return to Michigan Fingerstyle Guitar Society    home    calendar    discussions    get our newsletter    newsletter archive    login

Community Weblog - [ Billy McLaughlin's Concert for the MFGS ]

Billy McLaughlin's Concert for the MFGS

From Dan House:

Last night I witnessed something very special and remarkable. I saw a man and virtuoso musician who has been struck by a nerve and muscle syndrome which threatened his career start an amazing comeback. The truly remarkable thing about this comeback was the fact he has been and continues to retrain himself to play left-handed.

In 2000, Billy McLaughlin was at the top of his game. Touring the world, several CDs under his belt, sell-out audiences... and then his world began to crumble. Week by week, he began to notice his fret-board hand (his left hand at the time) was losing accuracy and speed and he soon began to realize it was no longer under his control. He tried rest and exercises, etc... but finally realized how much trouble he was in and sought medical help.

The diagnosis was devastating. The bad news - he had Dystonia, uncontrollable muscle and nerve spasms. The good news - it was Focal Dystonia, which means it was localized which in Billy's case was/is his left hand and arm... more bad news - but once diagnosed with Focal Dystonia, chances of it spreading into full Dystonia are greater than the general public.

Eventually, Billy was fortunate enough to find the right medical team and some fellow musician's who had similar diagnoses for a support team. After lots of opinions and treatments and self-evaluation, Billy decided to attempt to relearn to play left-handed... in his own words, "I need to create some beauty again."

So he restrung his guitars "upside-down" changing the nuts and saddles to match the new configuration and began again - one day at a time.

Billy is recreating his "double-tapping" technique that was a hallmark of his earlier playing. Basically this means hammer-ons and pull-offs with both hands. The afflicted left hand now does the bass lines on the two lowest strings while the right hand which used to do the picking and strumming now is used to control the treble melody. The dexterity and fine motor skill requirements of the left hand in this technique are significantly less than the right hand and so Billy has been able to adapt beautifully.

Billy played for an hour. Yes, there were flaws (anybody out there play for an hour flawlessly?). Billy pointed most of them out himself. At times you could see the fatigue setting in towards the end of the concert. This was not easy... but it was inspirational... and hopefully the start of a successful road back to what he loves.

After a break to sell his CDs and meet and greet the fans, Billy took center stage for a 1/2 hour to talk about this journey and to answer questions from the audience that remained.

I feel blessed to have witnessed this. This was Billy's first full length public concert since his diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation began. Today, I'm heading back for a two-hour workshop with him discussing his techniques and compositions. I'm geeked!

You also may be interested in knowing that Billy's rehabilitation is the subject of a film documentary called REWIRED that is being produced. The film crew was there at the concert last night recording this small miracle. Also, an organization has been founded that has been supporting Billy in his rehabilitation and will be assisting other musicians with similar diagnoses.

You can read Billy's introductory remarks and find out more about the film, his condition, and the HEALING HANDS organization at:

...and above all, keep playing, the world needs as much beauty as we can create...

CD & Concert Reviews  


  discuss this article

view our rss feed