Rockin' Without a Limb

I recall a cringeworthy piece presented on the tv program ‘Australian Story’ some years back recounting a real life tale that can only be regarded as a saxophonist's worst nightmare. After returning to his Brisbane home late one evening, sax student Phil Evans had his fingers severed and mutilated by two balaclava-clad intruders, his dreams of a career playing music all but destroyed in a few violent seconds.

It turned out that Evans was an unlucky victim of mistaken identity, attacked in revenge over stolen drugs that he had nothing to do with. I was shocked at an act of such brutal randomness and bad luck.

A sax repairer heard about the student’s plight and over two years created a prototype sax to allow Evans’ debilitated fingers to perform once again in an amazing feat of patience and ingenuity. It was a spine tingling end to an otherwise devastating scenario.

Though the story of Phil Evans was a pretty severe case, a number of rock stars and performers have been served with similarly adverse situations involving the loss of body parts. Often, grievous injury has given rise to some of the most innovative and inspiring legacies.

Dool slaps a high four to some of the most notable...

Les Paul

When Les Paul’s wife took their car off Route 66 near Davenport, Oklahoma in 1948, his career of guitar innovation was thrown into jeopardy.

With a shattered right arm and elbow, broken back, ribs, nose and collarbone, a year and half sedentary recovery gave Paul the time to draft and develop the inventions that would change the face of pop music, including early technical notes for multi-track sound recording and a design for a guitar-synthesiser that could be played with one hand.

Facing possible amputation, a specialist surgeon eventually fused Paul’s arm at a right angle, salvaging his guitar playing career and ongoing ability to kick it old school.

Jerry Garcia

Les Paul wielder, hippy-era icon and Grateful Dead backbone Jerry Garcia lost half of his right middle finger in a wood chopping accident when he was four years old. An integral guitar picking finger, the compromised digit failed to stop Garcia becoming the 13th greatest guitarists of all time, according to Rolling Stone - his searing, soaring solos one of the hallmarks of The Grateful Dead’s epic live gigs. His absent finger was also inspiration for Soundgarden’s trippy instrumental, ‘Jerry Garcia’s Finger’.

Django Reinhardt

Well before influencing myriad 20th century guitarists (including Les Paul and Jerry Garcia above), Belgian gypsy Django Reinhardt caught himself in a caravan fire that fused together two of his fingers and partially paralysed his left hand.

The accident forced Reinhardt to adopt a completely different style of playing that emphasized his first three fingers, spawning the unique sound that would make him one of the earliest and most influential twentieth century European jazz musicians.

Tony Melendez

Tony Melendez was born without arms as a result of his mother taking thalidomide during pregnancy. Learning how to sing and play guitar with his feet at age 23, two years later Melendez received world wide ovation for an inspirational performance before Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles.

Melendez is an inspiring cat who performs regularly with his ‘Toe Jam Band’ and conducts motivational speeches across the United States.

Acker Bilk

British vest wearing clarinet beast Acker Bilk claims that losing his two front teeth in a school punch-up and part of his finger in a sledging accident contributed to the development of his uniquely breathy ‘chalumeau’ sound.

As someone with a particular distrust and irrational hatred of the clarinet I would say that Bilk was punched in the head for choosing this tedious instrument in the first place.

Bilk is the most un-rock bastard on this list.

Tony Iommi

Black Sabbath axe grinder and pioneer of heavy metal riffage, mollydooker Tony Iommi lost the tips of his right middle and ring fingers in an industrial accident on the final day on the job at a sheet metal factory. To soothe the pain, his boss played him a record by Django Reinhardt and convinced him to keep playing.

After giving up trying to learn right handed, Iommi changed his guitar strings to a lighter gauge and fashioned plastic finger thimbles out of melted soap bottles, enabling him to stick to his art, subsequently becoming one of most badass looking dudes in rock.

Iommi knew that a rat handlebar was just as important as having fingers.

Rick Allen

Massively famous, though few people know him by his name, Rick Allen of Def Leppard is ‘the one armed drummer from that 80's band’. Allen went careering through his Corvette windshield in 1984 after missing a tight bend trying to overtake an Alfa-Romeo. His arm didn’t follow.

Infected when doctors attempted to re-attach it, Allen became forced, and determined, to keep rocking with Def Leppard sans limb, aided by a modified, largely electronic drum kit. Lead singer Joe Thomas would later muse that Allen became a far better drummer without the amputated left arm.

Check out his tips on one-armed tub smashing and incense burning below...

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