At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan “went electric,” as his three-song set has since been famously dubbed. It was a turning point – the moment where he publicly shifted from acoustic folk activist to bona fide rockstar. But does Dylan know where the 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster he used that day is?
One woman now says that Dylan lost the guitar in the mid-1960s, and that the guitar ended up in her possession. These claims will be investigated on an upcoming episode of PBS’s History Detectives, airing July 17 at 9 p.m. EST.
The woman, New Jersey resident Dawn Peterson, explains how she came to have the guitar: Her late father worked for Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, as a pilot. “After one flight, my father saw there were three guitars left on the plane,” she tells Rolling Stone. “He contacted the company a few times about picking the guitars up, but nobody ever got back to him.”
However, Dylan claims he has held onto the guitar with which he made his big electric debut. (Funny, considering Peterson wrote to Dylan’s management in 2005 to request that he deny ownership of the guitar. Dylan’s team declined, and suggested the guitar should be returned instead.)
“Bob has possession of the electric guitar he played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965,” Orin Snyder, Dylan’s attorney, said in a statement. “He did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics.”
The lyrics are another key point to Peterson’s story. Tucked in the guitar case, she found 13 pages of typed and handwritten song lyrics, some of which appeared on Dylan’s 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde.
Both History Detectives host Wes Cowan and Andy Babiuk, a vintage-instrument specialist, were skeptical of Peterson’s claims – but have since changed their tune. Babiuk compared the guitar to detailed photos from Newport, noticing distinct patterns on the wood fretboard. “Wood grain is like a fingerprint,” he said. “I’m 99.9 percent sure it’s the guitar.”
Cowan added, “It’s so important, historically and culturally, that I couldn’t have imagined Bob Dylan would have just left it on an airplane.”
If the claims are verified to be true, it still may not legally entitle Peterson to sell the guitar – something she’s still considering, after all these years.