylan played that day to the one in his hands. He's confident it's a match, likening the wood grain to a fingerprint.

Dylan's lawyer, Orin Snyder, said late Wednesday that the singer had the guitar.

"He did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics," Snyder said. "In addition, Bob recalls driving to the Newport Folk Festival, along with two of his friends, not flying."

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. Peterson said she stood by the "History Detectives" conclusion. Babiuk said he didn't want to get involved in a dispute, but said he was "99.9 percent certain" that he examined the guitar used at Newport.

Peterson said she had written to Dylan's lawyers in 2005 requesting that Dylan waive any claim to the guitar. Lawyers declined the request and said it should be returned but until this week, there had been no further contact.

Unlike some musicians who prize instrument collections, Dylan has generally looked upon them as tools to convey his art, much like a carpenter's hammer, Kramer said. "I don't think he's dwelled on a guitar he hasn't played for 47 years," he said. "If he cared about it, he would have done something about it."

That doesn't mean lawyers or managers wouldn't be aware of its value and fight for it, however.

Peterson told The Associated Press in an email that she had no plans to sell or donate the guitar to anyone.

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

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup