It started with an Eric Clapton guitar (a Fender Lead II, for the gearheads in the audience). The beginning of something that nobody even knew was beginning.
It was just a goof. A laugh. A joke among friends.
Back in the seventies, Clapton – the original guitar god, founder of Cream and Derek & the Dominoes, creator of the immortal “Layla” – liked to eat at this quirky American diner in London called the Hard Rock Cafe. The place was this funky old building that used to be a Rolls Royce dealership, and it was run by a couple of young Americans who liked to keep it loose. Founded by Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton, two enterprising and music-loving Americans, Hard Rock Cafe was an instant classic. You could be yourself at the Hard Rock. It was good food and a good time.
So Clapton got to be friends with the proprietors and asked them to save him a regular table, put up a brass plaque or something. And the young proprietors said, “Why don’t we put up your guitar?” They all had a chuckle, and he handed over a guitar, and they slapped it on the wall.
No one thought much more about it. Until a week later, when another guitar arrived (a Gibson Les Paul, by the way). With it was a note from Pete Townshend of The Who which read: “Mine’s as good as his. Love, Pete.”
The young proprietors put it on the wall. After that, the guitars never stopped coming. Today there are more than 70,000 guitars, drums, pianos, harmonicas, microphones, shirts, pants, scarves, shoes, handwritten lyrics, cars, bikes, a bus and assorted rock memorabilia – by far, the largest, most valuable such collection in the world – on the walls of over 163 Hard Rock Cafes, Hotels and Casinos in 52 countries around the world.
But it all started with the one.