By Steve Newton
Back in January of 2013 when I started planning the Ear of Newt website–which I launched on Halloween night that year–I knew I had to get my autographed plexiglass guitar into the picture. I’d been dragging it around to concerts to get it signed by my fave pickers–folks like Link Wray, Ronnie Montrose, and Joe Satriani–and couldn’t think of a better thing to use to express what the blog would mainly be about: my fave pickers.
So I got my talented graphic-designer wife Dawn to set it up on the pool table downstairs and gather a few other significant items around it. We used a rare concert photo of my hero Rory Gallagher (taken by Bob Geldof), a few guitar picks, a Bob Seger 45, a Rolling Stones backstage pass, a Van Halen eight-track (in deference to its mention in the Georgia Satellites’ “Red Light”), a Commodore Ballroom drink ticket, and a can of Pilsner (still waiting for Molson to come on board as a sponsor).
Pretty wicked banner, eh?
Since launching Ear of Newt I’ve gotten the odd comment about the guitar, including the observation that it’s a Dan Armstrong. It’s not. It’s a cheap-ass, made-in-Japan (I think) Raven. Here’s the story behind it.
Ya see, I grew up in a town called Chilliwack, in the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia, Canada. It’s a scenic little place, lotsa farmland, with blue/green mountains all around. After graduating high school in the rockin’ Year of Our Lord, 1975, I’d fluctuated between college/university and working at a hellhole of a food-packing plant in Sardis called York Farms. My bass-playing buddy Scotty Bad worked there too, and one day a lazy, long-haired, weed-crazed friend of his named Mikey got hired on as well.
York Farms wasn’t too picky in the personnel department.
Anyway, we all started to hang out at my divey rental house near the railroad tracks at the dusty end of Rowat Avenue, and one day Mikey noticed through a smokey haze that I’d scored a pretty decent Blue Oyster Cult belt buckle. I thought anything bearing the Cult’s cross-and-hook logo was the coolest, and evidently Mikey did too, because he offered to trade straight across for this plexiglass Raven guitar with an ugly woodgrain pickguard. I was so pleased by the deal that I threw in the brown-leather belt the buckle was attached to.
Fast forward a year or two and I’m studying for my Bachelor of Arts (major in English, if you can believe that) at the University of British Columbia. One day I noticed a signup sheet for something called the UBC Rockers’ Co-op. Realizing it was probably time to actually use the mint white Strat I had bought from my old high-school buddy Seeks years earlier, I signed up. Next thing you know I’m in a godawful cover band called Hack City that featured a drummer only there for the workout and a brainiac lead-guitarist with a Pink Floyd fixation spending his post-grad life studying lasers when not cranking out 10-minute wah-wah solos.
The science dude’s name was Rockin’ Roman, and he offered to “fix up” my Raven, seeing as he had access to the university’s metal shop to make stuff for his laser experiments. He took it away, and when he gave it back the woodgrain pickguard had been replaced by some type of silver metal, and he’d taken the liberty of attaching a sticker that read:
DO NOT USE THIS
No way in hell would I trade it back for a Blue Oyster Cult belt buckle now.
Shortly after that happened I got my degree and in ’82 I started working at Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper, where I was in the position to ask the guitar heroes I was regularly interviewing if they’d mind signing it. Besides the folks previously mentioned, I’ve scored autographs from B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Rick Derringer, Steve Morse, Robin Trower, Joe Perry, Dick Dale, and Joe Bonamassa.
And if you’re wondering how that old Raven sounds when I put strings on it and plug it in to my Fender Pro Reverb amp, don’t bother, ’cause it sounds like crap.
Bidding starts at 50 grand.