Wolf, guitar of Grateful Dead front man Garcia, howls at auction | News | DW | 01.06.2017
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Wolf, guitar of Grateful Dead front man Garcia, howls at auction

A guitar belonging to Jerry Garcia, the long-dead front man of the Grateful Dead, has fetched $3 million at auction. The proceeds will support the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Wolf, the guitar Jerry Garcia strummed for Hells Angels and Deadheads from San Francisco to Egypt, fetched 2.67 million euros at auction Wednesday in Brooklyn. The guitar took in a $1.9 million winning bid to benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). An anonymous philanthropic organization matched the pre-premium winning bid to give the anti-hate agency a cool $3.2 million.

"I don't plan on selling it or trading it, and so it's somewhat priceless," Brian Halligan, the CEO and co-founder of marketing firm HubSpot and likely long-term Wolf owner, told the French news agency AFP.

Dan Pritzker - a philanthropist, heir to the Hyatt hotels and lead guitarist for the Chicago rock-blues-soul-funk band Sonia Dada - auctioned the ax to raise money for the SPLC, an Alabama-based group that wages legal battles against white supremacists and other hate groups. The auction came after the SPLC documented an alarming rise in hate crimes, especially targeting Muslims and immigrants, since Donald Trump began his presidential campaign and ultimately took the reins of the United States in January.

'This iconic guitar'

Wolf, which bears a cartoonlike image of a lupine face, made its debut at a 1973 concert and also features prominently in 1977's "The Grateful Dead Movie," directed by Garcia. Upon his death in 1995, the front man left Wolf to the luthier Doug Irwin, who had fallen destitute in the decades since he built the guitar, one of five custom models he fashioned for Garcia. Members of the Grateful Dead, however, took Irwin to court, saying the instrument had belonged to the band rather than the now-dead front man, known to legions of fans simply as Jerry.

After winning that battle, Irwin flipped Wolf to the billionaire Pritzker for $789,000 in a 2002 auction. Earlier this year, after the election, subsequent inauguration and early maneuvers of new President Donald Trump put more than a touch of grey on the US's political landscape, Pritzker decided to put the guitar back on auction to support the SPLC.

"I've been a fan of the Dead since I was a kid, and playing this iconic guitar over the past 15 years has been a privilege," Pritzker said. "But the time is right for Wolf to do some good."

Wolf will continue its long, strange trip in Halligan's hands. For years, he had journeyed from show to show with his fellow Deadheads - many of whom cooked in their camper vans, took copious quantities of psychedelics and traded bootleg tapes of concerts. As an entrepreneur, Halligan co-wrote a book on the Dead's lessons for marketing; it wasn't just a band: It was a brand.

Dead rocker memorabilia has fetched a pretty penny in recent years. Examples includePrince's guitar and David Bowie's hair hitting the block in Los Angeles months after their deaths in 2016 and the guitar that the Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison usedon their Magical Mystery Touralbum.

Watch video 03:31

Hand-made guitars by Jens Ritter

mkg/msh (AFP, AP)