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Microphone Month

Lost Starship Bass Returned after 35 Years

In June of 1978, Jefferson Starship was slated to play at the Lorelei Festival on the Rhine River, near St. Goarshausen, Germany. Problems developed, though. Grace Slick “fell ill” and refused to leave her dressing room. Bad weather delayed the show. Finally the band had to cancel — and the crowd showed its displeasure with a full-scale riot. The band escaped, but their gear did not.

Among the missing instruments was a bass that had been custom-built for Peter Sears (Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna, Rod Stewart) by Doug Irwin. The bass, named “Dragon” was a sibling of Jerry Garcia’s famous “Tiger” guitar, made from the same piece of wood and featuring the same earth/eagle inlay on the headstock along with a silver inlayed dragon. Sears had received the instrument three months earlier, but had never played it live.

In the aftermath of the riot, the bass was never recovered. But a few years ago luthier Tom Lieber, who worked for Doug Irwin, posted to the Grateful Dead forum about the bass. A German musician, Klaus Wilm, responded to the post recently, stating that he had purchased the bass around 1990 or ’91. Contact was made with Sears, and arrangements made to sell the bass back for $3,200. Leiber (who worked on the Dragon originally) now has the bass for restoration — a previous owner hacked the instrument to install active pickups, a refret is required, and there is some age-related damage.

More history on the bass.

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