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 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 conference room at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo.
The guitar is a 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins, in orange, which he bought at age 19 from a music store in Winnipeg.
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 wedding day, get married on your birthday. You will never forget your wedding day. I will never forget this day,” said Bachman.
The Gretsch was his first major purchase as a young adult, playing it on the recordings of iconic songs such as Take 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 awful,” Bachman said in a meeting in 2021. “I literally cried all night…I loved this guitar so much.”
Bachman launched his own search, which took decades and yielded nothing.
Japanese media reports suggest the Gretsch was eventually taken across the US border, where it was sold to a guitar dealer from Japan. According to the reports, Takeshi, a musician who writes for Japanese pop bands, bought it from a guitar shop in Tokyo in 2014, without knowing its history.
Six years later, the Canadian rocker finally got a breakthrough in the business. A longtime fan and internet sleuth from White Rock, BC, named William Long, heard Bachman’s story and decided to try and track down the instrument using facial recognition technology. He found it in a YouTube video of Takeshi playing guitar.
He contacted Bachman, who contacted Takeshi. Then plans were made to trade it back. The Canadian bought an almost identical Gretsch to trade for his original.
On Canada Day in Tokyo, the saga finally came to an end before a packed crowd at the embassy’s Oscar Peterson Theater.
Bachman and Takeshi first met on stage, and in an emotional moment for both, they swapped their vintage instruments, with the Japanese musician returning a slice of Canadian rock history.
‘It was all worth it’
“I went through a lot of emotions today,” Takeshi said through an interpreter as he sat next to Bachman on stage.
“But when I saw your smile after you saw that guitar, I thought it was all worth it.”
Bachman said he also has mixed feelings. He said he got attached to the guitar he trades to Takeshi, but he’s more than happy to go home with his first love.
“Coming here to do the craft was very emotional, and I appreciate this honorable man who gave me the opportunity to get the guitar back,” said Bachman.
‘Like a fairytale’
The story of Bachman’s long-lost guitar made headlines around the world for the past year, largely because it was unlikely to ever be found.
Winnipeg-based rock journalist John Einarson has written extensively about the Guess Who and other bands of the era, saying the chance of recovering this stolen Gretsch was “astronomical.”
“It’s really like a fairy tale, you know? And it’s rock and roll serendipity that it was discovered in Tokyo,” Einarson said.
“The guitar looms large in Winnipeg music history because it is so iconic for Canadian music, Manitoba music and Winnipeg music. And also for Randy.”
During the Canada Day event, the two musicians played a string 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 sometime this year at a concert in Vancouver and then lock it up for good in his Victoria home, where it will be added to his collection of vintage Gretsch guitars.
To commemorate his unusual connection to Tokyo, Bachman also plans to release a new song called Found objectsco-written with his son Tal Bachman, with lyrics in Japanese.