“Wolf,” one of the favorite instruments of late legendary Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, was auctioned for a staggering $1.9 million Wednesday, which will benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center to help fight racism and inequality in the United States. The auction was held by Guernsey’s Auctioneers and Brokers at the Brooklyn Bowl, a music venue, bowling alley, and restaurant. The winning bid was placed by Brian Halligan, the CEO of HubSpot and the co-author of Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn From The Most Iconic Band in History.
The $1.9 million pricetag makes “Wolf” the third most expensive guitar ever sold and doubles the amount of the previous third place holder – the Fender Stratocaster played by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The two guitars still more expensive than “Wolf” are a Fender Stratocaster signed by a long list of guitar heroes and John Lennon’s Gibson Acoustic-Electric.
“Wolf” was previously owned by Deadhead Daniel Pritzker (for those unfamiliar with the term, “Deadhead” refers to devoted fans of the Grateful Dead, many following the band for years as a sort of nomadic tribe). Pritzker, who is also a musician and film director, bought ‘Wolf’ for $790,000 at a 2002 auction at Studio 54, also run by Guernsey’s.
“I’ve been a fan of the Dead since I was a kid, and playing this iconic guitar over the past 15 years has been a privilege. But the time is right for Wolf to do some good,” Pritzker said of his decision to donate “Wolf” to the auction. “My wife and I have long supported the efforts of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and if ever we needed the SPLC, we sure do need them now.” Pritzker, also a philanthropist, matched the winning bid to bring the total benefit to the SPLC to well over $3 million after costs of hosting the auction and benefit are deducted.
The one-of-a-kind “Wolf” was custom made for Garcia by Doug Irwin in the 1970s and made its first live appearance in 1973. The musical artifact traveled the globe with the Grateful Dead frontman until his death in 1995. Garcia played “Wolf” on stages for decades, from the famed Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco to the Palladium in New York City, and even the legendary concert that the Dead played at Egypt’s Great Pyramids. The Grateful Dead Movie, which was directed by Garcia and released in 1977, features extensive footage of the Dead frontman playing “Wolf” onstage during a five-night concert run at Winterland in 1974 before the band took a hiatus from touring.
“Wolf” has been a musical icon since Irwin made it and Jerry first played it, and for many guitar players having the opportunity to make music with the instrument is as magical as it is rare. This auction, however, plays a much more important role than making musical dreams come true. The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center has been fighting racial and economic inequality in the US since 1971, and the huge donation resulting from the auction will be tremendously helpful in its mission, particularly with the rise of racially motivated hate crimes being experienced across the nation in recent months.
The SLPC is dedicated to fighting legal battles for victims of hate crimes, legal challenges to institutional and systemic racism in government, and tracking hate groups across the country, among other tasks it has taken upon itself. The organization is also committed to education, winning two Academy Awards for documentaries, and using their expertise in the field to assist law enforcement in training officers and in solving hate-related crimes.
“We are deeply grateful that the Wolf’s current owner is willing to part with this piece of music history to support the SPLC’s mission fighting hate and bigotry,” remarked Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC. “As extremism moves from the fringe to the mainstream, we have a lot of work to do. This remarkable act of generosity only strengthens our resolve.”
Combining the stuff that musical legends are made of with the love and compassion that the Grateful Dead represented for so long is something that Jerry Garcia would be delighted to see. With the passing ownership of “Wolf” and the extremely generous donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jerry’s memory and the positive effects of the Dead’s music will live on.
Watch Joe Russo’s Friends With Benefits guitarist Neal Casal play “Wolf” during “Truckin'” following the auction of the guitar, courtesy of nugs.tv and the Official Jerry Garcia Facebook page below.
[Featured Image by Chad Rachman/AP Images]