Saturday, December 12, 2015

I Love Lucy - The Strange Story of George Harrison and Eric Clapton's Les Paul

The McCoys with Rick Derringer playing his gold top Les Paul
It was in 1965 that The McCoys were on top of the charts with their hit, “Hang On Sloopy.” Guitarist Rick Derringer owned a 1957 Les Paul gold-top that had originally belonged to John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. This guitar had come with a stock Bigsby vibrato.

Derringer loved that guitar, but his father complained that it looked “beat up.”

John Sebastian with the Les Paul
Derringer’s family made their home in a small town in central Ohio called Ft. Recovery. His given surname is actually Zehringer, but he was inspired by the derringer pistol that was on the label of Bang Records and has used the stage name Derringer throughout his career.

Rick took his Dad’s suggestion to heart and in 1966 decided to make a 3 hour drive to the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo Michigan where he asked that his guitar be refinished.

Instead of going with the original gold-top finish, Derringer decided he liked the clear red finish that was featured on Gibson’s SG models.

After the work was finished Derringer was disappointed, because in his opinion the guitar never played as good as it originally did. He states that he could not keep it in tune and felt that Gibson had done changed more than just the finish.

Eric Clapton with Les Paul
On a trip to Manhattan, he traded the Les Paul at Dan Armstrong’s guitar shop. Shortly after that Eric Clapton was in Armstrong's store, liked the guitar and purchased it.

Not too long after that Clapton gave it to his friend George Harrison. Harrison loved the Les Paul.

Harrison with SG
This was during the time George had been mainly using his Gibson SG. With the acquisition of the Les Paul, Harrison rarely played the SG and gave it away to Pete Ham, the guitarist for Bad Finger.

Pete Ham with SG
At the time Bad Finger had just signed a contract with Apple Records and the SG was laying around the studio, which gave Ham an opportunity to play it and he fell in love with it.  Sadly, Pete Ham took his own life in 1975. His wife sold the SG at a garage sale. It was later found and was placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until June of 2015 when an anonymous bidder paid 294,000 pounds ($570,000) for it. But I digress.

Harrison had given the name Lucy to his beloved red Les Paul as a reference to the great redheaded comedian/actress Lucille Ball aka Lucy.

Ironically Lucille Ball and Lucy the guitar both started out as blonds.

Harrison Let It Be session

Delaney, Bonnie & Friends
Harrison had used this guitar on the White Album and subsequently on the Get Back/Let It Be recordings. He had traveled with it when he joined the Delaney, Bonnie and Friends Tour.

In 1973 Harrison’s Beverly Hills home was burglarized and Lucy, his beloved Les Paul was stolen from under his bed. He wanted it back.
Guitarist Mark Havey maintained residences in both California and in Mexico. Back in 1973 he was residing at his California home. His friend, Miguel Ochoa, was visiting the United States to buy guitars and make a little money reselling them in Mexico when he stopped in to see Havey.

George Whalin
After the visit, Ochoa went to the Whalin’s Sound City in Hollywood and saw this gorgeous red Les Paul hanging on the wall and he bought it for $650. Unbeknownst to Havey, Ochoa had given the store Havey’s phone number as his own contact number.

The next day Whalin’s owner, George Whalin contacted Mark Havey with the story that the store owed Ochoa some money because they had overcharged him for the Les Paul. The story seemed pretty suspicious.

Finally Whalin explained they should have kept the guitar for 30 days to make certain there were no claims against it and see if it clears their “hot property” list of stolen instruments. This guitar was on that list and furthermore Whalin learned it belonged to George Harrison. He was in trouble.

Tony Bacon
Havey assumed this to be a joke until George Harrison called him. Havey knew Tony Bacon, a well known collector and author that lived in California and through Bacon a meeting was arranged with George Harrison.

At the meeting Harrison said his home had been broken in to and property was stolen, which included the cherry red Les Paul. Harrison said it actually belonged to Clapton and was only on loan to him. He needed that guitar back.

Havey left a message for Miguel call him. A couple of days went by and Ochoa called back. Havey let Miguel know that Harrison was willing to pay for the guitars return, however Ochoa hedged. He was now in Guadalajara, Mexico and would only return it on the condition that he receive a 1958 Sunburst Les Paul, an early model Fender Precision Bass and four other guitars. He was holding this guitar hostage!

Havey haggled with him and got the bargain down to just the Sunburst Les Paul and a Fender Precision Bass. Harrison, Havey and Tony Bacon scrambled and visited some nearby guitar stores in search of the requested guitar and bass.

Norm Harris Norms Rare Guitars
Eventually Norm Harris, from Norm’s Rare Guitars in Tarzana happened to have a 1968 Sunburst Les Paul and a vintage Fender bass. Harrison bought the instruments on the spot..

George then flew Havey and Bacon to Mexico and the instruments were swapped and Lucy made it safely home.

Harrison later quiped, “Lucy was kidnapped and I had to pay some guy in Guadalajara Mexico to get her back".

Gibson Custom Shop Reproduction of Lucy
In 2013 Gibson produced a limited edition of the Harrison/Clapton Lucy guitar. Gibson used MRI scans to document every nick and scratch and modification made to this remake of only 50 guitars.

But wait, there's more!

The purchase included a Certificate of Authenticity, hand signed by Eric Clapton that was encased in a white leather bound, embossed folio. Also a 180 gram vinyl copy of the White Album. Plus owners manual, adjustment literature and coverage under Gibson’s Limited Lifetime Warranty. Asking price at the time was $15,000.


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Great story.

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Vinicius Fiocco said...

Fantastic story. Good job dude!!

kevhotradio said...

Awesome story, thanks!

My only question is how did the guy accept a '68 sunburst when he requested (i.e. demanded) a '58 burst?