DALLAS, Texas (Nov. 16, 2023) – The instrument is coveted even before adding the backstory – a 1963 Martin D-28, the go-to acoustic guitar for Your Favorite Musician’s Name Here since its introduction in 1931. But this D-28, offered in Heritage’s December 8 Vintage Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature® Auction, has an extraordinary tale, too, that begins in 1963, when it was purchased by a 21-year-old who’d just started his first band. That young man was Graham Nash. That band was The Hollies.
That provenance alone makes this Martin D-28 storied and significant, as it remained with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer for close to a decade – all through his tenure with the hit-making Hollies, which ended in December 1968 when he joined former Byrd David Crosby and ex-Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills to start Crosby, Stills & Nash (Neil Young came later). It was with Nash, too, when that supergroup whittled down to Crosby & Nash, who released their first record in 1972 before embarking on a series of shows in ’72 and ’73.
As Nash writes in his brief letter accompanying the Martin D-28, this tour is where his ownership of the guitar ended.
Crosby & Nash invited a 27-year-old singer-songwriter – “with long honey-blond hair and round wire-rim eyeglasses,” as Rolling Stone wrote years later – to serve as their opening act. Her name was Judee Sill, who, in the early 1970s, was among Los Angeles’ most revered and sought-after artists. Nash was so enamored he played on and produced her 1971 single “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” And that’s Sill on the cover of the April 13, 1972, issue of Rolling Stone.
Nearly 50 years later, Rolling Stone wrote that “Nash marveled at Sill’s performances” during her stint as their opening act. Every night, he watched her from the side of the stage. But Nash also knew the God-fearing woman trying to outrun her tortured, tragic past ran the risk of being misunderstood: “Because she didn’t say much,” he said, “you didn’t really know how bright she was.”
Nash writes in his letter of provenance that Sill so admired his Martin D-28 that he gave it to her at the end of the tour. It would become the only guitar she played forever after, personalizing the instrument and its case with stickers, her name and her Silver Lake address. It remained with Sill until her death from an overdose in 1979, then stayed with her family until now.
“Judee Sill released two extraordinary albums that were long out-of-print, but last year’s documentary Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill finally brought about a long-overdue re-examination of her life and career,” says Aaron Piscopo, Heritage’s Director of Vintage Guitars & Musical Instruments. “The connection between Nash and Sill was so profound, and it’s embodied by this Martin D-28 – a gift from a genius to a kindred spirit. Its next caretaker will be fortunate to own a piece of that magic.”
There are other guitars in this auction that bring into the 21st century a piece of that long-ago Laurel Canyon hoodoo, chief among them Chris Hillman’s “Big Fella” Martin J12-40E Natural 12-String – yes, that Chris Hillman, the L.A.-born bluegrass-picker who helped birth so-called country-rock alongside his fellow Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. Hillman recalls in a video accompanying this guitar that he used it on recording sessions because the Big Fella “had such a big rhythm sound.”
Hillman has three other instruments in this auction, as well, including a 2007 Kevin Mathers Lyon & Healy Natural Mandolin, an Italian-made 2010 Giacomel J5 Mandolin (which Hillman purchased from David Grisman) and a 2012 Lakland P-Bass Sunburst electric bass. The latter, Hillman says, was custom-made to replicate the Fender Precision bass he played with The Byrds. Adds Hillman, “I used this bass on The Academy of Country Music’s ‘Salute to Buck Owens,’ playing alongside Dwight Yoakam, Billy Gibbons, Brad Paisley, Tom Brumley and Travis Barker.”
There are other guitars here owned, played and signed by masters of the instrument, such as Gregg Allman’s stage-played and signed 1989 Gibson Les Paul, a Stevie Ray Vaughan-played Rickenbacker 450 Black Solid Body circa 1960-1961 and Gene Simmons’ stage-played and signed Punisher Black electric bass.
But sometimes, the instrument speaks for itself – such as this 1962 Gibson SG Standard Cherry Solid Body, which is all-original and looks like it’s never been touched. Here, too, are nearly 50 more offerings from Washington, D.C.’s famed The Guitar Shop, among them a Martin D-28 from 1947. They’re alongside three Paul Reed Smith Standards with the rare and sought-after metal finish. That’s almost unheard-of in a single event, yet this auction has examples from 1985, ’86 and ’87. All timeless, no matter the year.