The Fender Stratocaster that Bob Dylan played during his legendary electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival is finally headed to the auction block. The guitar has been in the possession of New Jersey resident Dawn Peterson's family for nearly 50 years, but when she went public with it last year on an episode of the PBS show History Detectives, Dylan said he owned the instrument.
Peterson recently settled a legal dispute with the musician that will allow her to sell the guitar. "One term of the agreement that I obviously can disclose is that Mr. Dylan will participate in the sale to the extent that he will be signing off on any ownership interest after the sale," Peterson's attorney Christopher DeFalco tells Rolling Stone. "The person who buys it will receive a bill of sale that will be signed both by the Petersons and Mr. Dylan or his representatives."
The exact terms of the settlement are confidential, and neither party will say whether or not Dylan will share in the profits from the sale. "The suit was originally a declaratory judgment for a declaration as to who was the owner of the guitar," says DeFalco. "Then it was amended to include a claim that the value of the guitar was reduced because of the fact that those statements [where Dylan claimed to own the guitar]."
Peterson isn't sure how she will auction the guitar. "I've been talking to Wes Cowan, who appeared on History Detectives," she says. "He owns an auction house. He's giving me some contacts, but we'll probably also call Sotheby's and Christie's to determine who is the best going forward."
The sale will also include handwritten Dylan lyrics circa 1965. They were found in the guitar case and contain fragments that later appeared in "Just Like a Woman" and the Blonde on Blonde outtake "Medicine Sunday," an early version of "Temporary Like Achilles."
It's unknown how much the guitar is worth. "History Detectives felt it was worth $500,000," says Peterson. "I believe it's probably worth more than that. I doubt we'll sell it with any sort of reserve. The lyrics also estimated to be worth at least $50,000."
Bob Dylan's three-song electric set at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25th, 1965 was one of the most important moments in his entire career. It was his first time performing with a backing band, and it marked the beginning of a whole new phase of his career. Rock historians have spent the last five decades debating whether or not the crowed erupted into boos; the set was certainly divisive, though a very necessary step in Dylan's artistic evolution.
Color photos from the set reveal that Dylan played a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster at the festival, and that instrument quickly vanished from his live show. Nobody knew what happened to it until last summer when Dawn Peterson appeared on History Detectives (for which this Rolling Stone reporter was also interviewed).
Peterson's father, Victor Quinto, was a private pilot who worked for Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman. "Dylan left the guitar on the plane," says Peterson. "My father passed away years ago, but I've heard from his friends that he asked the management company what to do with it and he heard back, 'We can always get more from Fender.' I've also heard that he called and asked them what to do and nobody ever responded."
History Detectives went to great lengths to authenticate the guitar, and they shared it with world-renewed vintage instrument specialist Andy Babiuk, who compared it with close-up color photos from Newport. "The more I looked, the more they matched," Babiuk told Rolling Stone in 2012. "The rosewood fingerboard has distinct lighter strips. Wood grain is like a fingerprint. I'm 99.9 percent sure it's the guitar — my credibility is on the line here."
Dylan memorabilia expert Jeff Gold examined the lyrics. "A vast percentage of the stuff I get shown isn't real," he told Rolling Stone. "By nature, I'm a defeatist. But this was obviously real."
Shortly before History Detectives aired, Bob Dylan put out a statement through his lawyer, Orin Snyder: "Bob has possession of the electric guitar he played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. He did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics."
Does the resolution of this lawsuit mean that Dylan is no longer claiming to own the guitar? "Well, you'd have to ask Mr. Dylan that," says DeFalco. "I think the evidence that we have is sufficient evidence. I believe if you'll ask Mr. Dylan whether or not he has the guitar now, his answer would be 'no comment.' We're satisfied that the guitar is the guitar, and I would think anybody who would be reasonably interested in purchasing it would draw the same conclusion."
When asked about all issues relating to the settlement of the lawsuit and the veracity of the guitar, a spokesperson for Bob Dylan would only say "no comment."
Peterson, who work in customers relations for Comverge, has mixed feelings about selling the instrument but believes it is the right decision. "I would feel unsafe hanging it on a wall now, after all this went on," she says. "I would have to pay to keep it locked up, and I want somebody else to enjoy it. I'm hoping it goes to a museum so it can be shared with everybody."
Photo by Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images