The One-Handed Drummer

Best known as the drummer of one of the world’s best selling rock bands Def Leppard, English drummer Rick Allen continues to perform to this day with global album sales of over 100 million. Already successful and on the road to stardom in 1984, Allen was involved in an auto accident that ended up requiring his entire left arm to be amputated. Despite this setback of losing what one would normally consider to be a crucial requirement for playing drums, Allen proved above and beyond that determination and the drive to commit and succeed could bring him back to the studio and stage.

As one can clearly imagine, playing drums in a rock band is a physically demanding endeavour. Not only does one need to be able to use essentially all of the human body to play the instrument, but coordination and symmetry is key. For a drummer to lose a crucial element of playing, the already high demands of playing in a full-time rock band became far greater. Allen could have easily stepped aside from his job as many would have expected from him given the circumstances, but Allen was anxious to prove that not only could he relearn how to play the drums with one arm for the sake of the band, but also for his own personal sense of purpose and importance. “If I couldn’t play drums it would have destroyed me. If you’re thrown in the deep end you swim, and that’s basically what I did. I had to do it and with the rest of the band behind me and the encouragement I got from the people all over the world, I knew that I was going to play”, Allen reflected on the situation.

 

“What I’ve experienced through losing my arm, I wouldn’t change. The human spirit is so strong”

 

Once the decision was made that Allen would continue with the band, many hurdles and adjustments had to be made. Allen designed and built a specially made electronic drum kit that allowed him to play the parts he previously played with his right hand with his feet. Once these arrangements had been made and Allen adapted to them, his mindset and motivation to matter not only to the band but himself pushed forward throughout the 1980s. Two years after losing his arm, Allen and Def Leppard released their career highlight album Hysteria, topping charts worldwide and selling over 25 million copies and counting.

To recover and continue one’s physical livelihood after a devastating accident is one thing, but to have the mental fortitude and commitment to importance and determination to go on to create one of the world’s best selling albums is a level above and beyond. When a person is truly anxious to matter, even the biggest set-backs and tragedies can be overcome to pave the road to success and redemption.

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