Thieves strike musician again, but guitar is safe

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comMarch 14, 2013 

— After more than two decades, Matt Wright of Merced returned his favorite guitar to its original owner -- Joe Ely, an alternative country artist who's well-known in the Austin music scene.

But Ely almost lost it again soon after being reunited with the custom-made guitar Tuesday night.

Ely, who has toured with The Clash and Lyle Lovett, got to play his guitar again after 27 years at a concert in San Francisco after Wright returned it to him.

In 1986, he also had performed at a concert in San Francisco. After that show, the guitar and the rest of his gear was stolen. Wright bought it at a pawn shop, unaware of its history, but continue to explore its origins because of the guitar's unique design -- only recently linking it to Ely.

But soon after being reunited with his guitar on Tuesday night, Ely's van was broken into again in San Francisco just before leaving for Sacramento, where his next performance was scheduled, Wright said.

While lots of electronics were taken, Ely's long-lost guitar was left behind by the thieves.

"It's an amazing story," said Wright, who attended Ely's show at Slim's Presents in San Francisco. "There seems to be twists and turns around in every corner."

Distinctive details

It was 1989 when Wright fell in love with the custom-made guitar after he came across it the Merced-area pawn shop. Minutes later, he bought it for about $200. It had been handmade by Ted Newman of Austin.

Over the years, Wright did lots of research to try to determine the origins of the distinctive guitar, but he was unable to pin it down. Recently, he turned to social media, including a YouTube video, and managed to trace the guitar to Ely.

Wright thought the right thing to do was to return it to the original owner. "He tried to give me an envelope full of cash, but I didn't take it," Wright said.

Wright said he enjoyed meeting Ely on Tuesday. "We had a great time," he said. "They treated us well."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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