It turns out rock stars are just like us: they also love a good freebie or enjoy collecting knick-knacks they don’t need. Here’s a strange assortment of hybrid guitars, homestead timber and heavy-duty vehicles which started with one rock star owner and ended with another.
1. Who doesn’t love a happy ending? At 1992’s MTV Awards, Nirvana warred with Guns N’ Roses after Axl Rose told Kurt Cobain to “shut your bitch up” in the wake of Courtney Love sarcastically asking Rose to be daughter Frances Bean’s godfather. A quarter of a century later, Rose and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl are buddies… and it’s all because of a giant throne. After Foo Fighters frontman Grohl broke his leg during a 2015 show in Sweden, the immobile guitarist opted to complete the summer tour by performing from a lavish construction somewhat resembling the Iron Throne in Game Of Thrones. When Axl Rose broke his foot a year later ahead of Guns N’ Roses’ Not In This Lifetime reunion dates, Grohl offered the hobbled frontman his podium. Early tour dates saw Axl playing with a giant FF headboard, although this was amended to GN’R as the tour progressed. Axl later sent Grohl a Gibson ES3-35 in thanks, with the guitar making its way onto Foo Fighters’ 2017 album Concrete And Gold. According to Grohl, the Gibson is “the best guitar I have ever had in my entire life.”
2. Did you hear the one about the Welsh yetis who sold their tank to an Eagle? True story, bro. After signing to Creation Records in the mid-‘90s, psychedelic Britpop group Super Furry Animals blew their promotions budget on a 10,000-pound armoured vehicle, painted the tank with details of their latest release and adapted it into a fearsomely loud sound system for festival appearances. By the time of SFA’s 2003 album Phantom Power, the group had shifted their marketing budget to yeti costumes and the tank was no longer required, but here’s where the story takes a weird twist: it was sold to the Eagles’ Don Henley, a tank collector. “It’s a beautiful image,” Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys suggested. “Off the royalties of “Lyin' Eyes”, he drives around rural Texas in armoured vehicles.”
3. Bruce Springsteen might not have performed at Live Aid on 13 July 1985, but his generosity greatly assisted the logistics of the world’s largest-ever live music event. Wrapping up three dates at Wembley Stadium a week before Bob Geldof’s famine benefit, Springsteen donated his stage set-up to the global extravaganza's London show. Exhausted after more than a year touring Born In The USA, The Boss turned down Geldof’s multiple requests to make an appearance at either the London or Philadelphia leg of the day-long show, which was broadcast to an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s population. Springsteen later expressed some regret he didn’t play Live Aid, but his provision of staging and backline equipment was a lesser-known gesture of benevolence while Wembley performances by Queen and U2 took the column inches.
4. Speaking of Live Aid no-shows, another ‘80s superstar who didn’t make an in-person appearance during the global event found another tenuous way to play a part. Madonna, who performed "Holiday" and "Into The Groove" backed by a band including Chic’s Nile Rodgers, was wearing an outfit given to her by Prince. Prince was also credited as designing the ensemble – which included a mint jacket, green vest, lace blouse and floral pedal pushers – but it’s not known whether he personally got on the Janome to put the finishing touches on the accoutrements. Despite the temperature at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium nearing the mid-30s, Madonna refused to shed a layer or two of Prince’s design ensemble: having recently seen ‘70s art school nude photos of herself appearing in Playboy and Penthouse, she drawled “I ain’t taking shit off today.” Despite wearing Prince’s jacket – and a few of his other creations – on a number of occasions in the wake of Live Aid, at 2005’s Live 8 event she told presenter Jo Whiley one of the only things she remembered about the original 1985 event was her “horrible outfit.”
5. Iconic guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa crossed paths a number of times before the former’s death in 1970. Hendrix had dropped by Zappa’s New York pad, jammed on stage with the Mothers Of Invention and even been gifted his first wah-wah pedal by Zappa, but it was another hand-me-down which has created debate around its provenance. On 31 March 1967, Hendrix acted out his guitar-burning routine at London’s Astoria, setting alight a Fender Stratocaster. With police and fire officers appearing at the venue in the wake of the on-stage blaze, the scorched guitar was quickly hidden away from investigators. A year later, one of Hendrix’s roadies, Howard Parker, gifted the guitar to Frank Zappa in the US, a week after Hendrix played New York’s Fillmore East venue. Fixing up the burnt wiring and making a few additions to the Fender – but never getting it resprayed – Zappa used the guitar on his 1976 album Zoot Allures and was photographed with the instrument on a number of occasions before his death in 1993. Despite scratches that appear to match Hendrix’s original Strat, this rock relic remains contentious due to another guitar having been sold as Hendrix’s Astoria instrument. Giving the story a strange twist, Hendrix’s guitar tech Howard Parker disappeared in the ‘70s, with details of how he came to have the Astoria Strat (despite not working with Hendrix at the time of the Astoria gig) disappearing with him.
