In the hours before John Lennon was murdered on Dec. 8, 1980, he and wife Yoko Ono posed for a Rolling Stone photo shoot with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, sat for a radio interview with RKO’s Dave Sholin, went off to a recording session at the Hit Factory studio, and autographed a couple of copies of their joint album “Double Fantasy,” which featured Lennon’s first new music in five years.
One of those autographs was famously for Mark David Chapman, the man who, a few hours later, would shoot and kill Lennon outside the Dakota apartment building at 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York City.
Another was inscribed to Salt Lake City radio station KCPX.
After 30-ish years of being owned by Utah-based DJ and former KCPX employee Gary “Wooly” Waldron, the album has changed hands a few times. This past Tuesday, it went online for a two-week bidding process being conducted by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions.
Opening price: Fifty … thousand … dollars.
And who knows where it goes from there.
“It has this very emotive and poignant history that can take it out of the normal bracket of what it’s worth,” said Giles Moon, Heritage Auctions’ consignment director for entertainment and music. “Because of that, there’s really nothing comparable. It’s really something of an unknown quantity. It could absolutely take off.”
Bert Keane, then the national promotion director for Warner Bros. Records (which oversaw manufacturing, distribution and promotion of Geffen Records), accompanied Sholin to Lennon and Ono’s apartment for the radio interview.
In a “Certificate of Authenticity” dated July 22, 2010, Keane detailed some of the day’s events and some of the history of the notched, promotional copy of the album.
“We arrived before noon and spoke with John and Yoko for approximately 2½ hours. After the interview, I had John autograph the album for Gary Waldron of KCPX radio station which he did on the inner sleeve,” Keane wrote.
The inscription, signed with a blue felt tip, reads: “To KCPX/Love, Yoko Ono/John Lennon/[caricatures of Lennon and Ono]/1980.”
The COA also details Lennon’s subsequent request for him and Ono to catch a ride in Keane’s limo to the Hit Factory. On the brief walk out to the vehicle, they encountered Chapman, and Keane encouraged Lennon to autograph the apparent fan’s own copy of “Double Fantasy.”
Meanwhile, on Dec. 16, Keane mailed his autographed promo copy to Waldron, who had been planning to use it as a call-in giveaway.
Obviously, given what had happened, that plan changed.
“I knew I couldn’t do anything with it. Beatles fans were still reeling,” Waldron told The Tribune in a 2009 interview. “For fans and people in the music business, it was very much like the Kennedy assassination. You knew where you were when you heard the news and remember it today.”
Moon said that, in the 30 years he’s done that job, this album with Utah ties is one of the more unique items he’s come across.
For one thing, obviously, there’s always interest in memorabilia tied to The Beatles: “I hate to use the term ‘iconic,’ but they are icons of the 20th century. There’s never going to be a lack of interest in them,” Moon said. “They’re the very pinnacle. No one really touches them.”
Furthermore, though he acknowledged the album’s personal inscription might deter some potential collectors, Moon is inclined to believe that will instead increase its appeal to others.
“From my point of view, that actually makes it more desirable, because it gives it a great history,” he said. “You can work your way back to the original owner. It’s very important to establish the provenance and history of an item. The history of this one is very powerful. It’s quite well-documented.”
And that history, that specific timeline, is what proved to be the crowning jewel for this album.
It was signed by Lennon just hours before he died. That makes it incredibly special.
“It’s a pretty amazing artifact. It’s one of his very last autographs he ever signed,” Moon noted. “That it was signed on the day he died makes it particularly significant. That makes it stand out.”
Heritage Auctions put the album on its website and opened it to online bidding this past Tuesday. It will stay there until April 15, when it will be transferred to a “live” auction in Dallas, starting at whatever dollar figure it’s worked its way up to in the interim. The “live” auction can still entail live internet bids, but will also include bids placed over the phone, as well as those placed by prospective buyers appearing in-person.
Waldron, now a weekend DJ for local classic rock station 103.5 FM “The Arrow,” declined a request to be interviewed anew about the piece of music history he used to own, writing in an email, “Sorry I can’t help you but I have nothing more or new to say about that.”
Moon, on the other hand, couldn’t say enough about it.
“It’s got a very interesting story,” he said. “It’s not just the signature that makes it so interesting — this is over and above any other John Lennon-signed album.”
Let’s start the bidding at …
The promo copy of “Double Fantasy” inscribed by John Lennon to Salt Lake City radio station KCPX went up for online bidding via Heritage Auctions on March 27, with a starting bid of $50,000. You can keep tabs on the bidding here. On April 15, it will be transferred to a “live” auction in Dallas, though internet and telephone bids can still be made at that time.