When John Lennon penned the lyrics to "Help!" on a small piece of paper, he probably didn't think that generations later, people would frame it in a glass case and send it across America on a 12-city tour. But neither did Buddy Holly probably think his wallet with its business cards, family pictures and handwritten notes would be considered collectable or making the same tour along with Freddy Mercury, Janice Joplin or Dimebag Darrell. But these items are just some of the many iconic memorabilia that fans can view at "Treasures of the Hard Rock," a music memorabilia exhibit that opens this week at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas.
The Hard Rock Cafe offers two collections this week: "Gone Too Soon," which offers a collection of guitars, love notes and a recording contract; and "Music Gives Back," which provides fans with some classy outfits, more guitars and letters from some of rock, soul and blues greatest legends.
Jimi Hendrix, Amie Winehouse and Whitney Houston are just some of the music legends whose items join Lennon's memorabilia. (Dimebag Darrell's tribute to Crown Royal Whiskey - his custom-made Washburn electric with gold binding and 24-karat gold inlays - was so damn cool that it took everything I could not to fall down in front of it). Eric Clapton's 12-string Eko guitar, Steven Tyler's 1970s "F---k me I'm sexy" outfit and Shakira's gown that she wore during her 2006 Oral Fixation tour are also on display in the back of the Hard Rock Cafe.
Hard Rock Cafe, located just off Houston Street, blends into the corner lot it occupies. It doesn't stand out like the House of Blues with its ascending staircase that leads into a devilish bar and grill. But what the Hard Rock lacks in aesthetic pleasure, although the guitar hanging on the side of the building does offer a moment of wonder, it makes up for with the dozens of classic and not so-classic guitars protruding from its walls, on stands and in glass cases throughout the venue. It's the perfect place to exhibit legends of rock, soul and blues memorabilia.
Since Eric Clapton donated his red Fender guitar in 1979, other guitarslingers soon followed suite, including Who guitarist Pete Townsend who wrote a letter to the folks at Hard Rock: "Back in 1979, when I was very, very drunk, I gave my black Les Paul to the Hard Rock Cafe in London. I couldn't have known then that this astonishing generous donation (it was the best guitar I ever had!!) would transition a small American Diner into a cultural icon, and help establish a collection" that now has more than 77,000 pieces.
Hard Rock Cafe has the largest music memorabilia collection in the world, and music historian Jeff Nolan is the curator of the tours currently appearing across the globe. "We wanted to take things that we're most commented, most photograph, most gravitated too," Nolan explains. "It resulted in a list that was gigantic. We just sort of parsed it and parsed it until we thought we were telling a pretty good story.
The "Treasures of Hard Rock" is the fruit of their efforts and features three unique themes currently touring as three separate exhibits across Europe, the U.S. and Asia. In addition to "Gone Too Soon" and "Music Gives Back," which is making the final stop of its U.S. tour in Dallas and Denver, "50 Years of Rock & Pop Fashion" (self explanatory) is currently touring Europe and Asia.
"The collection showcases a unique part of music history and gives fans an opportunity to see that history first-hand." It took nearly two years for a team of music enthusiasts to comb through the massive collection. "Everybody on the team have some pretty well-thought out ideas and were all really passionate about it," Nolan says. "So we got in some pretty great debates about what to include."
John Lennon's iconic granny glasses - "People lose their minds when they see it" - Jim Morrison's leather bomber jacket, a hand-written poem and his yearbook - "He's already showing sings of becoming the Lizard King" - Elvis Presely's karate uniform - "It's pretty over-the-top" - a great Elton John outfit and a Kurt Cobain display are just some of the items being showcased in Denver. (Yes, you'll have to make two trips this weekend if you want to experience the Treasures of Hard Rock's complete rock-n-roll history.)
"I really think the handwritten stuff is very special," Nolan says of the collection. "It's something that you just don't see anymore. Who hands write anything? You don't get letters or handwritten lyrics in a contemporary way." Janice Joplin's love letters to Peter Leblanc, Lennon's handwritten lyrics and Eric Clapton's letter to his friend in prison are just some of the handwritten items on display in Dallas. "They're just so touching and so personal. And you really feel like you're so much closer to the artists. These are things that are Smithsonian level significant."
What was even more significant was Texas icon Dimebag Darrell's display. "I personally fought for him to be included," Nolan says. In fact, Nolan is such a fan of Dimebag's that it's become somewhat of a running joke at the office. "Whenever Dimebag's stuff becomes available, someone will say, 'Where's Jeff?'" It's due in part to Nolan's passion for guitars. "I love guitars. I love them as instruments. I love them as functional works of art. There sort of like motorcycles in a way; their form and their function are both beautiful."
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"Treasures of the Hard Rock" will be on public display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas from Thursday, August 1, to Wednesday, August 7.