5 Guitarists Who Overcame a “Career Ending” Physical Injury

Friday, September 9, 2011| by Will Chen

The world is full of people who will tell you all day that you can’t do something. That your not good enough or not smart enough. But the truth is anything is possible if you have the drive to persevere. Here’s a few stories of guitar player’s that soldiered on even when faced with "career ending" injuries.

Django Reinhardt - At the age of 18, Django Reinhardt was severely injured in a fire resulting in second and third degree burns all over his body (including his fretting hand) and paralysis of his right leg. After refusing a doctor recommended leg amputation, Django left the hospital. He eventually recovered the ability to walk with a cane but the ring and pinky finger on his fretting hand to become fused together. As such, he developed a two fingered solo style using only his index and middle finger to fret notes and his fused other digits for barre chording.

Les Paul - In 1948, a near fatal car accident in Oklahoma hospitalised Les Paul for nearly a year. The worst injury was his right arm which had been broken in three places and his elbow totally crushed. Doctors proposed amputating it but in the end it was set into a fixed position at a 90 degree angle towards his belly button which would (hopefully) allow him to strum. It took him nearly 2 years to recover and he had to adapt his playing style to accommodate the fixed position of his right arm. Additionally, Les was plagued by bad health in his elder years including a stroke and heart attack in 1975 as well as having to undergo quintuple-heart bypass operations in 1980. Yet he continued to perform until his passing in 2009.

Tony Iommi - On his last day of work at a sheet metal factory, Tony Iommi was in an unfortunate industrial accident which severed the tips off the middle and ring finger on his right (fretting) hand. After a brief attempt to learn to play right handed, he constructed padded thimbles to replace his the missing finger tips.

Pat Martino - In 1980 after two decades as a successful jazz guitarist, Pat Martino (then 36 years old) had a near fatal brain aneurysm which required immediate surgery leaving him with total amnesia. Not only were all memories of his friends and family gone, but all memories of his self including his abilities on guitar. It took him the better part of a decade to rebuild his life one relationship at a time and if not for the discovery of a primitive musical app on an early Apple computer during a stint in a locked ward in a Mt. Sinai (due to uncontrollable rage due to frustration about his condition) he might have never returned to a career in music. Though intense study he completely retaught himself the instrument and continues performing tas of this writing.

Larry Carlton - Larry Carlton made a name for himself as a session guitarist in the 70’s and 80’s. During his prime, he was rumored to have appeared on an estimated 500 recordings a year! In 1988 his career (and life) almost ended when he was the victim of a random act of violence and shot in the throat by an unknown gunman. The bullet shattered his left vocal chord and his left arm was lifeless. Fortunately, surgeons were able to repair the damage done and with therapy he was able to get back to playing in several months and was back to performing within a year.

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