In the early 80's I was still living in San Francisco. I'm pretty sure I was working in the computer room at Mt. Zion Hospital, playing in my original band "Billy Blastoff & the Retro Rockets" dealing guitars, collecting guitars, etc.
Another little side line I had picked up was doing "insurance replacement" work with a couple of insurance companies. I had made the contacts when I worked for Don Wehrs' Music City & Leo's Music in Oakland (a vast treasure trove of Gibsons, Rickys, De Angelicos and Fenders that we will never see again). If an insurance customer had a 70's ES335 stolen, for instance, the list price (and insured value) was around $1,000, the list price of a new 335 back then. But, I could get 'em for 40% off retail ($600), brand new, sell 'em to the insurance company for 25 to 30% off ($700-750) and keep the change, everybody was happy. Client got a new guitar, insurance company paid out less than expected, Stapes made some pocket change. The music stores I had worked for apparently didn't want to deal with that stuff after I left, so I kinda inherited the biz.
So one day I get a call form a guy who ran a big Allstate office in the East Bay. He tells me that his client has lost a very valuable old guitar, can I help? I ask what kind of instrument it was and he tells me a Gibson Flying V. I start asking all kinds of specific identifying questions, and the agent finally sez "I'll just put you in direct contact with the client and you can meet with him, and see which model flying V he had stolen."
I arrange to meet with the client in Oakland one day soon there after, most likely at Leo's Music. He looks and talks almost exactly like, Smokey and the Bandit co-star, and Nashville, super picker, Jerry Reed. He is pretty bummed out. His home was robbed of all kinds of valuables that he was getting replaced but the only thing he was really depressed about was the guitar, and he was really down, kids. He brings with him, a Gibson promotional magazine from 1959, with a full page picture of a local music store's front window display that won "best promotion" by suspending a Flying V with fishing line over a big moonscape, with planets and sputniks in the air surrounding it, actually very well done, pretty cool for 1959, well friends and neighbors that was the exact guitar that the client lost, he bought it new from the store, and had it ever since..
What kind of guitar?...........,a blonde 1959 Gibson Flying V. He also has a Polaroid picture of an oil painting that hung over his fireplace, of him playing the Flying V!!! Now we're freakin talkin kids!!
We parted and I called the insurance broker the next day, because.......because.....because I knew where there was a V. The guy didn't want to sell it, but I said, "name a ridiculous price" and he said $20,000 (pricey in '81).
I told the insurance broker I had located one of "the 75 ever made...... Gibson...... Korina Freakin Flying V's,........ that it was in fabulous shape and it could be had for......... $30,000!! The guy never batted an eye. "Fine, if my client likes it, Allstate will buy it for him!" Apparently the client owned a pretty big company, many hundred employees, did all his biz with Allstate, personal, business, employee, auto, fleet of trucks, the whole enchilada.
Well I'm countin my chickens, their little toenails and any other chicken paraphernalia that may be applicable, I'm so sure my ship has come in I keep going down to the Marina and gazing longingly out at the horizon. I set a meeting with the fella who had his V stolen in San Francisco, at my parents house. I remember it like it was yesterday. 42nd and Taravel, heart of the Sunset district, beautiful summers day around noon, temps in the 70s. I had the garage open and the guitar sitting on my dads' big workbench. I heard him drive up and walked out to meet him. He was a little antsy, but that's how he'd been the last time I met him. We shook hands and walked into the garage, I proudly showed him the immaculate Flying V.
He looked it over for a long time, turning it in his hands, studying every nook and V cranny, and finally said in a very low voice.
"This isn't my guitar........."
"Pardon me?" I asked.
"THIS ISN"T MY GUITAR!!!" He fairly screamed at me.
Completely confused, I said " How on earth could this be your guitar? Yours' was stolen, this is the one the insurance company will buy to replace yours."
I continued cautiously, wondering if I was dealing with a certifiable nut job or what,..... explained again how rare they were and all,..... and thats when he thrust it back in my hands and reached for a handkerchief in his pocket as he began to weep uncontrollably. As he reached for the handkerchief, his jacket brushed back and I SAW THE GUN TUCKED IN HIS PANTS!!!
It suddenly dawned on me, like the big light bulb over King Kong's' head on the tippy top of the Empire State building, that somebody was a fixin' to shoot me!! He had thought I had his stolen guitar.......most likely that I had stolen it!!.........and that I was trying to sell it back to him through the insurance company........I believe he was also under the assumption that he was going to take matters into his own damn hands and put a few well placed holes in my young white ass in righteous retribution!!
I tried to talk to him, (visions of dollar signs keep a natural born salesman talking in the worst of situations). I pleaded that, he most likely would never see his old guitar again,........ this was surely better than nothing,...... a free 1959 Flying V for Chris Sakes!! but he brushed by me, walked briskly out to his car, started up and roared away. Visions of hatched chickens, sinking ships & dollar signs fluttering in the noon day sun.
I called the insurance agent, we talked, but nothing more came of it. I never heard from the guy again, nor was the claim ever settled to my knowledge. The whole thing sounded like an inside job to me. Disgruntled employee who knew what would hurt that guy the most, and it certainly did. They don't tell ya the dangers of the vintage trade in the magazines, kids.
Guitar Stories & Flying V Story #1 © 2007 Billy Stapleton. All rights reserved.
"Keep pickin’ ... "
- Billy Stapleton