Bluesman Booker White’s legendary Hard Rock guitar emerges at Gardiner Houlgate auction

While Booker White is usually not the first bluesman who comes to mind, the musicians he inspired are instantly recognisable: the likes of Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Tom Derbyshire

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The 1933 National Duolian resonator guitar, christened Hard Rock, that he owned and played for over 30 years by the ground-breaking Mississippi-born Delta bluesman is now up for auction at Gardiner Houlgate of Corsham, Wiltshire, on March 13-14, estimated at £80,000-120,000.

The auction house says it is the only one in Europe to hold dedicated stand-alone sales of guitars and related items “selling over 1500 guitars a year at quarterly auctions”.

Hard Rock – described as ‘a holy relic’ by legendary bluesman BB King, Booker White’s cousin – has a curious story behind it.

In 1967, Booker met 24-year-old English photographer Keith Perry at a blues festival in Newcastle, England, and, after the two corresponded, sent him his prized guitar in return for postage and packing costs in 1976. Booker died the following year. Perry is now selling the guitar after 42 years of ownership.

After its arrival in 1970s Newcastle, the guitar became something of a local celebrity, being played by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame, American Pie singer-songwriter Don McLean, Brian Johnson of AC/DC, former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, Lonnie Donegan, BB King and even Newcastle United FC footballer David Ginola, a dedicated blues fan.

In 2010, American blues singer and guitarist Eric Bibb released an album called Booker’s Guitar inspired by the story of Booker White and Hard Rock’s journey from 1930s Mississippi to contemporary Newcastle.

Don McLean of American Pie fame plays Booker White’s Hard Rock guitar, which is now up for auction at Gardiner Houlgate of Corsham, Wiltshire, on March 13-14, estimated at £80,000-120,000 (photo: Keith Perry.)

Bluesman rediscovered

Booker’s (1906/09-77) chances of commercial success in the 1930s largely ended with his imprisonment in 1937 for assault. Bob Dylan’s 1962 cover of Fixin’ to Die Blues aided the rediscovery of Booker in 1963, where he found fame within the Folk Revival scene of the 1960s.

In 1969, Booker met The Rolling Stones, admirers of his music. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin were also fans, with Plant borrowing phrases from Booker’s song Shake ‘Em On Down in their 1970 track Hats Off To (Roy) Harper.

Inspiring style

According to Luke Hobbs, the Gardiner Houlgate auctioneer who will sell the instrument, to his knowledge this is the only authenticated Booker White-owned guitar ever to come to market and is possibly the only one of his left in existence. Hard Rock comes with letters from Booker White, his guitar case with hand-written tag and some of his metal slides used for playing the instrument.

Hobbs says: “When I heard his guitar was coming in, I was instantly excited. I first came across Booker’s inspiring style of blues from an old Delta Blues album compilation I acquired while studying guitar. He’s a proper legend – one of the archetypal bluesman. His story is full of poverty, women, guns, prisons and even a late career revival.

“We’ve not auctioned anything like this guitar before. You simply don’t see guitars on the market linked to this era of blues greats. We really are talking about a relic of a bygone age before the British blues invasion of the 1960s turned it into the international musical force it is today.”