Home Read Features Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel | Makin’ Them Look Mean

Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel | Makin’ Them Look Mean

Track 72: Lost fingers, bad breaks, musical hooks and other missing pieces.

There’s a great line in the ’70s Paul Newman hockey movie Slapshot, where one of the Chiefs players is bashing dents in the side of the team bus, inspired by their new on-ice identity as hoods. Asked what in God’s name he’s doing to the bus, he replies — “Makin’ it look mean!” This so the bus, like the players themselves, should inspire respect among their peers and fans by persevering despite obvious injuries in battle.

The same is true with musicians. I’ve already written about Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, who returned to his role despite losing his left arm in a car crash on New Year’s Eve 1984.

Another notable one is Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who lost the tips of two fingers of his fretting hand on his last day at work in a sheet metal plant when he was 17 years old. Like Allen probably was, he was told he’d never play again — until his boss played him some music by another guitarist who was left looking mean: Django Reinhardt.

On Nov. 2, 1928, a fire in his trailer nearly killed him and his wife. Reinhardt required a year and a half in hospital to recover, and doctors wanted to amputate his right leg. He refused and managed to get around using a cane. As for his guitar playing, doctors believed he would never play again due to severe burns to his right hand — specifically his pinkie and ring finger. He had to re-learn fretting and fingering on a different guitar. The two burned fingers could only be used for chording, essentially leaving him with two working fingers on his fretting hand. This gave young Iommi all the inspiration he needed.

Grateful Dead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Jerry Garcia lost half the middle finger on his right hand when he was just four years old. His brother cut it off when they were chopping wood while on a family vacation.

Former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt went on to have an incredible career despite losing the use of his legs after a fall from a fourth-floor window in the summer of 1973 left him paralyzed from the waist down. The vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was working on his second solo album and has been in a wheelchair ever since — even on Top Of The Pops. Now retired, he put out eight albums between 1974 and 2007 plus worked with many other artists, like Nick Mason, on his 1981 solo album Fictitious Sports. But, he’s also worked with Brian Eno, Björk, Kevin Ayers, Phil Manzanera, John Cage, Scritti Politti, David Gilmour, Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Hot Chip and The Raincoats.

Speaking of drummers, Eddie Moulton of The Barbarians lost his hand in an explosion when he was 14 years old. He had a prosthetic hook-shaped hand added, to which a drumstick could be attached. The band actually had a minor hit with an autobiographical song sung by Moulton called Moulty. Zip ahead to 1:31 to get a glimpse:

Chet Baker had to re-learn the trumpet after getting a bunch of his teeth knocked out in a fight in 1966. It took him three years to retrain his embouchure and he worked in a gas station for awhile.

In 1971, Frank Zappa was pushed off the stage at The Rainbow and suffered several bad breaks in his leg, which never healed properly. His larynx was also crushed, which permanently lowered his voice. Nothing happened to Bono’s voice, but a 2014 bicycle accident left him unable to play the guitar anymore.

It’s hard to imagine Dr. John as anything other than a piano player, but before 1960 he was mainly a guitarist. Then, during a gig in Florida, he was shot. The injury to the ring finger on his left hand left him unable to play. He tried bass until settling on piano.

In January 1948, Les Paul and Mary Ford were driving on an icy stretch of Route 66 when their Buick went off the side of a railway overpass and crashed 20 feet into a ravine below. Paul, who was in the passenger seat of the convertible, shattered his elbow. Doctors intended to amputate, but instead he had it permanently set at an angle so he could continue to hold and play guitar. Even still, it took him more than a year to recover.

Legendary vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Curtis Mayfield was nearly killed in a stage accident in 1990. That summer he was left paralyzed from the neck down after stage lighting equipment fell on him while he was being introduced at an outdoor concert in Brooklyn. Unable to play the guitar, he continued to compose and sing, which he was only able to if he lay down and let gravity pull down on his chest and lungs. His 1996 album New World Order was recorded a few vocal lines at a time.

Late Mountain guitarist, vocalist and frontman Leslie West had his right leg amputated in 2011 due to complications with diabetes. He continued to record and perform until his death from a heart attack in 2020. His diabetes diagnosis came in the 1980s just as he was recovering from addictions to heroin, cocaine and morphine.

INXS guitarist Tim Fairriss has had multiple surgeries — one for a hereditary condition which causes excessive bone growth in his legs, another in 2006 for his knee and then in 2015 he had to have a finger surgically reattached after it got caught up in a boat anchor chain.

I wonder if the doctor told him “this is what you need, I’ll give you what you need.”

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.