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Sweet Recovery

Some local instrument thieves run afoul of Joey Wyatt -- the Dirty Harry of Houston musicians

Musicians get their gear ripped off all the time. Someone unhitches a band's trailer and hauls ass. Another guy snatches a guitar off the stage and steals away into the night while the band is busy chatting up girls at the bar. People break into motel rooms and vans and private homes, and the gear ends up for sale underground, or in faraway towns, in Mexico or overseas, or on the Internet. Rarely do the rightful owners ever see their beloved instruments again. Instrument theft is so common that it hardly bears mention in the paper. But this case is different. This time, the good guys won.

For two years, Joey Wyatt has booked a room in Francisco Studios, the multistory red-brick rehearsal space on the gritty fringes of Old Chinatown. In one of Francisco's rooms, Wyatt stashed all of the equipment that he and his budding young cover band Defiance owned.

It so happens that Wyatt's dad is also a musician, and one night about four weeks ago he felt the need to jam. Joey gave his dad the keys and told Dad to go rock out.

When Dad arrived, he forgot which room his son's equipment was in, so he tried to open several doors before one finally opened. There, he was astonished to find four young men, who were equally surprised to see him. When Wyatt's dad told them who he was, the young guys told him that his son's space was just around the corner and showed him where it was. Dad went in and rocked for a while, and then went home and told his son what had happened.

Little did either Wyatt know that a light bulb -- however dim -- had gone off over the heads of the four kids in the wrong room. "I didn't think much of it at the time," the younger Wyatt says. "In addition to the deadbolt, there was also a padlock and other locks."

Days later Wyatt got a call from Francisco Studios telling him that there had been a break-in. Someone had sliced through the padlock and crowbarred the steel plate off the door at the top. When Wyatt arrived, the police were already there.

"When I walked into my room, all my stuff was gone," he says. "About $20,000 worth of equipment. Everything. We're talking bass cabinet, bass head, Marshall stack, Marshall head, two $1,000 guitars, about $4,000 worth of PA stuff, about $6,000 worth of drum gear, not to mention the software and all the other crap that I had."

Wyatt -- who, as events will soon show, is a natural-born cop -- was less than impressed with the work of the Houston Police Department. "The female cop that was there -- she didn't even know how to take a fingerprint. She was dusting, and I said, 'Aren't you gonna put tape on there and try to lift a print?' And she was like, 'Oh, yeah!' And so we didn't get any fingerprints and basically just went home empty-handed and depressed."

Wyatt returned home and put together a flyer describing his purloined equipment and stating a reward for its recovery. He downloaded pictures of the stuff off the Net and typed up a catalog of all his receipts and serial numbers (even those he couldn't find were still in the computers at Evans Music and Guitar Center) and made about 100 four-page flyers. He planned to stick them under the windshield wipers of all the cars in Francisco's lot.

Wyatt's lawyer told him to talk to Francisco owner Gonzalo Nango and find out what kind of insurance they had for events like this. Wyatt's attorney also told him to advise Nango that he was liable for the theft, since Nango had neglected to put a tape in the security camera. And then there's the fact that the back door to the studio has been broken for months…

So Wyatt thought he had a pretty good case to at least get partially reimbursed. The day after the investigation, Wyatt arrived back at the studio. He wanted to have a chat with Nango, and he brought along a video camera to document the fact that his key worked in at least two doors.

"So I was taping myself sticking my key in every door, and when I came to this one room, the door opened. And there was four guys sitting there. Guys that I had known. We had even lent them drumsticks, helped fix their guitars, all kinds of shit."

The four guys acted cool at first. "They said, 'Hey, what's up?' I said, 'Nothing much. I guess you heard all my shit got taken, and the really weird thing is, my key fits your door. So I'm gonna look around in here for a few minutes if you don't mind.' And they said, 'Sure, go ahead.' "

Wyatt was pretty nervous. After all, he was by himself and he had a pretty good idea that these guys were involved. After all, he knew they had the key to his frickin' deadbolt. "I realized that if I found something, some shit could go down. These guys could shoot or stab me to keep themselves from getting in trouble. I started getting really nervous, and when I opened this one guitar case and it wasn't the guitar I was looking for, I just said, 'All right, you guys are cool. Sorry for barging in on you.' And they said they'd keep their eyes open for me."

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