His name is Red Ronnie, and he knows what he likes. At a Sotheby’s auction in London last year, the Italian concert promoter sent a buzz through the rock-memorabilia world by spending $320,000 for the guitar that Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. This past June, at Sotheby’s in New York, Ronnie doubled the existing record for handwritten lyrics. After a three-way telephone bidding war, he shelled out $35,200 for a series of early drafts of Hendrix’s “Room Full of Mirrors.”
Hendrix artifacts more or less stole the whole show – thanks not only to Red Ronnie, but to Eddie Murphy, who dropped in to do some giddy bidding on a black suede headband ($1980), a silk tie-dyed scarf ($3850) and a green velvet vest ($7150). Hendrix’s sketch of a naked woman sold for $4675, doubling the auction house’s estimate.
John Lennon also made a posthumous splash. Stars Memorabilia, a gallery in Aspen, Colorado, spent $30,800 on one of his acoustic guitars. The instrument came with a declaration of authenticity signed “with love, John Lennon, weekend of 7/8th sept. year of our ford. 1974.”
Not surprisingly, the Doors were well represented at the auction. Handwritten lyrics to “When the Music’s Over” and “Strange Days” – formerly the property of photographer Gloria Stavers – went for $18,700; lyrics to “L.A. Woman” brought in $17,600.
Wayne Newton bought a note that had been fished out of a wastebasket in Elvis Presley‘s Las Vegas hotel room. It reads, in part: “I feel so alone sometimes. The Night is quiet for me. I would love to be able to sleep . . . I have no need for all of this. Help Me Lord.”
“That’s a real heartstring puller, ain’t it?” one slightly jaded buyer joked after Newton purchased the note for $13,200. “An open letter from Elvis to God. If he had autographed it, the price would have gone into the ozone. But it looks like Elvis passed out before he finished it.”
The next auctions will be held in London in late August at Sotheby’s, Phillips Auctioneers and Christie’s. Phillips’s sale will include Lennon drawings and a silver disc of Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Christie’s will offer, among other things, handwritten Jim Morrison lyrics, a satin boxer’s robe from Presley, a tail coat from Prince and a beaded cocktail dress from Whitney Houston.
This is a story from the August 8th, 1991 issue of Rolling Stone.