The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #8814   Message #1454671
Posted By: PoppaGator
07-Apr-05 - 03:14 PM
Thread Name: Playing inspite of injury/disability
Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
Muttley, thanks for reviving this old thread. Your story is pretty amazing. I was especially interested to learn (after reading about so many other problems) how you lost much of your vocal abilities. I'm dealing with something similar right now.

I was diagnosed with cancer of the right tonsil about a year and a half ago (January '04), and completed radiation/chemo treatment almost exactly a year ago, in April. The inside of my throat is almost entirely scar tissue ~ very stiff and constricted ~ and I also have suffered farily serious damage to my salivary function. This has made it difficult both to eat (obviously enough) and to sing.

The damaged throat tissue has severely cut back my vocal range (in terms of pitch), and makes it especially difficult to sing softly and quietly. It seems that projecting a lot of air forcibly through the throat ~ shouting, in other words ~ is most effective in shaping the passage appropriately to hit a given note. When I try to sing in a more subtle manner, I can't control pitch, and waver all over the place.

The lack of saliva causes severe dryness after two or three minutes (i.e., one song), making it difficult if not impossible to continue singing.

I am told that the healing process takes three years; I'm just one year into it right now. Things have improved steadily so far, and I can hope for continued progress for another two years.

(The good news, by the way, is that the treatment succeeded in wiping out the cancer completely. So I really can't complain, but the side effects of the radiation have been fairly serious.)

For several years, I've also been dealing with arthritic fingers. I've found that glucosamine helps, coupled with regular playing. When I go even one day without picking up my guitar for at least 20-30 minutes, I am noticeably stiffer the following day when I try to get back to playing.

Some notable guitar players with hand problems:

Django Rinehardt was born with a couple of fingers missing on his left hand. How did he become one of the greatest guitarists of all time? I suppose nobody told him he couldn't do it. I'm not sure which fingers were missing, and I don't know if there is any film footage showing how he compensated for his disability to make chords, etc.

Jerry Garcia lost one finger on his right hand during childhood. Of course, he became most famous as an electric guitar player using a flatpick, which doesn't require a full set of right-hand fingers. However, before the folk-rock era, Jerry was a world-class banjo picker, which would normally require a complete right hand.

Mac Rebbenack (Dr. John) was originally a guitar player until he took a gunshot wound to the hand, causing him to switch to piano. He didn't lose any fingers, but sustained some nerve damage and lost strength in his fingers. It's kind of surprising that he'd be able to play the piano but not the guitar; the damage must have been to the left hand, leaving his fingers too weak to fret guitar strings but strong enough to strike piano keys. He eventually regained the ability to play guitar (notably as an accompanyist on Professor Longhair's final two albums on the Alligator label), but he remains primarily a pianist.