Items like the gun that protected Elvis Presley’s drug kit surround HRH curator Warwick Stone.
Stories of passionate kids who pursue what they love from humble beginnings to global success are cliches — fanciful and romantic tales that can inspire folks to achieve goals in their lives. But, they’re not really supposed to happen.
No one explained that last bit to Warwick Stone.
The UK native worked his way from a staffer at the old Hard Rock Cafe Los Angeles to his current position as curator and creative consultant for memorabilia for the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas.
“A lot of my job is working from a laptop,” Stone said from his wonderfully cluttered office and workshop hidden deep inside the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas. “I’m watching memorabilia auctions and placing bids. Right now, I’m watching a Beatles auction in London.”
Before making the jump to Los Angeles, Stone fell in love with rock n’ roll in the later phases of the British Invasion – as many 1970s UK bands were experimenting with new sounds, concept albums and electronic instruments. Starting in 1972, Stone began working as the Rock n’ Roll Tailor – designing outfits for the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Queen and Rod Stewart.
After leaving the UK for LA, Stone found himself working for the city’s original Hard Rock Cafe. Taking inspiration from 1980s restaurants that used a shotgun theory of decoration (filling every corner with themed items in carefully created chaos), Stone set out to fill that HRC with its own mishmash of rock music history.
“The first item I picked up was a red Gibson Les Paul Guitar originally owned by Pete Townshend. It’s still kept here (at the HRH Las Vegas).”
That guitar was the first of hundreds currently in the collection from a myriad of artists — and it would inspire the massive signage used to mark the HRH, home to the storehouse of priceless music history Stone managed to compile over the last couple of decades.
“I was inspired by the music that swirled around me growing up in England. It was an amazing time — to see the experimentation, the excitement, the new sounds. I enjoy looking for those pieces I might’ve had some contact with during that era.”
As curator and designer, Stone is in charge of selecting which items are put on public display and how they’re presented artistically. He executes those duties at the Hard Rock Hotel – all while searching, researching, bidding, buying, shipping, cataloguing and storing a seemingly endless collection of memorabilia.
An ebony shirt worn by The Man in Black dominates a Johnny Cash collection currently preserved in Stone’s storage rooms. It sits feet away from costumes worn by Brittany Spears at the height of her popularity. Lyric sheets from countless songs scribbled on scrap paper are pinned to bulletin boards, while instruments handled by the likes of Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Sheryl Crow hide in every nook and cranny.
“Obviously, now that we’ve established such a collection and such a brand, it’s much easier to gather memorabilia,” Stone said. “When bands are here in residence, or when they come in to play The Joint (the premiere HRH concert venue), we’ll approach the artists. Or, they’ll approach us and offer something for the collection.”
With new bands emerging onto the scene every year, the storehouse's swag pile is constantly growing and shifting in focus. And, with classic bands aging and fading from the scene, that mass of musical mementos becomes ever more priceless. There's a commitment to history inherent in the work that keeps pressure on Stone to maintain the search that began so humbly decades earlier.
“I don’t know how long I’ll keep at it,” Stone explained. “I never imagined I’d end up doing this in the first place, so I can’t imagine giving it up anytime soon.”
You can enjoy a quick look at some of the prime HRH artifacts below.