Randy Bachman has performed many times on Canada Day, but the event he played this year is like no other.
The former member of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive flew to Japan to reclaim a guitar that 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, in orange, which he bought from a Winnipeg music store when he was 19 years old.
Forty-five years after it was stolen in Toronto, it’s back in his arms, and he can hardly believe it.
“If you never want to forget your anniversary, you get married on your birthday. You never forget your wedding anniversary. I’ll never forget this day,” said Bachman.
The Gretsch was his first big purchase as a young adult, and he played it on the recordings of iconic tracks like Takin’ Care of Business, American Woman, These Eyes and Undun. But when his band BTO came to Toronto in 1977, it was left in a locked hotel room, where it was somehow snatched.
“It was just terrible,” Bachman said in an interview in 2021. “I cried for literally all night…. I loved this guitar so much.”
Bachman launched his own search, which lasted decades and turned up nothing.
Japanese media reports suggest the Gretsch was eventually taken across the US border, where it was sold to a guitar trader from Japan. The reports say Takeshi, a musician who writes for Japanese pop bands, purchased it in 2014 from a Tokyo guitar shop, without knowing its history.
Six years later, the Canadian rocker finally got a break in the case. A longtime fan and internet sleuth from White Rock, BC, named William Long heard Bachman’s story and decided to try to hunt down the instrument using facial recognition technology. He found it in a YouTube video featuring Takeshi playing the guitar.
He contacted Bachman, who got in touch with Takeshi. Then, plans were hatched to trade it back. The Canadian bought a nearly identical Gretsch to trade 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 ever on the stage, and in an emotional moment for both of them, traded their vintage instruments, with the Japanese musician handing back 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 while sitting next to Bachman on stage.
“But seeing your smile after you saw that guitar, I just thought it was all worth it.”
Bachman said he has mixed emotions, too. He said he became attached to the guitar he’s trading to Takeshi, but he’s more than happy to go home with his first love.
“To come here to do the trade has been very emotional, and I appreciate this honorable man giving me the opportunity to get the guitar back,” said Bachman.
‘Like a fairy tale’
The story of Bachman’s long-lost guitar made headlines around the world over the past year, largely because of how unlikely it was to ever be found.
Winnipeg-based rock journalist John Einarson has written extensively about the Guess Who and other bands of the era, and said the odds of getting this stolen Gretsch back were “astronomical.”
“It really is like a fairy tale, you know? And it’s rock and roll serendipity that it was discovered in Tokyo,” said Einarson.
“The guitar looms large in Winnipeg music history because it’s so iconic for Canadian music, Manitoba music and Winnipeg music. And for Randy as well.”
At the event on Canada Day, the two musicians played a set of Bachman’s hits and then parted 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 up for good 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 called Lost and Foundco-written with his son Tal Bachman, with lyrics in Japanese.