Grail for Sale?

Categories: Music
A New York company claims it's selling, for $6 million, the guitar Robert Johnson's holding in this legendary picture of one of music's most influential writers and performers.

There is a company in Washingtonville, New York, called Moments In Time Manuscripts Inc. that sells rare artifacts--among them, oh, a letter in which John Lennon jokes about a Beatles reunion or an autographed copy of Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy that the former Beatle allegedly signed before Mark David Chapman shot him on December 8, 1980. Till now, the company has peddled mostly minor pieces of popular culture history. But that all changes with its brand-new acquisition: "The Holy Grail," the company calls it, and rightly so...should it turn out to be the real thing.

For $6 million, you can own what Moments In Time insists is the guitar Robert Johnson played on most, if not all, of the 41 sides he recorded for Columbia Records in both San Antonio and Dallas (at 508 Park Avenue, to be specific) in 1936 and '37. (Among the songs he recorded here June 19 and June 20, 1937, are no less than the likes of "Hellhound on My Trail," "Love in Vain" and "Traveling Riverside Blues.") The company's claiming it's the very instrument pictured in the famous photo at right--"a reasonably sharp print drenched in light which fortunately shows some very unique workmanship quirks." The Web site goes to great lengths to prove it's the Gibson L-1 acoustic model, which was made by the company between 1926 and 1930. But it doesn't go far enough, which is why some folks are doubting the authenticity of the item. There's a story in today's The Independent out of London that says Moments In Time's curator, Gary Zimet, refuses "to provide any additional information about the provenance of the instrument or the person who is selling it." Says Zimet in the article:


"'All I am authorised to tell you is that it was purchased in America, in the south, and that it is currently owned by a fellow living abroad. The owner is playing his cards very close to his vest.'" Asked as to how someone could be sure the guitar was genuine, he added: 'Any potential purchaser is welcome to examine it in person and have his or her own expert go over it with a toothcomb.'"

News of the guitar's discovery and sale came as a bit of a surprise to Johnson's grandson Steven, who runs the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, not far from where the bluesman was born. Steven's gonna do some research, says The Independent, to find out whether it's the guitar from which damned near 70 years' worth of music springs or just a fake. Betcha six bucks Eric Clapton has his checkbook ready. --Robert Wilonsky



Bonus MP3:



Robert Johnson: "Hellhound on My Trail" (recorded in Dallas, at 508 Park Avenue, on June 20, 1937)


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