Chained Melody: Dallas Musicians Battle Gear Thieves

The first guitar Leah Lane of Rosegarden Funeral Party picked up when she was a child was an original Fender Jazzmaster, demonic red in color. With its floating bridge and anchored tailpiece design, the original 1960s version, known as the “Jazz Bomb,” also had a floating vibrato, tremolo locking system and distinctive single-coil pickups that Fender claimed was wired into an entirely new control layout.

The Jazzmaster was popular with underground bands throughout the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s as they shifted from punk and new wave to alternative, grunge and indie. Portishead’s Adrian Utley, the Cure’s Robert Smith and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke all played one. Elvis Costello saw one in a store window and thought it was a “Strat that somebody had cut a bit off,” he told Fender in a 2008 video. “I went in and tried it out, and it certainly played better than my guitar, so I traded a brand-new guitar in for … I have no idea of the vintage of the one I have.”

Lane thought the one she picked up certainly played better and remembers thinking, “Wow, I could really be a good guitar player.”

On Reverb, an original 1967 Fender Jazzmaster with a blonde-ash body in excellent condition sells for $12,500, and a Lake Placid in blue goes for $20,000. Curvy like a Stratocaster, though longer and heavier because of their offset-waist body, they sell at prices that many aspiring guitar players couldn’t afford.

Lane picked up a reissue Jazzmaster in the same red color. Fender Japan had reintroduced the Jazzmaster in 1986 as a vintage-style 1962 reissue model and manufactured it until 1999. Reissued Jazzmaster range from $800 to $1,300 online.

“I loved that guitar,” Lane says. “Every guitar is unique, especially when you’re dealing with vintage. … I still miss that Jazzmaster.”

As part of the post-punk band Rosegarden Funeral Party, Lane began making waves with her Jazzmaster and a few other guitars in her early 20s. A guitarist, songwriter and vocalist, she was joined onstage by drummer Dylan Stamas, bassist Will Farrier and now by keyboardist Michael Ortega.

Rosegarden Funeral Party began garnering thousands of views on YouTube and plays on Spotify while touring all around the country. The Observer showcased Lane in March 2018 as one of the “8 Female DFW Artists Who’ve Taken a Sledgehammer to the Glass Ceiling” and again a month later as part of the “7 DFW Musicians Who Are Killing the Game but Are Still Too Young To Buy Alcohol.” The group has won or been nominated for a handful of Dallas Observer Music Awards

Fueled by her Jazzmaster and a JC120 Jazz Chorus Amp, Lane used two pedal boards with more than 15 vintage pedals that she said were integral to her sound. It was one that fans praised online.

“So many excellent things about this band! Such pure talent!!! Live show was amazing,” wrote @saraphinehurley4794 in late 2022, ending her comment with several hearts.

“You guys are blowing everyone away. Fucking amazing work friends, keep going!!!” @ockhamstaser wrote in a 2021 post.

In late July 2021, the dream Lane had been building with Rosegarden Funeral Party was interrupted by a thief who broke into the group’s van and stole her gear.

“So, I lost it all,” Lane says. “My whole rig.”

The Dallas police valued Lane’s stolen gear at $10,000. Lane had spent her lifetime collecting it, getting it in trade to create the band’s signature sound.

In 2021, Lane’s experience was shared by 130 other musicians who reported their gear stolen in Dallas, according to police data. Between 2017 and 2021, Dallas police took 826 reports of stolen musical equipment.

Last year, 131 stolen gear reports were filed.

“Trends we are seeing, specifically in the Central Patrol Division, include an increase in vehicle burglaries mainly happening during the early morning hours and on weekends,” says Michael Dennis, a Dallas police public information officer.

With the Christmas holiday around the corner, larceny and robbery crimes are poised to see their normal 20% spike in December, the National Crime Victimization Survey reports.

“But for me,” Lane says, “to be in my mid-20s and staring at the barrel of a $10,000 loss and realizing there was no way for me to earn that back and earn my gear back, it was really terrifying.”

Lane was familiar with Dallas musicians’ ongoing battle with gear thieves. Stolen gear isn’t a rare occurrence or anything new. Terrifying stories of stolen gear live on sites like Reddit, Facebook and X — from Bob Dylan’s stolen Gibson J-50N in the 1960s to Sonic Youth’s stolen gear the night before a highly anticipated performance in the late ’90s at the “Ain’t No Picnic” festival in Los Angeles.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was so distraught over his guitar’s theft in the early ’70s, he bought an ad for the missing guitar, known as “Black Beauty,” and had it run in Rolling Stone magazine for a year. “There were so many points in the journey where it could’ve gone missing — at the original airport, at customs, at the airport in Canada — but all I knew was that it wasn’t there, and in those days, nobody could trace it,” Page told Guitar World in August 2021. “We played the concert in Montreal and there was still no news on the electric guitar. It had evaporated.”

It’s still difficult for police to trace stolen equipment today. It’s not as if a black market exists for musical instruments, Robert K. Wittman, a retired FBI agent and founder of the bureau’s Art Crime Team, told Strings magazine in April 2019. Instead, criminals who steal gear are opportunists. They see value and strike.

