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One of the most serendipitous work injuries in history befell a teenager in a Birmingham, England sheet metal factory circa 1965.  The youth, a welder by trade, was asked to fill in for an absent co-worker whose job was to cut pieces of flattened metal under a guillotine-like blade.  It was the boy’s last day of work, and during his lunch break he contemplated not bothering to finish out his final shift, but his mother convinced him to honor his commitment to his employer, so he returned. 

That afternoon, disaster struck. Lacking the proper training to operate the machine, the 17 year old sustained a grisly work injury, as the industrial blade sliced through the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand.  Emergency medical attention was unsuccessful in reattaching the appendages, and the youth grew despondent—not merely due to the permanent disfigurement to his hand, but because of what it meant for his great passion in life: playing the guitar. 

The boy, it turns out, was left-handed, and therefore used his right hand to press down on the strings along the fretboard.  His work injury had presumably deprived him of the ability to play the guitar ever again. 

However, when the youngster’s foreman visited him in the hospital, he brought with him a record by renowned Belgian jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who, following a severe burn injury, had also lost the use of two fingers on his fretting hand.  Inspired by Reinhardt’s rise to international fame after teaching himself to fret his guitar with just two fingers, the boy grew determined that his work injury would not rob him of his nascent musical talent, either.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.  Finding it too painful to press down on the strings with the bony ends of his fingers, and demonstrating an ingenuity far beyond his years, the young Brit engineered fake fingertips for himself by melting down a plastic soap bottle and covering them with bits of a leather jacket.  The homemade prosthetics relieved the pain, but compressing the tight guitar strings still proved too difficult due to loss of sensation. 

In a flash of genius, he decided to try down-tuning the strings, lessening the tension to make them easier to press and bend.  It worked.  Suddenly the boy could play his beloved guitar again.  However, down-tuning had an unavoidable consequence: it lowered the pitch of each string, giving the guitar a deeper, darker timbre, especially when amplified.  The newly-discovered tones intrigued the guitarist, but it was all wrong for his band, a folk-rock outfit named Earth. 

Fortunately his bandmates shared their guitarist’s fondness for his aggressive new sound.  Rather than eject him from the group, they forged an entirely new musical identity around the more foreboding tones emanating from the young man’s self-forged fingertips.   Shrewdly, they agreed that ‘Earth’ no longer suited the Wagner-esque rock music they were now writing.  Serendipity struck again when a Boris Karloff film playing in a movie theater across the street from their rehearsal space delivered the band a fitting new name.  The film was calledBlack Sabbath

Now 70 years old, Tony Iommi, the boy who thought he would never play guitar again, has sold over 70 million records worldwide since 1968, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, and is widely credited for (pardon the pun) single-handedly inventing the subgenre of rock music known as heavy metal. 

Just think what he might have accomplished with a lumbar sprain.

Copyright 2018,Robert GreenlawStone Loughlin & Swanson, LLP