Billy McLaughlin: Dystonia forces Guitarist to Play Left Handed

American guitarist Billy McLaughlin plays here his composition “Fingerdance” together with a string quartet. Quite an enjoyable combination of sounds.

Now, after watching this video, you will hardly believe that Billy used to be a right-handed guitarist before switching to left-handed in 2004.
Here is his incredible story of as found in his official website
The Past – A serious professional in his teens, McLaughlin left his home and rock band in Minneapolis for the University of Southern California guitar department where he became interested in minimalist composers Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. Employing what would become his signature style of placing both hands on the fretboard, McLaughlin began composing for his first release using a technique of ‘hammer-ons” and ‘pull-offs” that create a harp-like effect on the acoustic guitar. This unusual approach led Billy to extensive national touring earning multiple NACA Campus Entertainer awards. In 1995 McLaughlin signed a multi-album international contract with Virgin Records label Narada whose first release, Fingerdance, peaked at #7 on the Billboard charts. Hundreds of shows a year and another release deep into the contract with Narada, he began struggling with his hands – something felt ‘off” and it was getting worse.
 
For two years he struggled with a mysterious and unrelenting condition of unexplainable muscle spasms and contractions. Shockingly as symptoms grew worse he could no longer perform most of his own repertoire. In 2001, Billy was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder called focal dystonia. The diagnosis was confirmed at the Mayo Clinic. Going against doctors’ recommendations to quit music and look for other work, McLaughlin focused on his songwriting and returned to his rock band which was less demanding for his hands. Despite releasing his ensemble’s best recording, Finally – Live! (2002) it was clear that focal dystonia had ended McLaughlin’s career as a virtuoso guitarist.
 
The Challenge – Feeling utterly lost without his music and not willing to give up, McLaughlin began the unlikely journey of teaching himself to play in his signature style, left-handed! Late in 2004 a documentary film crew began following McLaughlin’s desperate attempt to regain his career. Warned by doctors of a higher likelihood for developing focal dystonia in his remaining good hand, McLaughlin chose to press on towards an ambitious goal he had yet to achieve – to perform and record a new project with a string orchestra.
 
In January 2007, McLaughlin published a limited release of Into the Light, a concert recording of compositions for acoustic guitar with string orchestra. This collaboration with Grammy nominated arranger, Eugenio Toussaint, is McLaughlin’s first recording as a left-handed guitarist. In 2008, Coming Back Alive, a companion DVD shot by volunteers from the WWE broadcast crew capturing the historic performance was completed and released via direct marketing.
Thanks to John Myers for sharing this video on our facebook page.
By Miche Archetto

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