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Stolen Thunder

Quick fixes for thieves, and long suffering for victims: When guitarists lose their vintage axes

Musicians love their instruments. Take Jesse Dayton and a local blues guitarist who have both recently been ripped off. These six-stringers say they never thought of their babies as commodities. They were surprised to realize others had.

Dayton is convinced professionals were involved. The country-rocker is one irreplaceable '58 blond Fender Telecaster shy of being his usual happy-camper self these days. The instrument, along with (among other things) a Willie Nelson hand-me-down guitar case and a phone book containing the private numbers of bigwigs like Robert Earl Keen and Nelson, disappeared last month. "These guys must've had one hewwwwge set of balls," Dayton says by phone from California, speaking of the burglars. "They had to have been casing me."

Dayton's story indeed indicates the presence of dinosaurian testicles. And smarts. The good ole boy had just finished an acoustic gig at the Firehouse Saloon when he repaired to a friend's place on Westview. When he woke up the next morning, he noticed the two side doors of his equipment van had been busted open and its freight removed. "I had to write a song about it," Dayton says. "Harris County Blues" appears on his upcoming solo release, Tall Texas Tales on Bullet Records. Over the phone, Dayton sings some verses: "Well, the neighbor said to call the law / 'Cause there ain't nobody that's taking the fall / 'Cause Mexico is a little outta / our jurisdiction." Dayton also had to file a police report. Total estimated value of young Jesse's loss: $10,000.

Have you seen this amp, a '57 Fender Bassman? It has been reported stolen.
Have you seen this amp, a '57 Fender Bassman? It has been reported stolen.
Have you seen this amp, a '57 Fender Bassman? It has been reported stolen.
Have you seen this amp, a '57 Fender Bassman? It has been reported stolen.

The presence of planet-size gonads is hinted at in the other victimized guitarist's tale. This player (who does not want to reveal his name for fear of attracting more unwanted attention) is missing, aside from his stolen Airline, two highly prized amplifiers. "It devastated me," he says. "Those two amps are hard to replace. I still can't believe somebody came in the house and did that. I'm still in shock."

"I've said," he continues, "that I'd give up everything, even down to my last underwear, to have been sitting down there with my shotgun when they came in."

Everything went down on a Friday night late last month. With no scheduled gig for the evening, the guitarist hopped in his vintage vehicle at around 9:30 p.m. and cruised the club circuit, leaving behind a sleeping family member and two cars in the driveway. When the guitarist returned to his Heights home at around 1 a.m., he walked into a less-crowded-than-usual abode. Missing were his '64 Fender Princeton amp, Fulltone Clyde wah-wah pedal, the aforementioned Airline, '69 Airline guitar amp, and his two gems: a '65 Fender Super Reverb amp and '57 Fender Bassman amp. The guitarist's manager, who has seen a lot, says he's never seen anything like what happened to his client. "Someone took all his shit," the manager says. "It's a bummer." Estimated grand total of loss: $9,200.

"If they're gonna walk into a house, where they know people are home," the manager explains, searching for the positive in the ordeal, "who's telling what they were liable to do."

Both Dayton and the guitarist have been scouring the scene. The pair pops into Rockin' Robin, according to manager Bart Wittrock, "at least two times a week." eBay, the on-line auction house, also gets frequent visits. Nearly every person the players know is on the lookout, including area retailers like Rockin' Robin. "We get a good ID from people we buy from," Wittrock says. "And we've been doing this long enough [28 years] to really tell if someone belongs to what they bring us."

Guitar stores and underground networks are most likely where gear of this type ends up. Not, as is commonly believed, pawnshops. High-visibility outlets and unique items typically don't mix. "If I go and steal the Mona Lisa," muses Houston Police Department spokesman Alvin Wright, "the last place I take it to is gonna be to a pawnshop." Every week the department runs checks on pawnshop sales receipts, numbering about 36,000 per seven-day period.

The first thing local musicians can do to protect their possessions is use their brains. They can also identify their belongings. To preserve an instrument's aesthetic integrity and value, an owner should mark his item in an inconspicuous place. For a guitar, this could mean under the pick plate or neck. Another step: Keeping records of serial numbers and receipts in more than one place. And another measure: Registering with a protection service like AxReg.com, a Houston-based on-line guitar registry that is plugged into pawnshops across the country. And when every resource is exhausted, local musicians can go the dangerous route and actually think. "The two stories I get most," Wittrock says, "are, number one, they leave their instrument in plain sight in a vehicle. And, number two, they loan it to friends."

Two similar types of hits in such a short period of time do not a trend make. So says HPD Sergeant Joe McGee. And contrary to Dayton's opinion, McGee doesn't think professionals are involved. He is following leads on a suspect in the blues guitarist's case. "Ninety-eight percent of all burglaries are drug-driven," McGee says. "These aren't professionals. They do it for crack." McGee says the burglary division sees about 300 to 400 reports per month. Which brings up another point: The first thing you should do after being ripped off is file a police report. Rockin' Robin's Wittrock says many local musicians ignore this procedure, even though it's usually the first step toward possibly recovering property. "I wish they'd understand, if it's not reported stolen, it's not stolen," Wittrock says. "If they don't file a report, they have no legal recourse."

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