PBS Show Stokes Controversy Over Rock Legend’s Famous Guitar

Jul 12, 2012  •  Post A Comment

A PBS television show has stirred up a controversy over one of the most famous musical instruments in history, the Associated Press reports.

The dispute is focused on who has the guitar Bob Dylan played when he famously “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The seminal event is widely seen as a turning point for music, opening the door for folk artists — who up until then appealed to a more eclectic audience — to become more a part of mainstream music. That transition is credited with changing popular music to reflect a much greater lyrical influence.

Dylan’s camp says the guitar he played at Newport is in his possession. But that’s not what the PBS show “History Detectives” found.

The story reports: “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.”

The story calls the guitar “quite possibly the most historic single instrument in rock ‘n’ roll,” noting that experts believe it could fetch as much as half a million dollars if it were ever auctioned.

The PBS show had the guitar examined by guitar expert Andy Babiuk, the story says, noting that Babiuk also appraises instruments for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The article notes that Babiuk "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. … 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."

“The guitar is the centerpiece of next Tuesday’s season premiere of PBS’s ‘History Detectives,’” the story reports, “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.”

The report adds: “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.”

But in the decades that followed, many of those same former folk purists followed Dylan’s lead and eventually reached out to a wider audience — leaving some of them embarrassed and forced to admit they just “didn’t get it” at the time and to acknowledge that Dylan was right to shake things up.

dylan-newport-1965jpg.jpgBob Dylan with his Stratocaster at Newport, 1965

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