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One-Hand Band: Amputees Who Rock

Rock musicians and conventional looks typically don’t go together. Outrageous hair, makeup, costumes, body art, and other accessories are often as essential to rock ’n’ roll identity as the music itself. But when you’re missing an arm, you don’t have to work quite so hard at that part of the job. You’re sporting a built-in rebellion against conformity.

That’s not to imply that upper-limb amputees have any sort of edge in this insanely competitive business. They still have to hustle for gigs and scrounge for paychecks like everyone else, while searching for that same elusive, magical glue that binds fans to bands. But if limb loss doesn’t confer any advantage, neither does it impose a prohibitive hurdle. It all comes down to the same challenge facing every musician: Can you play?

Here’s a supergroup of amputees who can.

Tony Memmel

Instrument: Guitar and vocals
Genre: Americana, folk rock
Similar to: Ray LaMontagne, Avett Brothers
Where to listen: tonymemmel.com

Memmel came to fame in 2014 as a finalist in VH1’s national “Make a Band Famous” competition. The next year he made a splash at South by Southwest, and in 2016 he earned recognition from the Nashville Songwriters Association. Since then, he’s toured the world through the US State Department’s American Music Abroad program. Memmel has released six full-length albums and wrote the Lucky Fin Project’s quasi-official theme song.

Abby Caulk

Instrument: Drums
Genre: Pop, country
Similar to: Dave Mattacks, Jim Keltner
Where to listen: youtube.com/c/AbshowFosho/videos and tiktok.com/@askabshow

With more than 250,000 followers, Caulk is (presumably) the most popular one-armed woman drummer on TikTok. Percussion is actually just a small part of her TikTok repertoire. Her videos about random aspects of amputee life typically get more views. But drumming’s clearly her passion, and she has exceptionally solid technique. Caulk lists fellow Virginian Carter Beauford of the Dave Matthews Band as an influence.

Bill Clements

Instrument: Bass guitar
Genre: Jazz/rock fusion
Similar to: Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius
Where to listen: reverbnation.com/billclements/

Clements is a legend in western Michigan and nationally among bass connoisseurs. He’s been performing since the 1990s, but his fame as “the one-armed bassist” dates to the early days of YouTube, where videos of his inimitable playing caught on. His most recent project, The Bill Clements Axiom, put out an album in 2016. Check out his YouTube channel (William Clements on Bass) for some recent improvisation and solo work.

Dan Aid

Instrument: Guitar & vocals
Genre: Punk, alternative
Similar to: Green Day, Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Where to listen: danaid.bandcamp.com and authorityzero.com

Aid fronted a series of hardcore bands in Colorado before catching his break in 2016 with an invitation to join the well-regarded Authority Zero. The group typically plays  200 or so dates a year, although COVID has sidelined them since last March. Aid’s first solo album, 2018’s Phantom Pains, exhibited a gentler sound, as did the single he released last fall, “Dear Nick,” as half of the duo Big Hearts Club. He also has a budding acting career, with recent roles on NBC’s Good Girls and Hulu’s Into the Dark.

Jennifer Pos

Instrument: Keyboards
Genre: Classic rock, progressive, jazz
Similar to: Steely Dan, Pink Floyd
Where to listen: jenniferposmusic.com

The daughter of two music teachers, Pos began giving lessons herself as a teenager and went on to earn a music degree at Toronto’s prestigious Humber College. One professor there, surprised at her performance on a difficult piece, asked Pos how she managed to play so well. “You were here,” she shrugged. “You saw me do it.” Still teaching, Pos currently leads a six-piece rock/jazz group called Strike Scream Run.

Photo by Sandeep Sandhu

Jack Thomas

Instrument: Drums
Genre: Metal
Similar to: Neil Peart, Dave Lombardo
Where to listen: youtube.com/c/JackThomasDrummer

Thomas took off on social media in 2020 after posting his cover version of the love ballad from Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On.” It’s hard to imagine anything more off-brand—Thomas typically leans toward heavy metal/alternative fare such as Slipknot and Neck Deep. But the clip went semi-viral, landing Thomas thousands of new YouTube and Instagram followers, not to mention a paid gig with Drumeo. He performs with the Vancouver metal band Burn Away.

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