Jerry Garcia’s famous “Wolf” guitar sold at an auction for over $1.9 million on May 31st, 2017. The Grateful Dead singer-guitarist first wielded the instrument during a 1973 show for the Hell’s Angels in New York City and for over two decades since then it was his go-to instrument.
Brian Halligan, Chief Executive of software company HubSpot and an avid Deadhead purchased the guitar at a Guernsey’s auction benefitting the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl. Halligan’s bid was also matched with a $1.6 million donation, raising $3.2 million total for the SPLC. The $1.9 million price Halligan paid included a $300,000 buyer’s premium. In an e-mail to Rolling Stone, Halligan says the auction was a chance to “indulge two passions of mine at the same time: Social justice and the Grateful Dead.”
The CEO praised the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center and also discussed his unique affinity for the Grateful Dead, who inspired his 2010 book with David Meerman Scott titled “Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead“. “The Grateful Dead’s business model was rattling around in my head while we were coming up with the idea for my company, HubSpot,” Halligan says. “They were the original inbound marketers, they did social media marketing before there was social media, and they essentially invented the freemium distribution model.” Halligan also stated that he’ll keep the guitar in his Boston home, but adds, “I think it is best served by being played, so I plan to do so. I plan to lend it out to the Garcia family whenever they want it.”
Wolf’s previous owner was Daniel Pritzker, a philanthropist, musician and filmmaker, who originally purchased the guitar anonymously in 2002 for $790,000. At the time, it was the highest bid for a guitar in history. “I’ve been a fan of the Dead since I was a kid, and playing this iconic guitar over the past 15 years has been a privilege,” Pritzker said in a statement before the auction. “But the time is right for Wolf to do some good.”
Wolf was the first of many instruments that famed luthier Doug Irwin designed for Garcia. The musician, however, made his own modification to the guitar’s unique purple heart and curly maple body, affixing a sticker of a cartoon wolf below the bridge. The guitar was prominently featured in the 1977 concert film “The Grateful Dead Movie”, which Garcia directed. Garcia, himself, last played the guitar with the Grateful Dead at the Oakland Coliseum on February 23rd, 1993.