Randy Bachman has performed many times on Canada Day, but the event he attended this year was unlike any other.
The former Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive member flew to Japan to retrieve a guitar he’s been hunting for decades.
“I’m really happy. I’m getting my lost Gretsch guitar back,” the 78-year-old rocker told CBC News in a meeting room inside the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.
The guitar is a 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins, orange in color, which he bought at a Winnipeg music store when he was 19 years old.
Forty-five years after she was robbed in Toronto, she’s back in his arms, and he can’t believe it.
“If you never want to forget your birthday, you get married on your birthday. You never forget your wedding anniversary. I will never forget this day,” Bachman said.
The Gretsch was his first big purchase as a young adult, and he played it on recordings of iconic tunes like Take care of business, American woman, those eyes and Undun. But when his band BTO came to Toronto in 1977, he was left in a locked hotel room, where he was somehow ripped off.
“It was just terrible,” Bachman said in an interview in 2021. “I literally cried all night…I loved this guitar so much.”
Bachman launched his own search, which lasted for decades and yielded nothing.
Japanese media suggest that the Gretsch eventually crossed the US border, where it was sold to a guitar dealer in Japan. Reports say that Takeshi, a musician who writes for Japanese pop bands, bought it in 2014 from a guitar shop in Tokyo, without knowing its history.
Six years later, the Canadian rocker finally got a break from the deal. A longtime fan and Internet sleuth from White Rock, British Columbia named William Long heard Bachman’s story and decided to try and track down the instrument using facial recognition technology. He found it in a YouTube video showing Takeshi playing the guitar.
He contacted Bachman, who got in touch with Takeshi. Then plans were made to redeem him. The Canadian bought an almost identical Gretsch to exchange for his original.
On Canada Day in Tokyo, the saga finally came to a close in front of a packed crowd at the Embassy’s Oscar Peterson Theatre.
Bachman and Takeshi met for the first time on stage and, in an emotional moment for both of them, swapped vintage instruments, with the Japanese musician restoring a piece of Canadian rock history.
“It was all worth it”
“I was going through a lot of emotions today,” Takeshi said through an interpreter as he sat next to Bachman on stage.
“But seeing your smile after seeing that guitar, I just thought it was worth it.”
Bachman said he also had mixed emotions. He says he got attached to the guitar he trades with Takeshi, but he’s more than happy to go home to his first love.
“Coming here to trade has been very emotional, and I appreciate this honorable man for giving me the opportunity to get the guitar back,” Bachman said.
‘Like a fairy tale’
The story of Bachman’s long-lost guitar has made headlines around the world over the past year, largely because of the remote likelihood that it will ever be found.
Winnipeg rock journalist John Einarson wrote extensively about the Guess Who and other bands of the era, and said the odds of recovering this stolen Gretsch were “astronomical”.
“It’s really like a fairy tale, you know? And it was rock and roll by chance that it was discovered in Tokyo,” Einarson said.
“The guitar holds an important place in the history of Winnipeg music because it’s so emblematic of Canadian music, Manitoba music and Winnipeg music. And for Randy too.”
At the Canada Day event, the two musicians played a series of Bachman hits, then went their separate ways.
Bachman said he will keep a close eye on his beloved instrument. He plans to play it once at a concert in Vancouver this year and then lock it away permanently at his home in Victoria, where it will join his collection of vintage Gretsch guitars.
To commemorate his unusual connection with Tokyo, Bachman also plans to release a new song titled FOUND OBJECTco-written with his son Tal Bachman, with lyrics in Japanese.