The Real True-Life Story Behind the Discovery of
Chris Duarte's 2nd 1963 Fender Stratocaster!!!
by Craig Keyzer, 8/01

I recently saw some e-mails flying around and the discussion was about the rumour of Chris Duarte's 1963 Fender Startocaster once belonging to Eric Clapton while he was in Derek & The Dominoes and being used to record "Layla". Well, make yourself comfortable and I'll tell you the story. Over the years I hadn't bothered to do any research to verify the validity of the story because I believed it to be ABSOLUTELY TRUE (and still do)! It wasn't until last summer, when I heard of Eric Clapton auctioning off some of his guitars to raise money for a treatment center (one of the guitars being the one he used to record "Layla") that I remotely wondered about the truth of the story. When I heard of the auction, I was planning on taking Chris to the place I got the guitar the next time he played in Colorado Springs to verify the story. It wasn't until he was going to play the Colorado Music Hall on February 24th of this year that I bothered to pick up the phone to call and set up a meeting, or to have the guy come out to the show and talk to Chris. Unfortunately, the guitar shop is now out of business and the guy I got the guitar from is unlisted, so I am currently unable to check out this story at the moment. HOWEVER, I really do believe this story to be true - history is full of musicians having multiple guitars and many famous songs being composed on one guitar, rehearsed with another, and recorded with even another! Clapton obviously has, and has had, a large collection of axes over his career and very well could have composed and rehearsed "Layla" with a variety of guitars. I have scanned the actual ad from the classifieds below and in it you will notice a variety of VINTAGE instruments at VERY reasonable prices. This alone gives the story a great amount of truth as you will see! Regardless of whether it is true or not, it's a great story. So, here goes...

 

The above ad jolted me out of my early morning "fog" quicker than a toaster being dropped into a bathtub! The ad ran on December 12, 1993, in the Rocky Mountain News here in Denver, Colorado. It jolted me because I had been on a feverish, nationwide search for a 1963 Fender Stratocaster ever since Chris had his beloved '63 Strat, L14261, stolen in New York City in November of 1993. Chris was just crushed when his guitar was stolen, that guitar was an extension of himself. It had been his main axe in every band he had been in: Bobby Mack & Night Train, Junior Medlow & The Bad Boys, Arson, Justus, and the Chris Duarte Group and it was shaped through countless playing, blood, sweat, tears, and soul to fit him like a glove. He knew that guitar intimately and those of you lucky enough to have seen Chris perform with it know what a wonderful tone that guitar had. It was incredible and Chris was one with that guitar. He was very depressed over losing that guitar and his only other stratocaster was a 1992 Fender copy that was nowhere near the great sound of his original 1963 Fender. I looked upon this situation as an emergency because Chris had a record deal at that point and was scheduled to record "Texas Sugar/Strat Magik" in March of 1994 (only a few months away!). Both tonally and spiritually, this was a major blow to the CDG sound. I went and bought a national guitar magazine and proceeded to call many, many guitar dealers all over the U.S. of A. It had to be a 1963 because that was the year Chris was born into this world (it's a mojo thing). At the time, I did not realize how rare an original 1963 Fender Stratocaster was (or how pricey!) until these guitar dealers literally laughed at me over the phone ("You're looking for a WHAT?! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" and so on and so forth). I called at least 50 different dealers and managed to get together a list of seven 1963 Fender Strats, most were rebuilt with non-'63 parts, or were in awful shape AND started at $7,000 and went up to $13,000!! (Thanks to places like Hard Rock Cafe and overseas collectors, these American Classics are now far out of reach of musicians. Can you imagine Stevie Ray Vaughan without his strat?) Anyway, this was far out of reach of the band at the time, and things were not looking good (and the clock was ticking towards the 1st album as well). Again, this was a nationwide search I was undertaking when suddenly, like destiny blowing gently on the back of your neck, the above classified ad appeared in front of me as I was drinking coffee! Not only was it literally right under my nose, just down the road in Colorado Springs, but the price was extremely low compared to what I had been finding!! I immediately called the phone number in the ad and it turned out that the guy on the end of the line, Dennis Bailey, was a guitar instructor who had heard of Chris Duarte from when he played a gig at Tres Hombres. Dennis said that one of the stipulations was that the guitars in the ad were to go to musicians ONLY. I hooked him up with Chris via phone and they talked shop, Chris verifying that it was indeed an original 1963 Fender Strat. (Apparently Hard Rock Cafe did find out about the '63 Strat and made a bid higher than $2,900 - a tip of the hat to Dennis Bailey and a moment of silence for John Savage - but they sold it to Chris!) Chris called me back and we arranged to get the guitar. The guy said to bring CASH only and to come alone (gulp!). So I withdrew most of my money out of savings, in cash, (if you ever want to get a strange look in a bank, go withdraw $2,900 in cash!) and arranged to meet Dennis at his guitar store the next night (gulp!). I pointed my roadrocket south and drove to Colorado Springs from Denver to The Peak Music Company at 505 N. 30th St. I arrived at a little strip shopping center and the guitar store was totally dark. Suddenly a car drove up beside me.

