As I sit here in 2021, more than 7 years after the return of the Dragon and more than 40 years after I created this beloved bass guitar, the memories are still fresh in my mind. The story I recollect today will no doubt stay in mind forever.
Creating the Dragon
The Dragon for Pete Sears was my first solo project as a Luthier, back when I was working with Doug Irwin in the 70’s. Named “Dragon,” it was crafted from the rare hardwoods Cocobolo and Birdseye maple and had a distinct, silver dragon design inlay on the body. Not unlike most of life this project was a collaboration between Pete Sears, Doug Irwin, Ron Wickersham and Steve Klein. Pete’s input was essential and as a client did a great job conveying what he was looking for in a custom bass. He was an avid Fender bass player and love their design but required a more refined instrument. He chose Doug’s Wolf body shape for the bass. Ron Wickersham from Alembic was instrumental with his helping create a dummy humbucking noise cancelling coil for the Fender Jazz bass bridge pickup. As well as wiring a rheostat control for the Dragons LED eyes. Steve Klein from Klein Guitars and I worked diligently in creating many drafts of the Dragon image. Pete settled on a combination of four different drafts. It was during the Dragons design process when I took our business card image of the Eagle encircled with stars and drafted the first version of the Deluxe Globe/Eagle logo for D Irwin guitars. Later Doug revamped the logo slightly for Jerry’s Tiger making the eagle off center of its globe. The Dragon project took over 8 months to complete.
I’ve written about the history and the project before.
The Disappearance of the Dragon
I still remember that day, back in June 1978, when the Dragon disappeared. I had left D.Irwin and Company by the time the instrument was stolen. Pete called me to inform me of the tragic news, he was shocked and clearly devastated. There was a lot of second guessing himself for having brought the instrument out on tour. I helped him with the insurance issues etc… Pete was so upset he never engaged in another custom bass project. It was during a riot at the Lorelei Festival in Germany. Fans rushed the stage and things got really out of control. The band had to flee the stage, leaving their instruments behind. Equipment was destroyed and stolen. Pete’s Dragon, along with other instruments, disappeared. At that time, Pete had only been playing the Dragon for a few months and he hadn’t yet had a chance to play it with a live audience. Pete was devastated by its loss, as was I.
“Barely a week has gone by that I haven’t lamented on the loss of this beautiful instrument, built from the same piece of wood as Jerry Garcia’s “Tiger” .Pete Sears, on the Moonalice blog about the return of the Dragon.
The Internet brought hope
Decades past and Pete and I would have an annual conversation about the bass, were it may have wound up. Was it still in Germany or is it back in the States? I would often propose we place an ad in Guitar Player and Bass Player magazine and offer a monetary reward, we never did. In 2008 I placed an inquiry about the bass on the Grateful Dead RU Kind blog site and one year later on April 1st we got a hit.
It was after all April 1st…so I half thought this was a prank. I ask the person who said he had the bass to send me a photo. Dam… there it was…Dragon. A former musician now a Doctor had the bass in Germany that he purchased 15 years before (which still left the first 17 year of its gone missing unknown). After some negotiations I managed to get the instrument back into Petes welcoming hands!
It was December 8 2009 after Pete and I had a familiar (35 year) conversation about the possible fate befallen Dragon. We thought that now with the existence of the internet our chances were greater in reaching out and finding her. So, we created a post on the Grateful Dead forum “ RUKIND.Com.” This forum was instrumental in the recovery of the bass not the facebook D Irwin Tribute page! Though it took over 4 years before any information erupted, as it turned out German musician Klaus Wilms had possession of the bass for 20 of the 35 years missing. When he conducted an internet search on the bass he came across our post on RUKIND.Com!
Pete and I always held out hope that the bass hadn’t been burned in the barn fire created by the riot in Germany. And for 35 years it was Pete who insisted he felt the bass was in Germany just sitting in someone’s closet. His intuition turned out to be prophetic; the bass was indeed just sitting in Klaus Wilms closet. We were also very fortunate that Klaus’s stewardship of Dragon was remarkable!
Thank you to Klaus…
Thank you to RUKIND.com…