Commemorative guitar finds a new home

Move over Stradivari. Make room for Steve Miller.

An Ibanez electric guitar that has carefully been watched over by Gov. Mike Rounds for nearly four years has a new home: The National Music Museum in Vermillion.

In a formal ceremony held at the museum Friday afternoon, the governor personally presented the guitar to Dr. Brad Randall, president of the National Music Museum Board of Trustees.

The commemorative instrument was presented to the governor during concerts in Pierre in 2006 held to help dedicate the South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial.

The guitar was signed by musicians who performed in that concert: Steve Miller of The Steve Miller Band; Mike Love and Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys; and Stu Cook and Doug Clifford of Creedence Clearwater Revisited, originally known as Creedence Clearwater Revival.

"The veterans of the Vietnam War era really enjoyed music, and there was a specific kind of music at that time that they identified with, and we've all heard it, and it was special," Rounds said.

When the 2006 event was still in its planning stages, Vietnam War veterans were asked the type of activity that would be appropriate to help bring people together at the dedication.

"They were asked, 'What kind of entertainment do you want? Do you want a dance?' and they replied, 'Are you kidding? We want concerts.'

"So we went to work, and we asked people in South Dakota if they would help us put together a plan where we would have a series of rock concerts," Rounds said.

The state's memorial to honor the 28,000 South Dakotans who served in the Vietnam War was dedicated Sept. 15-16, 2006. Two concerts were held at Hollister Field in Pierre as part of the dedication events.

The Beach Boys with special guests Red Willow Band performed on Friday, Sept. 15. The Steve Miller Band with special guests Creedence Clearwater Revisited performed on Saturday, Sept. 16. Both concerts sold out 10,000 tickets.

Planners of the concert decided, as a special touch, to ask the performers to sign the guitar while they were in Pierre.

"Not only did they sign it," Rounds said, "but they also decorated it. What we ended up with was a commitment that we would find some way to honor the veterans on a longer-term basis with a remembrance of that time in Pierre when we literally had the entire state participating and celebrating in this 'welcome home and thank you for your service' ceremony."

Planners at one time had thought of selling the guitar to help offset the costs of the celebration.

"As we looked at it, we realized this is too precious to ever have it leave our state," the governor said.

The guitar's home since the concert has been Rounds' office.

"Realizing that I only have eight months left in office, we knew that we needed to do something which would allow the guitar to not only be celebrated, but also would be available for people to see and to help people remember that this was a very special time," Rounds said.

Steve Miller's signature stood out clearly as the governor held the guitar so that everyone at Friday's gathering at the museum could get a good look at the instrument. Miller added a flourish, extending a line from the last letter of his name up much of the face of the instrument, and embellishing that line so that it resembles a long feather.

Under his name is printed "Fly Like A Eagle," the title of one of The Steve Miller Band's best known songs.

Rounds recalled that after Steve Miller and Mike Love had signed the guitar, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford of CCR prepared to add their personal touches to the instrument.

"When they started to do that, the first thing that happened was a big blob (of ink) had dropped on it," Rounds said. "And they were so upset. They said, 'Oh no, look what happened!'

"It was kind of funny because here are two guys who are clearly well known as musicians, and yet to them this was something special because these other guys, who they respected, had already signed this," the governor said.

Rounds quickly grabbed his handkerchief and wiped off the offending spot.

"Those two said, 'We never could have talked to those guys again if we had ruined that guitar,'" Rounds said.

The governor handed the guitar to Randall during Friday's ceremony, officially adding it to the collection of instruments in the National Music Museum.

"Arian Sheets, our curator of stringed instruments, will be taking this shortly, and it might be the last time that bare hands get to hold this," Randall said.  "Most guitars have a few years of anonymous use and then go into closets and die. This guitar was blessed to be signed by these wonderful musicians, and now it comes here and gets to rub shoulders with world-famous musical instruments.

"From the guitar's perspective, I don't think you could do any better than this," he said.

 "This is an interesting instrument because it has a lot of high-profile, recognizable names on it," Sheets said following the presentation. "For the general public, getting to see the actual signatures of their favorite stars from the 1970s and '80s can really be meaningful.

The instrument presented by the governor will fit in well with other guitars at the National Music Museum linked to famed musicians.

"We have a guitar autographed by B.B. King, and we also have a guitar autographed by several country music stars," Sheets said. "This is the first guitar that we received that is autographed by several great rock musicians."

In addition to the guitar, Gov. Rounds is also donating a collection of documentary materials related to the 2006 War Memorial dedication.

Founded in 1973 on the campus of The University of South Dakota in Vermillion, the National Music Museum & Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments has become well known as one of the great institutions of its kind in the world.

Its renowned collections include more than 14,500 American, European, and non-Western instruments from virtually all cultures and historical periods.

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