(dramatic pause, you know, the big moment of truth)

I got out and the guy introduced himself as Dennis. I instantly felt at ease, he was a real nice guy. He unlocked the store and turned on the lights and we went to the back room. Before turning on the lights to the back room, he asked for the money. After counting out the $2,900 he turned on the lights and went to a table where there were several guitars laying on top. He picked up the Fender Strat and handed it to me. Then he said something peculiar - "NOW I will tell you the story behind these guitars." (Oh great, they're stolen!) Instead, he proceeded to tell me this really cool story. He told all of this to me with the utmost sincerity while I was looking at these various guitars in stunned amazement, holding them in my hands and being BLOWN AWAY as he told me the story. ALL of these guitars were OBVIOUSLY vintage, and had been PLAYED. They were fingerworn, scuffed, and looked like players' instruments. AND they all had a very palpable karma to them, too. I've never felt as many goosebumps on my arms as that night.

The amazing story unfolded as follows:

John Savage, a friend of Dennis Bailey's in Colorado Springs, had terminal stomach cancer and was getting his affairs in order. He was selling off various autographed posters and musical instruments, and wanted to sell them quickly. John had some vintage guitars he wanted to unload at a reasonable price to musicians ONLY and Dennis agreed to sell them for him. They wanted to make it all low key, no advertising in magazines, just the want ads in the local newspapers. They did not want to attract the attention of the aforementioned Hard Rock-Collector types and insisted they go to players only.

 

It turns out that John Savage was a successful money manager in London, England during the 1970s and managed the financial portfolios and investments of many high-profile clients. Two of these clients were ERIC CLAPTON and GEORGE HARRISON!!! As tokens of their appreciation, George and Eric both had given John Savage guitars from their collections over the years. Eric gave him three and George gave him one. At this point, I want you to scroll back up to the ad and take a good look at it again. The guitar that George Harrison gave him, the '64 Gretsch Country Gentleman, a beautiful hollowbody, black with white trim, for only $1,900, had been played by George when he was in THE BEATLES!!! And I'm standing there HOLDING this guitar! (My God, this should be in a museum!) Now go back up to the ad again and take another good look. The three guitars given to John Savage by Eric Clapton included a '56 Les Paul Black Beauty, for $5,000, that he played while in THE YARDBIRDS!!! (AAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!!) And a '66 Red Gibson ES-345, beautiful, worn red hollowbody for $1,400, Eric played in CREAM (the same one in the Royal Albert Hall concert footage)!!!!! And the 1963 Fender Stratocaster, belonging to Eric when he was in BLIND FAITH and DEREK & THE DOMINOES!!!!!!!! AND the one he used to compose and record "Layla" with! And I was holding and strumming ALL of these guitars!! Unbelievable! But like I said, these instruments were DEFINITELY musicians instruments and had been PLAYED!!! My heart still races when I think of that night. I then went back to Denver and had to go to Rev. Bob's place and tell him the amazing story. The next day I took the guitar to work and bubble-wrapped the crap out of it and sent it to B.J. Huchtemann up in Nebraska. Chris was doing a series of shows at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln. You'll have to get the story of Chris's reaction when he got the guitar (and the story, which I wrote down and included) from B.J. as she was there when he actually tore the package open. I heard the first thing Chris did was literally disassemble the guitar, verifying that all of the various parts were original 1963 parts. The only part that was not was the middle pick-up, which was 1965. The rest is history: Chris had a few months to customize the guitar (he added a graphite nut and some other stuff); a few months to play it and "feel" it out at live gigs; he got an advance from Silvertone and paid me back in full; the band went into Bad Animals Studio in Seattle, Washington, and recorded "Texas Sugar" and, definitely broken in by Chris, the guitar is being played "live", it's true destiny, by an incredibly talented musician to wonderful crowds of listeners to this day! I kind of cringe trying to imagine Chris having to use his '92 to record his debut, even though I'm sure he would've rustled up something much better than that. But make no bones about it, you have no idea how much different that first album would have been with his dearly-missed L14261! Chris would have probably won a Grammy just for tone alone!! Anyway, that's the story of the guitar. I guess I'm a bonehead for not following up on it to verify, hell, I don't even know the serial number of this guitar, but believe me: look at the ad again and then imagining yourself actually seeing all of these historical instruments, side by side, and picking them up and strumming them! I also firmly have faith that Chris's best days are in front of him, the best is yet to come, and that someday he and Eric will be up on stage together - and backstage there will be some questions being asked!


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