In March, the Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels officially opened in Las Vegas, on the bones of what for much of my career was where I stayed while in town, the Hard Rock Las Vegas.
I miss the old Hard Rock—not because they had good video poker (they did) and that great circular bar in the center, or the good restaurants or insane pool parties. I miss the rock ‘n’ roll stuff. I miss the portraits of Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley in the hallways and the guest rooms. I miss the omnipresent nods to the history of rock.
Most of all, I miss the memorabilia. When Sir Richard Branson, the flamboyant billionaire Virgin Hotels founder, bought the Hard Rock, he was coy about what happens to all that great, historical rock memorabilia now. At the time, he said he bought the memorabilia right along with the hotel. In June 2020, tractor-trailers hauled the invaluable items to an “undisclosed location.” We’re still waiting for the collection to resurface.
Here’s hoping it resurfaces soon, because there was a lot of very cool stuff in there: Elvis Presley’s key to the city of Las Vegas. The jacket Jimi Hendrix wore on the day of his death. Johnny Cash’s autographed Martin guitar. A complete display of Beatles memorabilia, from the lunch boxes and trading cards of their Fab Four days to John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “Imagine,” to a copy of the National Enquirer with the picture of Lennon’s body snapped secretly by a tabloid photographer in the New York City morgue.
They even displayed a section of the fuselage from the plane Otis Redding went down in, for crying out loud. You could still see his name painted on the side.
It was all part of the original collection of Hard Rock co-founder Peter Morton at the Hard Rock in Vegas, which he kept when he sold the Hard Rock cafes to the Rank Group in 1995, and thus, was not part of the deal when the Seminole Tribe acquired Hard Rock International from Rank in 2007. Hard Rock International’s memorabilia collection is separate from the one that I used to spend hours perusing in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, the former JACK Casino was officially rechristened last month as Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati, with its own fresh collection of rock memorabilia. That collection includes a handmade dress worn by Lady Gaga for Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, Eddie Van Halen’s 1996 Porsche, a 1976 Harley customized for Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, and costumes first worn by artists including KISS, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Steven Tyler and others.
I’m sorry. As interesting as all that stuff is, how do you top Otis’ plane or Lennon’s handwritten lyrics? The good news is that Hard Rock International has a vast collection of memorabilia that can be rotated in and out of its various properties, and they’re always collecting more.
Of course, I’m adding to my own collection of rock memorabilia. I’m looking into acquiring Ozzy Osbourne’s trash can, and Brian Wilson’s hanky, and I’ve got a line on half a cheese sandwich thrown out by Buddy Holly. And then there’s Eric Clapton’s tool shed, complete with the weed wacker he once used to trim his hedges.
I’m open to any offers. Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching for Sir Richard to resurrect some of the stuff from Hard Rock Vegas. Next time I see him, I’ll ask. (I think he’s avoiding me because he owes me money.)
Speaking of ancient rock history, Las Vegas is awash in rock ‘n’ roll residencies as live entertainment makes its return. The Righteous Brothers are doing a three-month residency at the South Point. (Well, it’s really the Righteous Brother, Bill Medley, and his new partner Bucky Heard.) This month, Carlos Santana resumes his residency at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. In the fall, Rod Stewart starts a residency at Caesars Palace.
However, Las Vegas residencies—which, of course, began with the Rat Pack at the Sands when I was just a baby—have now spilled out to the next generation of rock entertainers. Gwen Stefani at Planet Hollywood. Bruno Mars at Park MGM. Katy Perry at Resorts World. The Backstreet Boys at Planet Hollywood over Christmas.
So, it’s come to this. Boy bands and judges from The Voice are replacing the rock idols of my youth, who replaced the crooners of my parents’ youth on Las Vegas stages. Oh, well. I guess it’s time to go collect some new memorabilia. Maybe I can swipe a jacket from Bruno Mars.
Did I mention I have a line on Boy George’s retainer?