Ever Thought of Quitting Bass? Read This.

How some people refuse to give in to “debilitating” setbacks

By Jon Liebman

Week of July 1, 2019

I always get a smile when I sit down with my old friend, Kevin “Brandino” Brandon, and this week’s interview was no exception. During our one-on-one talk, ol’ Kev recounted how he’s been happily returning to making music amidst his recovery from a long, debilitating health setback. It’s amazing what a strong-willed person can do when confronted with obstacles that are seemingly insurmountable.

Listening to Brandino reminded me of some of the other interviews I’ve conducted with players who managed to resume their careers after overcoming crushing circumstances. Bass legend Chuck Rainey, for one, triumphantly returned to the music scene, much to the delight of us all, after suffering a stroke. More recently, I interviewed Mandy Harvey, who sings and plays guitar and bass with great conviction, despite being totally deaf. And there’s Bill Clements, a badass Michigan-based low-ender, forced to develop an entirely new bass technique from scratch after losing his right arm in a factory accident. Still others include Dann Glenn, Mike Stern, and Jay-Tee Teterissa, all of whom have remarkable stories.

How do these people do it?

Some of the more common ailments, like arthritis, or perhaps even certain neurological disorders, can often be dealt with by various means, including muscle repetition or physical therapy. While strength, determination and sheer will may not always be sufficient, they can often go a long way.

Consider Django Reinhardt. It’s almost impossible to fathom how Django managed to reinvent himself as a world-class guitarist after having lost the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand in a fire. Yet somehow he did it. I’d heard a story once about an upright bass player no longer able to use his left arm, so he concentrated on perfecting every bowing technique he could imagine.  There’s also a piece in the piano repertoire, Concerto for Left Hand, written by Maurice Ravel for a friend who had lost his right arm during World War I.

I won’t simplify things with clichés or platitudes, implying that whenever there’s a will, there’s a way. We all know that’s not always the case. I will, however, salute and commend those individuals – musicians and non-musicians alike – who have refused to give in to their circumstances, overcoming devastating setbacks where many others would have simply given up. In those people, we can truly find inspiration.

Do you know any musicians who have overcome debilitating odds and found themselves able to perform once again? Leave a comment below and share your story with the rest of us.

In the meantime, check out my latest interview with Brandino here.

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Comments on Ever Thought of Quitting Bass? Read This.

  1. Michael Kirby says:

    I know this feeling quite well, But I continue to play because I truly love it so!
    I am a long time diabetic of 44 years ( type 1 ). And these last two years have really been tough, because of hemo dialysis 4 times a week.
    But because of the God and the love I have for music, I will continue to play hymns and songs for as long as I am able.

  2. Kurt Ribak says:

    Hi- in 2012 a driver blew a stop sign and flipped my truck onto its side while I was driving with the window open. Because of the open window I had a degloving injury- lost the tendons that open/raise the fingers, broke all the fingers, and lost flesh to the bone. I had thirteen surgeries over four years, a large skin graft, and tendon grafts. It’s affected my playing but musicians say they don’t hear a disability – or if they don’t know, are unaware of it. I’ve recorded two albums post- injury and played on other people’s sessions. It’s harder, but I can still do it.

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