Dan Courtenay, of Dan’s Chelsea Guitars, located in a storefront of the Chelsea Hotel, is a fascinating character and a great story teller with a wealth of information on life, Rock and Roll, and beyond. I hung out in his store a few times over the course of a couple of weeks to get the material for the article that appears in this week’s Chelsea Now. Though I’ve lived in the hotel for 12 years, since I don’t play the guitar I had never set foot in the shop before. But I would definitely recommend popping in for a look: the guys who hang out there are cool and laid back, and the shop itself is a visual feast, filled with all manor weird, wacky old stuff.
One of the coolest items, which I didn’t really get to talk about much in the article, is a picture of Elvis at about 13 in a slightly homo-erotic embrace with another young boy who would become, in adulthood, the president of the Elvis Presley Fan Club. Dan says that the photo was plucked from the trash of the communist building across the street when they cleaned out their basement a few years ago. ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons came into the shop one time and spotted the photograph and flipped out, saying that it was one of only six known prints of that shot. He said it was by a famous African American photographer, who, it turned out, had had his studio in the basement of the commie building. Dan can’t remember the name of the photographer, so if anybody can help out in this regard, it would certainly be appreciated.
All the curiosities in the store have stories behind them, you just have to get Dan talking. Also interesting are the outsider paintings of such figures as Bob Dylan and Son House. They were painted by a homeless man from Memphis named Lamar Sorrento. Spike Lee filmed them to use in his movie “Summer of Sam,” and then wanted to get in touch with Sorrento to secure the rights. Dan was able to locate him by calling a homeless shelter in Memphis.
As for the three death’s masks that adorn the support beams of the store, the one of Christopher Walken is from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and was used to make a fake head to be chopped off and go rolling around the set. The Paul McCartney mask was apparently made by a plastic surgeon—or so Dan believes. I forget the story of the Vincent Price mask, but ask Dan and he may tell you if he’s in the mood! -- Ed Hamilton