Tokyo — The song “American Woman” is a rock anthem and one of the biggest hits to come out of the 1970’s. In 1976, however, guitarist Randy Bachman of The Guess Who discovered that the guitar he used to write the classic — and a string of other hits — had been stolen from his hotel room.
The theft haunted Bachman for almost 50 years, but as CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, when two musicians embraced on a stage in Tokyo last Friday, it was a happy ending to the story that started 46 years ago.
After recording his hit with The Guess Who, Bachman went on to found Bachman Turner Overdrive. He was well on his way to becoming a rock legend when, in 1976, his first and favorite guitar, a Gretsch, was stolen from the hotel.
“It was the end of my life at that time,” he told Palmer, “because I’d written six Guess Who million-sellers and six BTO million… and played them with that guitar.”
“I had a period of not sleeping for about a week,” he said, adding that he spent that time “just crying and mourning.”
Life, and Bachman, eventually moved on, but he never really got over the loss.
He often reminisced publicly about the guitar, including in an interview clip that was posted to YouTube and seen in 2020 by a man named William Long.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Long was stuck at home in Vancouver. To fill some time, the amateur internet sleuth decided to launch a search for the stolen guitar.
“I heard Randy’s interview on YouTube. He said it had a small mark on it by the main control knob,” recalled Long. “That would allow me to identify it. I was confident I could find it.”
He pored over thousands of images online looking for that distinctive mark, until he spotted an orange Gretsch at a vintage guitar shop in Tokyo. It was a perfect match.
But after the thrill of the discovery came bitter disappointment. The guitar had been sold. Undeterred, he kept on searching.
A few days later, he spotted it — with its owner. A young Japanese musician called Takeshi was playing in a Christmas video he’d posted online..
Palmer visited the guitar store where Takeshi bought Bachman’s beloved instrument. The owner knows only that he acquired it in a bulk purchase of vintage guitars somewhere in the USA.
We’ll probably never know where it spent the lost decades, but Bachman laid eyes on it again for the first time in 46 years just last week, at the Canadian embassy’s theater in Tokyo.
Takeshi had offered to give it back, and in exchange, Bachman gave Takeshi the guitar’s twin, made in the Gretsch factory not only in the same year but the same week.
Then, on stage, they did what musicians do: They made music, jamming a rendition of “American Woman” to celebrate old guitars, new friends, and minor miracles.