MORRISTOWN, N.J. (CN) – A woman asked a state judge to declare that a sunburst Fender Stratocaster and sheet music that Bob Dylan left on her father’s charter plane 40 years ago are hers now, despite Dylan’s attorney’s sudden demand for the “immediate return of the items.”
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Brian and Dawn Peterson sued Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman and Ashes & Sand Inc., in Morris County Court.
A disputed sidelight in the case is whether the sunburst Stratocaster at issue is the one Dylan played when he famously “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The Petersons say they believe it is. Dylan’s representatives have denied it.
The Petersons claim that Dawn’s father, Victor Quinto “became an often-used pilot by folk musicians for charter flights” in the mid-1960s, working primarily out of what is now Essex County Airport in Caldwell, N.J.
“In and around 1965 and 1966, Mr. Quinto flew The Band and defendant Zimmerman and/or their crew and/or entourage to and from various and numerous musical engagements,” the complaint states.
After one of flight, the Petersons say, “Mr. Quinto discovered that several guitars and some sheet music had been left on the plane by Zimmerman.”
Since Quinto was responsible for cleaning the plane, his daughter says, he took the material off the plane. “Mr. Quinto then brought the guitars and music to his home in Morris County.
“Thereafter, on several occasions, Victor Quinto contacted Zimmerman and/or his crew and/or agents and notified such persons that the equipment had been left on the plane. Victor Quinto requested that Zimmerman (or his agents) pick up the equipment,” the complaint states.
“No one ever came to obtain the guitars and music despite the request.
“Despite the request, neither Zimmerman nor anyone on his behalf ever made any other attempt to obtain the equipment or music.
“Over the following years, Mr. Quinto told many people that Zimmerman never bothered to get his guitars and other items.
“Moreover, as time passed, Mr. Quinto gave away some of the items to friends/relatives as gifts.
“Quinto retained the guitar that he believed was played by Bob Zimmerman. That guitar was a c. 1964 Fender Stratocaster with a Sunburst design (the ‘guitar’). It was held in a guitar case stenciled ‘Ashes and Sands’ (the ‘case’). The notes within the case consisted of partially handwritten and partially typed notes, which appeared to be lyrics (the ‘music’ or ‘lyrics’).”
When Quinto died in 1977 of a brain aneurysm, his daughter says, she inherited many of his possessions, including the guitar and lyrics.
The Petersons say they contacted Dylan’s representatives in January 2005, saying “how they had come to possess the abandoned guitar and related items.”
They say the defendants responded through counsel in a letter of April 7, 2005, which stated that “the described guitar, case and lyrics, ‘if genuine,’ were the ‘sole property’ of Zimmerman and ‘were stolen’ from Zimmerman.”
The complaint continues: “The letter concluded that ‘in the event that you do not immediately [return the items, Zimmerman] is prepared to commence litigation and take all necessary steps to enforce his rights.” (Brackets in complaint.)
“In response to the request for proof such items were stolen, such as a police report, the defendant produced nothing.
“In fact, neither Zimmerman nor his agents or assigns made any effort to pursue the items described for the next seven years.
“Concerning their threat of litigation, from April 7, 2005 until July 23, 2012, neither Zimmerman nor his agents communicated in any way with the plaintiffs or their counsel.
“Meanwhile, the plaintiffs, without the aid of Zimmerman, tried to investigate the history of the guitar in question on their own.
“Over time, and upon studying the guitar, it occurred to the plaintiffs the guitar might have been the one that was played by Zimmerman in the famous 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
“The 1965 Newport Folk Festival has been described as a watershed moment in folk and rock and roll history. This festival has been widely recognized as the event in which Zimmerman publicly ‘went electric.’ At the Folk Festival, Zimmerman was poorly received by the attendees.
“Because the 1965 Newport Folk Festival is considered by many to be a watershed moment because of the going-electric event, the guitar that Zimmerman played at this event is widely considered to be valuable.
“Although the plaintiffs began to strongly suspect the guitar was the one played at the festival by Zimmerman because the appearance of the guitar was similar to the appearance of the guitar played at the 1965 Folk Festival, they had difficulty verifying the truth of that suspicion.”
So, the Petersons say, in early 2011 they asked the Public Television show “History Detectives” to help them figure out whether the guitar was The One. They say the TV show investigated it and “verified that the guitar was in fact the 1965 Folk Festival guitar and that the music was authentic.”
The Petersons say Public TV broadcast these results in its July 17 show.
Six days later, on July 23, the Petersons say, “counsel for Zimmerman (the same counsel who sent the April 7, 2005 letter) sent a letter directly to the plaintiffs. In the letter, counsel claimed his client owned the guitar, case and lyrics. He demanded the immediate return of the items.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
The Petersons ask the court to declare that Dylan abandoned his guitar, case and lyrics more than 45 years ago, and that they are now the lawful owners.
In a statement not mentioned by the Petersons’ lawsuit, Dylan’s camp has disputed that the guitar at issue is the one he played at Newport.
Orin Snyder, Dylan’s attorney, issued a statement after the “History Detectives” show, claiming Dylan still has the guitar he played during the Newport show.
Several media organizations reported that Snyder said Dylan “did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics. … In addition, Bob recalls driving to the Newport Folk Festival, along with two of his friends, not flying.”
The Associated Press reported that “History Detectives” spokesman Eddie Ward said, “the show continues to believe Peterson has the guitar in question and would welcome the opportunity to examine the guitar that Dylan says is the one he played that day.”
The guitar, if authentic, could fetch seven figures at auction, but Dawn Peterson told The Associated Press that she had no plans to sell or donate the guitar to anyone.
The Petersons are represented by Christopher DeFalco, of Morristown.
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