Eric Dahl makes 'discovery of a lifetime' in a Las Vegas pawnshop
For many people, finding a sought-after item in a pawnshop is something that seldom, if ever, happens.
But in 2009, when Fruitland native Eric Dahl found an electric guitar in a Las Vegas pawnshop that had been stolen from blues legend B.B. King, it led to a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with his idol and the publishing of his book, "B.B. King's Lucille And The Loves Before Her," which chronicles the guitars King has played throughout his storied career.
Dahl, a 1982 graduate of Jackson High School and 1986 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, is a regional promotion supervisor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Based in Nashville since 2011, he oversees promotions for five Fox television markets and nine stations, which includes FOX-23 KBSI in Cape Girardeau. It was during Dahl's tenure as the promotion director at a Fox affiliate in Las Vegas that he made what he calls "the discovery of a lifetime."
"I've played guitar since I was 5, and have collected guitars since high school," Dahl said. "I started going to pawn shops in Cape to look at guitars, and I continued that when I moved to Las Vegas. I got in good with some of the owners, and I told them to let me know if something interesting ever came in."
A pawnshop owner contacted Dahl in October 2009 and told him that an 80th anniversary Lucille electric guitar had been purchased by the shop.
"A Lucille is a Gibson guitar with a personalized B.B. King style," Dahl said. "Gibson put out the anniversary models in 2005, and the one in the pawnshop had been scratched pretty good. But being a huge fan of Mr. King, I wanted to buy it."
Dahl was happy to purchase the guitar, and he knew he may have had more than just an assembly-line model when he inspected it more closely. A small stamp on the back of the guitar read, "Prototype 1."
"That started my research," he said. "I learned from sources in the guitar world that Gibson made 80 anniversary Lucilles, but there were also two prototype models made. Then I contacted a Gibson representative who told me that the Prototype 1 electric guitar had been stolen from Mr. King in the summer of 2009."
The representative told Dahl Gibson had presented the Prototype 1 model to King as his 80th birthday present in 2005, and it had been used as his main guitar during performances.
"The Gibson people said that Mr. King was in tears when he found out it was gone," Dahl said. "Then I was asked how much I wanted for it so they could tell Mr. King the price. Being from Missouri, I said I didn't want anything for it. I just wanted Mr. King to have his guitar back."
According to Dahl, King -- whose 88th birthday is Monday -- was overjoyed when he learned his beloved guitar had been found. King even arranged for Dahl to receive a brand-new autographed Lucille from Gibson upon returning the original, which happened in November 2009.
"We met at Mr. King's offices in Las Vegas," Dahl said. "He was one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life. He just kept shaking my hand and thanking me. He really thought he'd never see it again. His smile was a mile wide."
Meeting a music icon like B.B. King and swapping stories might be enough for most fans, but for Dahl it spawned the idea for "B.B. King's Lucille And The Loves Before Her."
"Nobody else had done a book about Mr. King's music gear," he said. "The book was three years of research. It wasn't easy, but I'm glad I finished it."
The book contains the history and color photos of each guitar King is known to have used during his lengthy career, starting with the one-string Diddley Bow he played as a child in Mississippi. The book also contains information about King's other pre-Lucille guitars, including a Schmidt model named Stella and an electric Fender Esquire.
"I just wanted to get it right," Dahl said. "There's a lot of fakes out there, and verification of the guitars was very important to me. I was also fortunate that people also reached out, emailing me photos of Mr. King's guitars and their history."
Dahl said that a guitar collector in Chicago informed him that he had "Prototype 2" of the 80th anniversary Lucille models.
"I didn't believe it at first," he said, "but I checked it out and it was indeed the second prototype. I thought it had been lost forever, and it's talked about in the book."
According to Dahl, the book isn't just about the guitars and the companies that made them.
"It's for Mr. King to know about while he is still alive," he said. "I think he'll enjoy it."
"B.B. King's Lucille And The Loves Before Her" has a targeted publishing date of Sept. 20 and will be available at Barnes and Noble bookstores, BN.com and amazon.com.
"I hope I can get back to Cape Girardeau for a book signing," Dahl said.