“They’re not interested in playing the instrument, that I can assure you,” Wittman pointed out in Strings. “What they’re interested in doing is trying to make a quick flip and make as much money as they can off it.”

Over the years, that quick flip occurred at pawn shops. No questions about the why behind the sale. A quick inspection by the clerk, followed by an offer, usually far lower than the value of the item. “We usually don’t question people,” says an employee at Uncle Dan’s Pawnshop in Dallas. “We don’t want to accuse them.”

To pawn an instrument still requires a form of identification that investigators could trace if an item is reported stolen. It will be flagged when the serial number is entered into the system, the Uncle Dan’s employee says.

Serial numbers and pictures of gear are good to have when you need to file a police report. But lately, there has been an increase in thieves selling stolen property online instead of at the pawn shop, Dallas police reported.

Sites like Craigslist and Facebook do have policies that prohibit people from selling stolen property or property with serial numbers altered or removed. Listing items, however, doesn’t require a serial number.

Lane had taken steps to secure her van to prevent her gear from being stolen. She had outfitted the van with cages in the back, plywood and a divider between the front and back of the van. She also added security cameras as an extra precaution.

The security cameras were an important addition, according to Dallas police. Without surveillance footage or eyewitnesses, Dallas police said it’s challenging for investigators to find and identify suspects.

“I do have ‘Fort Knox’ on the van,” Lane says.

It wasn’t enough.

Lane had just finished playing a local show in Dallas and loaded her gear into her van. It was late July in 2021, and she drove home but didn’t unload her gear.

The next day, she woke up, went to work at a guitar store, followed by her second job at a record store. While she was working at the record store, she went out to her van to grab her Jazzmaster, only to discover it was gone.

“I was dumb enough to leave my gear in my van,” Lane says. “It is the dumbest thing that you can do.”

Lockjaw lead guitarist Rick Perry knows the feeling. He has heard his share of stories about gear theft over his more than three decades shredding guitar locally as part of heavy metal bands Warlock, Gammacide and Warbeast.

Perry knew the steps to keep his gear protected. He always locked the gear trailer when he was traveling with the band and parked it in view of their motel room window. He’d also never leave his guitars in the backstage areas, especially at smaller venues.

Smaller venues around North Texas such as the Revelers Hall in Dallas don’t have a green room like the larger venues, where musicians can lock up their gear, says Jason Roberts, a musician and co-owner of Revelers Hall. Nor do they hire security to watch the band’s instruments. Musicians, Roberts says, are usually expected to keep up with their own equipment.

And while gear being stolen from a small club wouldn’t be unheard of, Roberts says they usually don’t have to worry about it at Revelers Hall since the musicians are usually playing trumpets and trombones, not necessarily the most sought-after items for a quick flip.

Roberts did have an acoustic guitar stolen from the Hall. It was a cheap one that he had on display in the front window. “Someone threw a rock through the window and walked away with it,” Roberts says.

Something similar happened to Perry.

About a year before Lane’s guitar theft, Perry had left his gear in his hatchback in front of his house after a rehearsal one night. He woke up the next morning to discover his passenger-side car window had been shattered and his pedal board was gone.

“It wasn’t a huge thing,” Perry says. “I definitely felt violated. They had broken the window and it turned out to be a bigger hassle than anything getting that fixed. I definitely learned my lesson and always bring my stuff inside now.”

Perry figured the thief got only about $60 each for the five pedals zip-tied to the pedal board.

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The Stone Foxes playing in California. While in Dallas, their van and trailer containing all their musical equipment was stolen.

Mike Rosati

The theft stings a little more when the gear is valuable. In 2018, The Stone Foxes, a fairly popular band from San Francisco, had their van and trailer filled with gear — valued at $60,000 — stolen from the parking lot of a La Quinta Inn in Grand Prairie.

“You know what it feels like when your heart sort of drops?” The Stone Foxes’ keyboardist Elliot Peltzman told the Observer in early June 2018. “I walked around the entire hotel and thought, ‘Oh, sweet lord in heaven, these guys better be going to get gas …’ .

“All my closest friends are in bands,” he continued. “This isn’t rare. It happens relatively often. The police don’t solve it.”

Lane knows that feeling Peltzman described. She no doubt felt it shortly after she discovered her Jazzmaster and pedal board were missing. She checked her van’s security footage only to realize it had reset after 24-hours and erased the footage.

“I had just missed the window [to save it],” Lane says.

She also checked the security footage at the venue where she played, a guitar shop she had visited and the record store where she discovered the theft.

None had captured the crime.

Lane figured the theft happened overnight while she was at home. She had hosted parties and filmed music videos there.

“A lot of people were privy to the address,” she says.

Lane filed a police report. She started checking Facebook Marketplace and pawn shops within a 300-mile radius. She also posted about it on social media: “ATTENTION PLEASE: MY JAZZMASTER, MY JC-120 AND MY PEDAL BOARD WERE STOLEN FROM MY VAN. PLEASE LET ME KNOW ANYTHING.”

