Missing guitar returns to Bill Anderson after 50 years

 Juli Thanki, jthanki@tennessean.com

 

At the Grand Ole Opry House Saturday night, Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson was reunited with a friend he thought he'd lost forever. His Grammer guitar — "the only guitar I played onstage for between five and seven years" — which had been missing for nearly 50 years, was returned to him that night by pawn shop owners Mike Grauer and Wendy Davis-Grauer of Phoenix.

Last year, a man came into their shop, Bell Road Pawn, with the guitar. He never returned for it and didn't respond to the Grauers' attempts to contact him. The guitar had water and mold damage, but Grauer, a guitar collector, noticed the "Made for Bill Anderson" label that Billy Grammer pasted inside half a century ago, and he began working with a luthier to restore the instrument.

As Grauer began to research the guitar's history, he found a grainy clip of Anderson playing it on "The Johnny Cash Show." Four weeks ago, he emailed photos of the instrument to Anderson's secretary, not expecting to hear back. But as soon as Anderson saw the photo of the custom label inside, he knew it was the guitar he'd been missing for decades and reached out to the Grauers. (He's still not entirely sure how the guitar got out of his possession, but thinks he might have loaned it to a museum and it just never found its way back.)

"I thought, 'Here's a guy who wants to make a quick buck,' " Anderson said. "How much is he going to charge me for this? Is he going to give me some exorbitant figure?"

Grauer responded that he and his wife were celebrating their fifth anniversary on the first weekend in August, and that they were both country music fans who wanted to visit the Grand Ole Opry. If Anderson could get them to Nashville, they'd return the restored guitar to him in person.

"You wouldn't believe how quick I bought him an airline ticket," Anderson said onstage at the Opry as he told the story to a packed house.

After the couple presented Anderson with his guitar, the country singer invited Jamey Johnson onstage to sing "The Guitar Song," which the two men wrote and recorded several years ago about a guitar that was slowly gathering dust in a pawn shop, wishing someone would pick it up and play it again. "This has been a dream come true," said Davis-Grauer backstage after watching the performance.

"It sounds wonderful and I'm so glad to have it back," Anderson said as he and the Grauers sat in his Opry dressing room that night, strumming the guitar he never thought he'd see again. "I just wonder, if it could talk, what stories it would tell me."