Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, right, and Phineas Martin, co-owner of Buckdancer’s Choice music store in Portland, hold a 1967 Gibson ES-335 electric guitar at the shop last month. Bonamassa, who was in Portland for a show at Merrill Auditorium, bought the guitar, which has previously been owned by Rick Lemay of Saco for 54 years. Courtesy of Buckdancer’s Choice

Rick Lemay got the call when he was picking up ice cream for a birthday party.

Someone had bought his guitar from the Portland music store Buckdancer’s Choice, where it had been displayed behind glass since April.

This wasn’t just any guitar. It was a 1967 Gibson ES-335 electric guitar with a distinctive cherry finish that Lemay, who lives in Saco, had owned and played since he was in high school more than 50 years ago.

It wasn’t just any buyer, either. The man who walked into the shop, musician Joe Bonamassa, was playing a show in town at Merrill Auditorium. In addition to being a blues guitar virtuoso and three-time Grammy Award nominee, Bonamassa also is an avid collector.

Shortly before that day in August, Lemay had said he was convinced the guitar wouldn’t sell. He was ready to just keep it. But Buckdancer’s Choice co-owner Tim Emery told him to be patient, almost like he knew the right buyer was out there waiting.

“I miss it, sure,” Lemay said of the instrument that was with him his entire adult life. “I have such amazing memories playing that guitar. But I have this memory now, too, of seeing it in the hands of a professional musician like him. I’m so glad it turned out the way it did.”



When Lemay, who grew up in Waltham, Mass., started to get serious about playing guitar as a teenager, he had his eye on a particular model. It wasn’t a Gibson.

“The guitar I wanted was a Guild Starfire, so I was sort of keeping my eye out for that,” he said.

One day in 1968, he was walking down Boylston Street in Boston with a friend. They went into a music shop, Boston Music Company.

“It wasn’t a guitar shop really,” Lemay said. “They sold grand pianos and other more formal stuff, but they had a couple electric guitars.”

One of them was a Guild Starfire, a sort of rival to the Gibson and Fender electrics that were so popular. Lemay decided he would buy it, but he needed to go back home and get the money. When he returned the next day, though, the guitar was gone.


The only other guitar left was a Gibson ES-335. Lemay needed a semi-hollow body guitar to upgrade from the Swedish solid-body Hagstrom he had been playing in a band with his friends. So, he decided to give the Gibson a try.

“It turned out to be the best decision of my life,” he said.


Lemay played the guitar throughout high school and college, including at gigs in Boston’s club scene.

In the summer of 1972, he and his band had a 10-week contract to play six nights a week at a place in the city. He lived in Lexington at the time.

“Every night, I would take this guitar and hitchhike to Boston (about 15 miles away),” Lemay said. “I’d get there in time to play the gig and then I’d hitchhike home at 2 a.m. Can you imagine doing that today? It’s amazing the guitar survived.”


The band didn’t last, and Lemay finished college. He played in other bands around Boston through the 1970s but knew he wouldn’t be a professional musician.

Instead, Lemay went to medical school. For his internship, he was sent to Maine Medical Center in Portland. The guitar came too.

“I really stopped playing it around 1984 when I started my internship,” he said. “I just didn’t have time.”

Lemay has been in Maine ever since, working for many years as a physician for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.


It wasn’t until 2011, when he moved from full time to part time, that Lemay started playing guitar again. He hooked up with some old friends from high school and they formed a band, Blues Watch, that still plays a handful of times each year, mostly in Massachusetts.


He played the Gibson still, but was turned onto another guitar – a Taylor – by a friend.

“Taylor is really more known for its acoustic guitars, but this electric model that my friend had, it felt perfect in my hands,” Lemay said.

So, he bought a similar guitar, a Taylor T3, at a local music store, Buckdancer’s Choice in Portland.

Named after lyrics in the Grateful Dead song “Uncle John’s Band,” (it’s also the name of a 1965 collection of poems by James Dickey), Buckdancer’s Choice has been a local fixture since it opened as an independent music store and repair shop in 1976.

