Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2014

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Beyond the music: Fans clamor for rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia

For a few fervent rock fans, the music is not enough.

Besides the usual CDs and concert tickets, some also desire a lasting memento to express their support for a particular band or musician.

Welcome to the world of music memorabilia, a rapidly growing industry that gives both serious collectors and casual fans the chance to own a piece of history.

"There's a tremendous infatuation with the music that we remember as part of our history," said Toby Stoffa, owner of Antiquities, a store in the Forum Shops at Caesars specializing in music memorabilia, along with movie- and TV-related items.

"Musical memorabilia is probably the hottest item that I personally carry, because these are all the good memories of our growing-up years, our romancing years, our dancing years," Stoffa said. "It's become a symbol of what we've gone through, part of the Happy Days' feeling."

Stoffa, who has operated her shop for 10 years, offers a wide array of music-related pieces, from high-end items priced in the thousands to inexpensive tokens affordable in any budget.

A few of the more interesting pieces for sale at Antiquities:

Stoffa also offers framed copies of autographed original albums, including Frank Zappa's "Joe's Garage," Bob Dylan's "Desire" and Led Zeppelin's "In Through the Out Door."

And expected soon: a guitar signed by blues great Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a helicopter accident in 1990. Items signed by musicians can really escalate in value after they pass away, Stoffa said.

"It's not just that (Vaughan) is no longer with us, but also that he was so exceptional at what he did," Stoffa said.

Musicians as artists

The Art of Music, in Desert Passage at the Aladdin, also sells music memorabilia, including signed LPs, autographed guitars and drum heads and one-of-a-kind photos of famous musicians.

The giant, framed master artwork for Kiss's 1977 album "Love Gun" stands in the front window, drawing music fanatics to the store.

Once inside, they find that in addition to music memorabilia, The Art of Music also offers numbered limited-edition prints from musicians such as Grace Slick, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, John Entwistle and Ron Wood.

"The concept was based on a book, 'Musicians As Artists,' " Art of Music director Darcy Goodwin said. "We're giving musicians a place to show and sell their artwork. We're constantly hunting down new artists, and it's something that's really coming into its own right now."

Entwistle was originally scheduled to appear in the store on June 27 to promote his artwork, but The Who's longtime bassist died that very day, turning The Art of Music into an impromptu memorial for several hours.

"Entwistle was going to be here at 5:30 (p.m.) and we received the news at about 11:30 (a.m.)," Goodwin said. "The emotional side of it was really crazy. Fans started coming in here in a daze."

Lennon's artwork is featured prominently at The Art of Music, including an area plastered with handwritten reproductions of lyrics to such Beatles classics as "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Revolution."

The Art of Music also benefits from a formal affiliation with the Grammy Foundation, a nonprofit organization that receives memorabilia from musicians and sends them to the Las Vegas store to be sold. A portion of the proceeds then goes back to the Grammy Foundation to help support charitable causes such as Music Cares.

Goodwin said that while his shop does attract occasional big spenders, it also serves as a walk-through gallery for many tourists and locals.

Jane Smisson of Macon, Ga., is one of the shop's repeat customers. Specializing primarily in Elvis Presley memorabilia, she stays in close contact with Goodwin to keep tabs on new Elvis items for sale.

"I'm 45 and I've been a fan of Elvis since I was quite young," Smisson said. "I have autographed memorabilia, Elvis champagne glasses, an Elvis porcelain cookie jar, a framed, signed record ... And in the last year or so, it's amazing how much people take notice of my memorabilia."

Modern memorabilia

The world of music memorabilia also extends beyond dead or aging rockers. The Art of Music sells signed pieces by modern musicians such as Jennifer Lopez, Creed and Marilyn Manson, while Antiquities offers an Eminem poster signed "Slim Shady" by the controversial rapper.

And according to Warrick Stone, creative director for the Hard Rock Hotel who has worked with memorabilia for the past 20 years, pieces from modern bands can be a wise, more affordable place for a budding collector to start.

"I'd say wait until something comes along that you really believe in," Stone said. "Buy new stuff, put it away and make sure the mice don't get to it."

The Hard Rock remains the city's top spot for viewing music memorabilia, but visitors shouldn't set their sights on owning the pieces displayed there. Stone said none of the Hard Rock's mementos are for sale.

Stone regularly tweaks the Hard Rock's display cases, replacing older musicians' pieces with more current material. Presently available for viewing are exhibits dedicated to Korn, Britney Spears and Kid Rock.

The musicians themselves closely monitor the Hard Rock's display cases, making sure they are represented in the prestigious hotel. Stone even received a phone call recently from Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, asking why Bon Jovi did not have a spot on the floor or wall.

"We had outfits and a guitar from those guys, and they're up in the casino now," Stone said.

The signed instruments featured at the Hard Rock were generally those played by the musicians themselves. Many of the signed guitars sold at stores such as Antiquities and The Art of Music, meanwhile, are more affordable instruments presented to the musicians specifically for autographing purposes.

That helps keep the cost in a range the average music collector might be able to afford, Stoffa said.

"There's a significant difference in the cost of a piece that's been personally owned and one that hasn't," Stoffa said. "We had a signed guitar that (Eric) Clapton actually played at a charity show go for $19,000, but we have a roadie guitar that he signed at $2,995."

Stone will present much of the Hard Rock's extensive unviewed collection to the Las Vegas public Dec. 6 through Dec. 8 as a touring exhibit sponsored by Gibson guitars and Chevrolet.

"I'm picking a selection of stuff from our vaults and collections that represent five decades of rock," Stone said.

One avenue the Hard Rock does offer to collectors are its limited-edition casino chips featuring musicians' images. Those have been known to skyrocket in value.

For example, a $100 Kid Rock chip introduced last Friday morning -- fans began lining up for the chip at 6 a.m., four hours early -- was being offered on online auction site ebay later that same day. By Monday afternoon the chip was up to $222.50, more than twice its redeemable value at the casino.

As Stone points out, as with all collectibles, when it comes to music memorabilia, beauty is in the eye -- and ear -- of the beholder.

"Music is all around us all the time, and as we grow up there's a period in our life when it's more important anything," Stone said. "It all just comes down to what something is worth to you."

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