This cringe-inducing story comes from George White, a free lance writer who we hope can be a regular contributor for Bluegras Today.
Every musicians’ worst nightmare is a severe injury to their fingers. For legendary banjo player Todd Taylor, it also includes a squirrel, classical music, and six potential Grammy nominations.
Taylor, 45, was hurt in late September in his backyard in Spartanburg, SC when a pellet-gun replica of an AK-47 malfunctioned, snapping a metal bar onto the ring and middle fingers of his left hand.
“When you cock it, there’s a mechanism on the side that you grab with your right hand. When I pulled it back, it stayed. When I went to put the pellet in it, that mechanism messed up and over 100 pounds of pressure got my fingers, right there at the fingernail.
When it sliced my fingers, that didn’t hurt. The pain that hurt was the pressure of my fingers being like squashed. It had malfunctioned before and I had said ‘I’m not going to fool with it anymore.’ Then I see another squirrel go runnin’. It happened fast because I was trying to get it loaded.
“There was a voice in my head like a guardian angel that said ‘don’t do it,’ but I did it anyway, and that’s what happened. It happened in the blink of the eye.”
Then it hit him.
“It was like my whole life flashed in front of me: everything that I’ve accomplished. I was like ‘Man, I can’t believe it. How could I be so stupid?’ ’’
Todd Taylor began touring the bluegrass circuit with his brother, Allen, as The Taylor Twins, and made several television appearances. He became the first banjo player to take the banjo to the Rock-n-Roll worldwide Top-40 countdown with his remake of the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem, Free Bird.
Taylor, a native of Spartanburg, has been recognized for lifetime achievement on banjo and service to South Carolina. He was presented with the Order of the Palmetto by Gov. Nikki Haley.
He currently has a new CD out, Indescribable, and is promoting his best-selling book Pickin’ Over The Speed Limit. With this year’s six possible Grammy nominations, he has had a total of 29 since 2002.
A stunned Taylor tried to downplay the injury at first.
“I went straight in the house and lost my wallet. I think I went into shock from all the blood I lost. Then I was starting to fool myself thinking that it ain’t nothing, I can just patch it up.
“When I put my fingers into the water they just laid open and I was like ‘O my God.’ Then I was on the phone to my dad to get me to the ER.”
The accident had fractured the bones in the tips of both fingers, and sliced them open requiring seven stitches each.
The question was, considering his career as a picker, how best to repair the damage. Would he be able to play again, full speed?
They administered pain medication and a tetnus shot, and rolled him into x-ray.
“The only thing I was saying the whole time ‘Am I ever going to be able to play again?’’
The doctor came in.
“He told me ‘Being who you are, and all you’ve accomplished in music and everything, we could sew those fingers up but we’re not. We’re going to send you to the best hand surgeon. We’re going to call him in and he’s going to take care of it.’
“I told him ‘That ain’t what I asked you. Give me the honest truth. You’re looking at the x-ray, tell me the truth.’ He said ‘You are one lucky man. If it would had gotten your fingers (on the knuckle) you probably wouldn’t have been able to play again like you had.’
The Good Lord was looking out for me.’’
Then came the excruciating wait for the wounds and bones to heal, for a chance to see if he could still pick.
“The first two weeks were the toughest in my life because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play again. If you don’t play the banjo for two days it’s like something’s missing in my life. A void is in your life. We you get back to playing you’re happy.’’
“Everybody said I could play again but I wanted to know for myself. I took all the bandages off and my fingers were swollen but I could do it. Then I put it up for a week and a half and that was able to determine if I was going to do it or not.’
On Oct. 9, he tried again, this time playing the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, a Grammy eligible piece he painstakingly transposed from cello, using the standard G tuning rather than playing in drop tuning as others have played it.
“The first thing in my mind, the Bach piece I’ve done has never been arranged like I’ve done there. I arranged it note for note as the cello plays it because Bach shouldn‘t be messed around with. It has some hellacious stretches.
“I could play it all and I was like ‘Thank you Jesus.’ I was on my hands and knees. It was like nothing had ever happened.”
The accident could have been a payday, but at the ultimate price for a picker.
“They said ‘you’ve got over a million dollars on your hand.’ You know what I told them ‘I don’t care. If somebody offered me $5 million never to play the banjo again I’d tell them to go jump in a lake.’ “
Hand specialist Dr. James Essman of the Carolina Hand Center treated Taylor and is encouraged.
“The patient had lacerations through the nail of the left middle and ring fingers. He also had fractures at the tips of both fingers. His prognosis is good, however it will take a couple of months for the nails to completely grow back.”
Taylor said he thinks about his hands every day and has never before had a finger injury of any kind.
“I’m lucky it was the left hand because the right hand is the real key to banjo playing.’’
A mighty close call, indeed.
Following is a list of categories in which Taylor is eligible for the 2013 Grammy Awards:
- Best Short Form Music Video — Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major — Todd Taylor (Thornton Cline; Jerry Fortenberry)
- Best Classical Instrumental Solo — Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major — from album INDESCRIBABLE, Todd Taylor (Thornton Cline; Mike Moody)
- Best Instrumental Arrangement — Bach Cello Suite No. 1 In G major — Todd Taylor, Arranger Todd Taylor
- Best Country Solo Performance — Six Gun’s — Todd Taylor, Writer Todd Taylor
- Best Instrumental Composition Composing/Arranging — Waterfall — Todd Taylor, Composer Todd Taylor
- Best Engineered Album, Non classical — INDESCRIBABLE — Todd Taylor, Mastering Engineer Todd Taylor