Desperate to find her gear, Lane also included her cell phone number with the post.

“I got harassment calls,” she says. “Some guy that we couldn’t identify claiming to have my gear and claiming to do terrible things, messing with my guitar and pedal board. That was really painful.”

Lane was hesitant to start a GoFundMe page. Her friends, fans and band weren’t hesitant to help and support her.

In early August 2021, Rosegarden Funeral Party reminded fans on social media that it was Band Camp Friday, which meant that 100% of sales profits would go to the artists. The band mentioned that since Lane’s gear was stolen, they decided to release their single “Chaos” from their new record for $5, but only on that day.

“Leah’s gear could not have been stolen at a worse time,” the band wrote in the Aug. 5, 2021, Facebook post. “We have two short tours in September and October coming up, as well as a recording session to finish our record.”

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The Stone Foxes van, which was stolen from a parking lot in Grand Prairie.

Courtesy of The Stone Foxes

As journalist Matt Wood wrote in the Observer’s “How Dallas Musicians Try to Win the Ongoing Battle of Gear Theft,” “There’s a special place in hell for those who steal people’s music equipment. The crime not only robs someone of sentimental belongings, but also a potential source of livelihood from people who (typically) can’t afford to lose it. Often getting by from gig to gig with a cheap van or trailer, musicians can be easy targets for thieves.”

They’re not always easy targets. Brother Moses drummer Corey Dill took action when he and guitarist Moses Gomez caught a couple of thieves trying to steal the gear from the band’s tour van shortly before their Oct. 19, 2021, show at the Deep Ellum Art Co.

Dill did what Dallas police don’t recommend. He chased after one of the two men who’d broken into the van. He didn’t get shot, but he did find himself in the hospital after they ran over him, according to an Oct. 19, 2021, Observer report.

“It’s totally devastating and heartbreaking that this ended up happening over something so petty,” Brother Moses vocalist James Lockhart told the Observer. “I think Corey did exactly what any of us would’ve done in that snap moment and try to stop them.”

Part of the reason is because it’s so difficult to get your gear back.

It took 50 years for Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to find “Black Beauty.” An airport employee had stolen the guitar in 1970 and kept it under his bed. After his death, his widow sold it to someone for $5,000; the buyer later returned it to Page, as Guitar World reported in an April 2021 article.

The Stone Foxes didn’t have to wait 50 years to find their equipment. The police found it a year later, “burnt to a crisp in the desert, never to be seen again,” The Stone Foxes co-founder and drummer Shannon Koehler recalled in a November 2022 interview.

Like Dill, Lane continued chasing after her gear, checking guitar stores and pawn shops, scouring Facebook Marketplace. She was on high alert as she scrolled through the images posted online, analyzing details, searching for a sign or possibly a clue that would lead her to her gear.

But there was no clue to be found, only suspicions.

“That kind of leads me to believe whoever would steal that gear was doing so to be a jerk,” Lane says. “It’s not like they tried to sell it.”

Lane never found her Jazzmaster. Instead, she replaced it with another one. And while the police report didn’t help, her fans and friends’ love and support did. The brands sold at the guitar shop where Lane works also helped her to replace the stolen gear.

“I was really lucky that all of these brands and friends supported me,” she says.

Other musicians haven’t been so lucky. So far this year, Dallas police have taken 89 reports about stolen gear, as of Sept. 30, according to Dallas police data.

Posts about stolen gear can also be found in the Facebook group “Gear Scumbags Have Stolen.” In a May 14 post, a group member shared a post by Mark “Monkeyboy” Dannells from The Burned Over, a modern baphometal band, who had shared photos of his stolen gear along with the serial numbers and described what had been stolen: a standard black Don Grosh Electrajet, a 2002 Gibson ES-333 Mahogany with James Tyler Pickups, a stingray white Ernie Ball Music Man and a Kemper Power Rack Amp with custom mojotone amp shell and 65 2×12 cabinet.

“STOLEN GEAR ALERT. Well, after an amazing night opening for Kenny Loggins, some lowlife piece(s) of shit stole our gear trailer,” Dannells wrote in an April 29 Facebook post. “All my gear is pretty unique, so in the off chance anyone in the North Texas area sees it in a Pawn Shop/Guitar Center, it should be easy to identify.”

Lane says that in her 10 tours with Rosegarden Funeral Party, she never once had her gear stolen on the road and offers several recommendations on how other musicians can keep their gear safe. For example, she suggests leaving the gear trailer at home, as well as the roof mounts and bumper cages. She calls them a “beckon that says steal me, break into me.”

Besides securing the van like “Fort Knox,” Lane also recommends taking the most valuable, stealable gear — the guitars, snare drums, keyboards and pedal boards — inside the motel room instead of leaving it in a vehicle parked near the motel room window.

“Those kinds of precautions can get forgotten,” Lane says, “and you’re more likely to get stuff taken from you.”

The band also doesn’t stay in major cities when they’re on tour. If they’re playing in New York, Lane says that they’ll stay outside of the city in an unassuming motel.

“No matter how fun the party sounds, it is a bigger bummer to lose your gear,” Lane says.