Lemay played both guitars but eventually settled on the Taylor as his go-to.

“The Gibson sounded better – it has that great vintage sound – but I played better on the Taylor, so that was it,” he explained.


The Gibson sat unplayed.


When Lemay finally decided he was ready to sell his longtime musical companion, he returned to Buckdancer’s Choice to have it appraised.

“Rick had been coming in a while having his guitars worked on so we knew him,” said Emery, the co-owner. “The guitar was in great shape. I would say it had 99% original equipment. Nobody hangs on to stuff that long anymore.”

Emery told Lemay that he would consign the guitar. Buckdancer’s Choice would display the instrument – in a special glass case with other valuable guitars – and if and when it sold, the store would take a cut.

“We used to get a lot of these guitars back in the 70s and 80s, although they weren’t vintage then,” Emery said. “It’s a little rarer now.”


Lemay said OK.

“That was in April, and by the end of June, I called to see what was going on,” he said. “They said not to worry. Summer was coming and more people come into the store then anyway.”

Lemay happened to look at the summer concert schedule in Portland and saw Bonamassa’s name. He was coming to play a show on Aug. 18.

“I made a note because I knew he was a collector,” Lemay said. “It was a pipe dream but I thought: Wouldn’t it be amazing if he came to town, walked into the store, saw the guitar, and said ‘I want that.’”


It’s not clear what brought Bonamassa into Buckdancer’s Choice. The musician’s representatives did not respond to messages left last week.


Emery said it’s not uncommon for musicians to visit when they are in town, especially if they need a particular piece of equipment for a show.

“Usually, they send a runner,” he said, referring to a crew member.

Bonamassa, though, came in personally.

“He’s a collector, so he was here a while talking and looking at stuff,” Emery said.

Bonamassa may be just as well known for his collecting as he is for his playing. He told Guitar World magazine in 2019 that he owns more than 400 guitars.

So, how did he settle on Lemay’s Gibson?


“I don’t know, honestly,” Emery said. “Sometimes, it’s just a look or a feel.”

The asking price for Lemay’s guitar was $8,500, but Bonamassa wasn’t willing to go that high.

The two sides settled on $6,500, but only after Emery called Lemay and agreed to lower the store’s commission to make the sale happen.


Bonamassa, 45, is a guitar prodigy who started playing at age 4 and famously opened for blues legend B.B. King at 12. He has produced more than a dozen albums over the last 25 years and has toured extensively, too, often stopping in Maine.

His playing is fast and often high energy, drawing heavily on 1970s British blues guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds.


“He’s not somebody I emulate necessarily,” Lemay said. “But he’s obviously a tremendous player.”

Shortly after the sale, Buckdancer’s Choice posted a picture on its Facebook page of Bonamassa and co-owner Phineas Martin, posing with the instrument.

“Thanks Joe!!” the caption read.

Some of the biggest names in blues and rock and roll have played an ES-335, including Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Peter Frampton, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl.

Bonamassa now joins them, although Emery said it’s entirely possible the musician already has other Gibson ES-335s in his collection.



Lemay said he almost didn’t believe it when Emery told him who wanted the guitar. He essentially predicted it might happen.

The Gibson sold for a little less than Lemay wanted – some similar guitars are for sale for upwards of $10,000 on the online site Reverb – but he’s not upset.

“I took a little hit, but I think I have bragging rights because of who has it now,” he said.

It was strange, though, to part with something that had been with him so long.

“I mean, it’s going to a player who will play it, and it was just sitting at my house on the wall, which I was feeling guilty about,” Lemay said. “It should be played.”

Lemay said maybe he’ll search YouTube someday down the road for Joe Bonamassa videos and see the guitarist shredding his Gibson. Or maybe he’ll go see Bonamassa in concert the next time he’s in the Northeast. Who knows? Maybe Lemay’s longtime guitar will be on the big stage.

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