The story behind the Gibson Les Paul "Lucy" owned by Eric Clapton and George Harrison
Here's the story about George Harrison's Les Paul "Lucy" as it appears in the book "Beatles Gear, All the Fab Four's Instruments, From Stage to Studio" by Andy Babiuk. Don't mind the British spellings:
George's Lucy, the Gibson Les Paul
By the summer of 1968 more new guitars and other gear had crept into The Beatles camp. In August, Harrison acquired a guitar with a unique history, his now famous Gibson Les Paul, known as Lucy. Later, as we shall see, Harrison would have to chase Lucy half way around the world in order to bring her back from hiding. But the first public indication of the new arrival in the guitar collection had come in Mal Evan's (Beatles roadie) monthly column for "The Beatles Monthly Book".
Evans, discussing the recording of Harrison's new song 'Not Guilty', wrote: "This is one of two August recordings you won't hear on the album because they were dropped at the last minute in favour of more recent numbers . . . Interesting note - he used Lucy for the first time on this session. Lucy is the fantastic solid red Gibson guitar that was given to George at the beginning of August by Eric Clapton. Recording began on August 7th at EMI Studios." The Beatle roadie's report puts to rest the myth that Clapton ceremoniously gave the Les Paul to Harrison after Clapton had played the lead guitar on 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. Clapton would not record his celebrated solo on that track until September 6th.
Gibson had first offered a solid body Les Paul model for sale in 1952, just two years after Fender's shock introduction of the brand new solidbody-style electric guitar. Gibson's instrument was typically well crafted, offering fine playability and good workmanship, and was soon being offered with a pair of the company's powerful noise-cancelling humbucking pickups. By 1968 many guitarists, particularly those playing in blues-rock or similar style, were alert to the Les Paul's ability to provide a fat, sustaining sound well suited to their musical requirements, and the instruments - older 1950s models as well as new "reissues" - were enjoying a fresh burst of popularity.
When Harrison received his Les Paul it had the red finish. The serial number on the back of the instrument's headstock is not in the correct original typeface and style, but reads 7-8789 which would date the guitar's manufacture to late 1957. Gibson's records indicate that a gold-finished Les Paul with this number was shipped by the company on December 19th 1957. All Gibson Les Pauls of this type made in 1957 were finished with gold-painted body faces, now known as "gold tops". So how is it that Harrison's guitar has a red finish? Tracing the instrument's history takes us to guitar legend Rick Derringer, best known for his work with Edgar Winter and Steeley Dan. Derringer was one of Lucy's former owners.
Around 1966, when Derringer was in The McCoys, he had a Les Paul gold-top that originally had a Bigsby vibrato fitted, and which had previously been owned by The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian. "I loved playing it, but my dad - who always loved a guitar looking real good - used to comment on how it was kind of beat up," recalls Derringer. "It was a very, very used guitar, even when I got it. But it played great. So I figured that since we didn't live so far from Gibson's factory in Kalamazoo, the next time the group went there I'd give it to Gibson and have it refinished."
Such an opportunity soon arose, and Derringer considered his options for the refinish. "Did I want it to be a gold-top again? I decided no, let's do something interesting and different. So I had it done at the factory in the SG-style clear red finish that was popular at the time. However, after that work had been done the guitar just never played as good again. I couldn't keep that sucker in tune any more, and it just didn't feel the same. I loved it before the refinish, but it had changed into an altogether different guitar that I didn't love anymore. So I traded it in on a sunburst Les Paul at Dan Armstrong's guitar shop in Manhattan, New York. And then Eric Clapton bought it at that store."
Harrison started to use his Gibson Les Paul almost exclusively throughout the remainder of 1968 and well in to 1969. With a dual-humbucker Les Paul now in his possession, Harrison rarely played his similar SG. He eventually gave the SG to Pete Ham, the lead guitarist for Badfinger. Joey Molland, the group's rhythm guitarist, says it was during the time Badfinger were signed to Apple that Harrison gave the guitar to Ham. "I guess Pete liked it, so George gave it to him," Molland says. "The sad thing about that guitar is that after Pete's death in the 1970s his wife sold it at a garage sale, not knowing what it was. So that guitar is floating around somewhere in the middle of the United States, and whoever got it doesn't even know what they have. It would be impossible to trace now." Ham can be seen playing the ex-Harrison Gibson SG in a promotional clip for Badfinger's 1970 hit 'No Matter What'.
