Miracle on Junipero: Blasters’ Phil Alvin’s stolen guitar is rescued

Musicians, and guitarists in particular, are frequent victims of theft. It happens so often, you really can’t say you’ve paid your dues until someone swipes one of your guitars from your van, and when it happens, the chances of recovering it are slimmer than landing a deal with a major record label.

The reason for guitar-theft is simple crookenomics: There aren’t a lot of other things a felon can steal and carry from a vehicle that are worth $2,000 and up—way up. Nowadays, $2,000 doesn’t buy a lot of guitar.

Sadly, once a thief gets his hand on a guitar, you can pretty much kiss it goodbye, barring a miracle.

And a miracle was what reunited Blasters vocalist and guitarist Phil Alvin on Monday after his 1950s-era Kay guitar was stolen from Blasters bassist John Bazz’s van on Vista Avenue shortly before the band headlined Saturday’s Buskerfest in Long Beach.

For Alvin, it was a heartbreak. The Downey-born musician had played the American-made Kay since the 1970s, even before he, his brother Dave, Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman formed the band in 1978.

Kay isn’t as famous a guitar brand as Gibson or Fender, but practically every great musician has owned and played one, including Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen.

“It’s a good guitar, but given the provenance of belonging to Phil for so long, it’s priceless,” said music promoter and art dealer Ed Boswell.

Vince Jordan, former boss of the Blue Cafe and a talent buyer (both he and Boswell are longtime friends of the band), put out word to some “people on the street,” he said, “But, man, don’t ever underestimate the power of social media.”

Blasters friend Audrey Mabie posted a plea on NextDoor for the guitar’s return at 5 p.m. Monday. The posting included a reward offer of $700, put up by the record label Rip Cat Records. An hour later, she received a call from a man who said he had the guitar. By 7, it was back in Alvin’s possession.

Audrey and the man agreed to meet at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on Junipero Avenue at Carroll Park. She was accompanied by a musical gang of ruffians, including Jordan, Bazz and bicycle king Bernard Serrano and Boswell’s aluminum baseball bat.

They found the guitar leaning against the church door, said Boswell, with a suspicious-looking man standing around the corner smoking a cigarette. Serrano, who was brought along because of his expertise at retrieving stolen bikes, simply grabbed the guitar, over protestations that the axe-rescuers should involve the police. But Jordan insisted they just take back the guitar and go.

“I’m just amazed we got it back,” said Jordan. “That just never happens.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.