“We all have regrets about guitars we lost / sold in our past,” writes bassist Tim Catz (pictured above right in the early 1990s). He has been part of various Boston musical outfits, from thrash metal band Seka to the stoner metal band Roadsaw (both unfortunately now defunct). He’s currently helping organize the third Lemmyfest—in celebration of the life and music of Ian Fraser Kilmister, better known as Lemmy from Motörhead—at Once in Somerville for Dec. 29, 2017.
“In ’95,” the now New Bedford-based musician writes, “I sold my beloved red Thunderbird that was custom made for me by Gibson.” He came to regret it. And much later tried to track it down and get it back—unsuccessfully. Then recently a friend found it on the Internet. Maybe. Could Catz and his guitar finally be reunited?
To really understand this story of a man and his beloved, lost guitar, we have to go back to the beginning. The story starts in the early 1990s when Catz was playing bass with the thrash metal band Seka. They won the Boston Rock & Roll Rumble in 1991 and got signed to Warner Bros. Records. “We were getting ready to record our major label debut,” he recalls. “We had a Gibson endorsement, so we all got shiny new Gibson guitars.”
They went down to the Gibson showroom in New York’s Times Square, he says, and he picked out a Gibson Thunderbird bass guitar in a custom shade of red. “I thought it would be more a tomato soup red. … It’s more a hot rod red.”
But Seka ran into trouble. “The band was forced to change its name. It got sued by Seka, the actual porn star,” Catz recalls.
In picking their band name, they’d told themselves: “Seka, the porn star of the ‘70s, she’s probably dead, who’s going to care?” It turned out, “She cared and she had a husband who was her manager and a lawyer, who sued us.”
Much unhappiness ensued. The band, with a changed lineup, was renamed Strip Mind. When their debut album, “What’s In Your Mouth,” came out in 1993, it flopped. “By the time we finished the record, nobody wanted to hear thrash metal. People wanted to hear grunge,” Catz says. “It came out like a fart in church.”
(I think you can spot the red Gibson bass in this video above.)
Tbe band’s drummer, Sully Erna, went on to huge success with the band Godsmack, but the others not so much. Catz says, “When all that fell apart suddenly, I wasn’t touring suddenly, I didn’t have a band, so I sold it [the Gibson guitar] reluctantly to pay the bills.”
Over the years, Catz played in different bands, always favoring Gibson Thunderbirds, and pining for his lost custom red bass guitar. “I had always regretted selling it. It was one of a kind. It was with me everywhere.”
Then along came Facebook. Three or four years ago, Catz says, “All of a sudden my friend Dave Pratt popped up. That was the guy I sold the bass to.”
Catz inquired after his lost guitar. Pratt said he sold the bass to a guy named Bill. Catz tracked that guy down. Bill told him, “It was a great bass. I played it for years.” But then Bill sold it “to a grave digger in Louisiana.” Catz found that gentleman too, but he didn’t have the guitar anymore either.
“It took a few weeks,” Catz says, “but at the end of the line there was nothing.”
Which seemed to be the end of it. Until a couple weeks back, in December, Catz heard from a friend by the name of Neil Collins in the band Murcielago up in Portland, Maine. “His old band had played with my old band,” Catz says.
Collins had news. He likes to trawl eBay and Craigslist for interesting things. “He found an ad for a red Thunderbird out of Rhode Island. He sent me a link, adding, ‘Is this yours?’ I’d never seen another one like it. So I contacted the seller, the Craigslist guy, and wrote him this long email and sent him pictures of me playing the bass in ’91, ’92. He said, ‘I don’t know if it’s yours, but come take a look.’”
The Rhode Island seller had found the red Gibson Thunderbird in a pawnshop run by a friend in upstate, New York. “It had no case. It had no strings. Obviously somebody had hocked it,” Catz says.
“I sold it in ’93, ’94. It’s been 23, 24 years,” Catz says. “I went there thinking: I can’t. It’s Christmas. I have to buy the kids toys. Maybe I’ll buy it. Maybe it’s not mine.”
“I drove over,” he says. “An older guy. … He had it in a case. He opened it up. I instantly knew it was mine—the same nicks, belt scratches.”
The older guy “was planning to sell it to Japanese kids on eBay,” Catz says. “But he was kind. He gave me the lower of the high prices. But whatever. I [originally] got it for free so I can’t complain so much. I’m not a big believer in destiny or fate or those kinds of things, but it was just too big of a coincidence to let it go.”
So now, after all these years, he’s finally got the guitar back. “You know how you get mad at somebody in your family and you don’t talk to them for years and then you see them and that all goes out the window,” Catz says. “It’s gorgeous. It’s more beautiful than I remembered. The surface has cracked with age. It has this beautiful patina on it. The way the Gibson finish cracked it looks like scales.”
And it’s still got a “boomy, clanky sound,” Catz says. “It sounds great.”