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A Missing Les Paul
Giving or receiving an instrument as a gift seems almost sacred to Harrison, and he frequently gave away guitars to his close friends as a token of friendship. In the same way, Harrison held in high esteem the the gift that Eric Clapton had given him - his Gibson "Lucy" Les Paul. It was obviously more than just another guitar. So it was particularly shocking to Harrison when in the early 1970s his beloved Les Paul was stolen. "It got kidnapped and taken to Guadalajara," he explained later. "I had to buy this Mexican guy a Les Paul to get it back."
To help him find Lucy, Harrison enlisted the help of musician Mark Havey, who at the time - around 1973 - was living in California, but had also lived in Mexico. "I had a musician friend , Miguel Ochoa, who came up from Mexico to buy some instruments ," Havey remembers. "He walked into a Guitar Center store in Hollywood and saw hanging on the wall a cherry-red Les Paul, which he bought for $650."
The only similar guitar Ochoa had seen was pictured on the inside cover of Let It Be. He gave the store Havey's address and phone number for the receipt. The following day the guitar store called Havey, asking for Ochoa. They told Havey that they owed his friend some money because they had overcharged for the Les Paul.
"I said that didn't sound very likely," recalls Havey. "So then the store explained to me that Miguel had bought a guitar that they had only recently acquired, and by law they were supposed to keep it for 30 days to see if it clears any 'hot' stolen-property lists. 'As is turns out' they said to me, 'the guitar belongs to George Harrison. So we're in deep shit here.'"
Thinking that this must be some kind of joke, Havey told the store that if the guitar really belonged to Harrison, the ought to have the Beatle guitarist call him and sort it out.
"About 30 minutes later the phone rang," says Havey, "and a nice gentleman with a very British accent said, 'This is George Harrison.' He told me the guitar had been stolen from under his bed over the holiday. His home in Beverly Hills had been burglarised, and among other things that were taken was the cherry-red Les Paul. So I called my friend Tony Baker, and we met with George." Harrison explained to them that the guitar wasn't really his - it belonged to Eric Clapton and was definitely on loan to him. "So he had to get the guitar back. He asked if we could help get it back from Miguel. We said sure."
Havey then spoke to Ochoa, who was somewhat surprised by the news. He said he needed some time to think. "We grew up learning how to play Beatle stuff, and this was George Harrison's guitar!" says Havey. "So Miguel gets off the phone and we don't hear from him for two days. In the meantime, we're in constant contact with George, who wants to know what's going on. We told him what was happening, and he thought it didn't sound very good. George said that he wouldn't have a problem pay Miguel at least what he paid for the guitar so that he wouldn't be out on any money."
Two days later Ochoa called Havey and said that he might want to keep the guitar - and promptly went back home with it to Guadalajara, Mexico. Be this time Harrison was, understandably, growing impatient. He asked Havey to contact his friend and find out what he wanted to return the guitar. Eventually, says Havey, Ochoa came up with some requirements.
"He proceeded to give us a wish list," Havey remembers, itemising a couple of desirable and expensive collector's items. "He wanted a 1958 sunburst Les Paul, an early Fender Precision Bass, and about four other instruments. We told him that he was being totally unreasonable and that he should consider the reality of the situation. Se we got him down to a guitar and a bass. We told this to George, and we all got together to go looking for a '58 sunburst Les Paul. What was interesting was that every time we went into a store they would quickly pull off all the guitars' price-tags once they realised it was George Harrison.
This went on for a week. Eventually, we found a guy called Norm Harris who had the right guitar. It was bought, and George flew my friend Tony and I down to Mexico. We made the trade : the guitar and bass for a cherry-red Les Paul. Then we came back and gave it to George."
And all for the love of a guitar. This demonstrates how once more that Harrison was the true guitar fan among the Beatles - and indicates just how much certain instruments came to mean to him.