6. While the death of R.E.M.’s ally Kurt Cobain occurred late in the recording of their 1994 album Monster, the Nirvana frontman’s influence loomed over the Georgian band’s release and subsequent tour. Not only did frontman Michael Stipe write "Let Me In" as an imagined personal plea to Cobain, the grunge icon’s wife Courtney Love gave R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck her late husband’s prototype Jag-Stang guitar. Cobain had worked with guitar brand Fender on a special hybrid of their Jaguar and Mustang models, excited to put his name to the Jag-Stang signature guitar despite claiming “I can barely play the things myself.” His lone edition was played less than half a dozen times in concert, with no known Nirvana recordings ever featuring the light blue guitar. In the wake of Cobain’s suicide, Buck used the gifted Jag-Stang prototype for R.E.M.’s "What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?" video in September 1994. R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills also played the instrument during the Monster tour during the tribute to Cobain, "Let Me In". While the Jag-Stang was eventually released commercially, only Peter Buck has a Fender with the serial #0000000000-KC.
7. In spite of sacked Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones’ death just three days before the band’s massive show in London’s Hyde Park on 5 July 1969, frontman Mick Jagger didn’t opt for a black mourning outfit for the free gig. The performance, which famously featured the release of thousands of butterflies in honour of the band’s dead founder, saw Jagger donning a Mr Fish outfit – the same designer behind the dress David Bowie wore on the UK cover of 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World album. Described as a “little girl’s white party frock” by biographer Philip Norman, the provocative outfit is alleged to have been owned by one of Frank Sinatra’s infamous Rat Pack. In a detailed research paper on the performance, Danish academic Michael Langkjaer revealed Jagger had picked it up at the Mr Fish boutique the week before the gig for 85 guineas, despite it having already been sold to Sammy Davis Jr. Davis Jr “had ordered the outfit and was due to collect it before it was lent to Mick.” The man famous for singing "Mr Bojangles" was obviously a big fan of the Grecian tunic look, having ordered three more “in black, brown and champagne”. Half a century on, it seems Jagger might still have the sexy number in his collection, joking before the Stones’ 2013 return to Hyde Park he was considering bringing the Mr Fish original out of retirement for the gig.
8. Blues legend Muddy Waters proved an influential artist for R&B-indebted acts including The Rolling Stones, Jack White and even David Bowie’s early group The Manish Boys, but ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons took the worship a step further by turning a piece of wood from Waters’ childhood home into a guitar. The cabin on Stovall Farm, Clarksdale, Mississippi Plantation was disassembled and then moved down the road to the Delta Blues Museum 30 years ago. Also on display at the Clarksdale museum is ‘Muddywood’, one of the guitars ZZ guitarist Gibbons had made from some of the shack’s remnants, with a wooden insignia on the guitar plotting the Mississippi’s path. This guitar now sits inside the reconstructed cabin alongside a life-size model of Waters and assorted memorabilia. Gibbons has retained two of his Muddy guitars, which were created by guitar company Peavey. He is said to have recorded 1990’s "My Head’s In Mississippi" from ZZ Top’s album Recycler. Suddenly the album’s title makes a lot of sense.
9. Are the Eagles responsible for Led Zeppelin’s sound? Well, no. But in a roundabout way, maybe. Years before he joined the Eagles in 1975 in time for the massive success of Hotel California, guitarist Joe Walsh had been a member of the relatively successful Cleveland group the James Gang. Formed in 1966, the trio toured the US with Led Zeppelin in 1969, including one memorable performance together in Ohio on the day of the moon landing. Walsh and Page got on well with each other and spent time talking guitars, with Walsh offering up his Les Paul (believed to be a ‘59, although it’s been debated due to a missing serial plate) to the rising UK maestro. “I laid it on him and said, 'Try this out',” Walsh told Guitar World in 2012. "He really liked it, so I gave him a good deal… I just thought he should have a Les Paul, for godsakes!" With a sunburst finish, the guitar ended up becoming known a Page’s ‘Number One’ – a beloved beast of a guitar with endless modifications but still cherished to this day.
10. Joe Walsh must be the patron saint of guitar benevolence since he figures in this entry as well. Walsh gave The Who’s Pete Townshend another sunburst Gibson Les Paul which Townshend subsequently passed on to The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr. The songwriter wrote a number of the indie idols’ final successes – including "Panic", "Ask" and "Half A Person" – on the 1960 guitar, but the instrument still had a few hits left in it. In the early ’90s Marr was introduced to a band who "were just starting out" and went to a couple of gigs "where they played to eight people and a dog". Marr thought they were great, but the guitarist would waste so much time tuning up between songs on his lone guitar Marr decided to loan him his classic Les Paul. The guitarist was none other than Noel Gallagher of Oasis. Marr suggested the music press quickly made out the exchange was like passing him Excalibur: ”keeper of the flame, taketh thy Les Paul and lay down some heavy licks.” Despite the initial offer being a loan, Gallagher fell in love with the guitar, played it in the "Live Forever" video and wrote songs from (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? on it. In the aftermath of Noel breaking the guitar over the head of a stage invader, Marr graciously gave him another Smiths heirloom: this time a black 1972 Gibson Les Paul he’d written 1986’s The Queen Is Dead album on. Gallagher subsequently wrote the Oasis hit "Little By Little" on this new acquisition. You can hear Marr tell the story of the guitar on YouTube here.
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