With a record price, the guitar that changed American music, Dylan’s Strat from Newport ’65, sets another milestone.
When Bob Dylan ripped into “Maggie’s Farm” in front of a stunned crowd at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, not many people realized they were seeing a paradigm shift in the current of popular culture that would reverberate around the globe for decades to come. Fewer still would have guessed that the Fender Stratocaster with the sunburst finish strapped around the lanky 24 year old that evening would later be sold for just shy of $1 Million Dollars.
But that is exactly what happened today at Christie’s in New York City, as the 1964 guitar used by Dylan to officially “go electric” sold for a record $965,000 to an anonymous bidder, almost doubling the top estimate of $500,000.
Serial number L31324, and sporting a neck date of 2 May 1964, this alder body, maple neck, Brazilian rosewood fingerboard guitar was used during sessions of Bringing It All Back Home, and possibly some sessions for Blonde on Blonde, as well as the infamous electric set at Newport.
Sometime after the historic gig, the guitar was reputedly left behind on a private airplane and taken into possession by the pilot, who claims to have made attempts to return it. After almost half a century, in 2012, the PBS television program History Detectives were able to match the wood grain on the top of the guitar with a close-up photograph of Dylan on stage at the concert. Originally Dylan’s attorney claimed the artist was still in possession of the fabled guitar, but after an undisclosed settlement between Dylan and the pilot’s family, the sale went ahead, and garnered a price beyond all expectation.
I remember vividly the first time I saw the black and white footage of the performance. While wild and a bit distorted, it is hard to believe that Dylan decided to go electric only the day before (after having performed three acoustic tunes at the “workshop” portion of the festival, but taking offense at the way festival officials spoke negatively about Paul Butterfield’s use of electric instruments.) With Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Jerome Arnold on bass, Same Ley on drums, and Al Kooper on organ, it is easy to see how electric the performance actually was, and how a great many people responded to the raw energy in a favorably manner, despite any actual booing that took place. While some people claim the booing was in response to the brevity of the three-song set, Dylan felt otherwise.
In a 1965 interview he was quoted as saying, “Well, I did this very crazy thing, I didn’t know what was going to happen, but they certainly booed, I’ll tell you that. You could hear it all over the place…. I mean, they must be pretty rich, to be able to go someplace and boo. I couldn’t afford it if I was in their shoes.”
In any case, “Maggie’s Farm”, from the electric side of the just-released Bringing it All Back Home, the single “Like a Rolling Stone”, which appeared a week or so before, and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh (It Takes a Train to Cry)”, then called “Phantom Engineer,” soon to show up on Highway 61 Revisited, made clear the direction Bob Dylan and progressive American music would be taking. And the three tunes were played at Newport on the guitar sold today, for a fraction of what Dylan has earned playing many other Strats through the years.
Did Jim Irsay, the zillionaire owner of the Indianapolis Colts, have a hand in the bidding? After all, his collection includes Jerry Garcia’s “Tiger” guitar, the guitar George Harrison played at the Beatles’ last public concert, and he may have been involved in the auction that set a then record amount for Eric Clapton’s “Blackie.”
We may find out eventually.