Any musician will tell you that stealing an instrument is one of the worst things you can do to someone. The bass community has seen its fair share of famous instruments gone missing, but fortunately we can report one more that’s found its way home.
Former Jefferson Starship bassist Pete Sears took to his Facebook page to share the incredible story of the return of his one-of-a-kind Doug Irwin custom bass, which was stolen 35 years ago at Germany’s Lorelei Festival. The gig was ill-fated to say the least.
“I was bassist and keyboardist for Jefferson Starship (David Freiberg and I would switch back n forth between instruments) and we were headlining the festival bill, but we were unable to perform due to [vocalist] Grace Slick falling ill (which I won’t go into),” he wrote. “Our road Manager Bill Laudner and David Freiberg who was the only band member present at the time had told the promoter to translate that the audience could have their money back and we’d come back and play for free… but a German friend of mine said he left out the refund bit. The audience went wild, throwing rocks, bricks, bottles, then they began chopping up the drums with an ax, throwing gear over the cliffs into the Rhine. Somebody found some gasoline and set fire to the stage, causing the compressed air tanks holding up the lighting trusses to explode.”
In the ensuing riot, Sears’ 1963 Fender Jazz bass and his Doug Irwin/Tom Lieber custom bass were stolen. The bassist said that barely a week went by that he didn’t lament the custom bass’s loss. The unique instrument bears intricate inlays, which luthier Tom Lieber went on to use on Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia’s famed “Tiger” guitar. It was also built from the same piece of wood.
Fast forward to four years ago: Lieber made a Doug Irwin tribute website, including a picture of Sears’ stolen bass and a $2,500 reward for its return. Lieber was contacted two weeks ago by a bassist named Klaus who claimed to have the bass. Klaus explained he felt the bass was his since he bought it from another musician in 1991, but said he could never feel right playing it knowing it was a stolen instrument. The two worked out a deal and Klaus shipped the bass back to the U.S., and though the bass needs some repairs, Sears is just glad to have his prized bass back in his hands.
“Barely a week has gone by that I haven’t lamented on the loss of this beautiful instrument,” Sears wrote. “I can’t wait to get it in my hands again and try it out onstage jamming with Barry, Roger and John in Moonalice. I never thought I’d see it again.”