Welcome to Deke's Wonderful World of Weirdness!|
Ever wonder what Deke collects? What sparks his interest? For a fascinating and frightening glimpse of what makes Deke tick, we offer up here some of his "private stash" for you to enjoy. Enter at your own risk!
Deke has spent nearly twenty years on the road, and along the way he's stopped at practically every junk store, garage sale, thrift shop, antique mall, and overflowing trash bin in the United States. Scrounging for records in Council Bluffs, Iowa, buying guitars off flatbed trucks in Jackson, Mississippi, or stumbling across cans of Treniers-brand "Poontang" at an abandoned whorehouse in Butte, Montana... Deke has found some pretty crazy stuff along the way.
I say "armless musicians," and you say "impossible!" But when you gaze upon these pictures, you will realize that not only is it possible to play a musical instrument WITHOUT ARMS, but indeed it is something of a vaunted show business tradition! I'm always looking for more photos of armless musicians to add to this inspiring collection, so if you have any, let me know!
A cabinet photograph probably from the late 1800s or early 1900s. The armless musician is credited on the reverse as John T. Owens. The photograph (an Ivory Process) is by Wendt of Boonton, New Jersey, which means John T. Owens was probably from that area.
Henderson Brack, one-armed fiddler. Brack was a vet who got his arm blown off in the Civil War, then learned how to play the fiddle with the bow stuck between his legs. Photo courtesy Andrew Brown.
The One-Arm String Orchestra, ca. 1911 (read more here)
Two early postcards of "W.C. Williams, One Arm One Man Band, Jamestown, New York." Probably from the 1910s or 1920s, judging by the instruments.
This is all we know of armless musician Joan Whisnant, who was part of the Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium at the New York World's Fair of 1940. Anybody have any actual photographs of Joan in action?
This photo of Joan Whisnant recently surfaced. Thanks to Peter Huggins for sending it to us!
A silent film of Joan Whisnant playing guitar with her feet.
From a 1968 issue of Guitar Player magazine: The One-Armed Yankee, Jack Northup!
Billy Richards, circa 1949
Probably the best-known one-armed banjo player was a man named Emory Martin, who for many years was part of the successful Renfro Valley Barn Dance, based in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. This first picture of Emory shows him performing live on stage in Mount Pleasant, Texas, around 1950 (thanks to Andrew Brown for the photo). Jack Anglin of Johnny & Jack is on the far left, and on the wall on both sides of the stage you can see the showposter advertising Johnny & Jack and Emory Martin.
Another picture of Emory Martin, from a Renfro Valley newspaper circular that my Grandma had in her basement until I nabbed it. The Renfro Valley tent show had passed through Floyd, Virginia, in the 1940s, but she had no memory of Emory! Both my grandmothers took senior trips to visit the Renfro Valley Barn Dance up into their 80s (and the show still going strong today! www.renfrovalley.com).
Another shot of Emory Martin, published in a recent issue of the Journal Of Country Music, proves that Emory could also use his foot, along with his nub arm, to play the banjo. He was supposedly an amazing performer!
SPECIAL ARMLESS MUSICIAN HONOREE, RAY MYERS: Without question the most famous armless musician was a man named Ray Myers, who hailed from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but spent decades touring the South as a country musician and inspirational speaker. He printed at least four booklets (the first one appears to be from the 1940s, and the last one from the 1960's) but beyond that we don't know much about him. Here we've reproduced the entire first booklet and highlights from the others. Behold the wonder that is Ray Myers, armless musician!!
Another record by the same guy, Richard Miller, from when he was a kid!
Richard Miller, older (courtesy Michael Lee Allen)
More Richard Miller
The Handless Organist...
Roy Thackerson, the Fingerless Fiddler! Visit his website.
Roy Thackerson on flattop tearing through "Guitar Boogie Shuffle":
Roy Thackerson on fiddle doing "Orange Blossom Special":
Tony Melendez, contemporary armless musician. Check out www.tonymelendez.com! He calls it "toe jam music!"
Steve Samuels "Callin It A Party," The William Clarke Band 1988
Scott Key! Another amazing musician, with no hands!
Another contemporary armless musician, this one on the streets of San Diego.
A contemporary one-armed fiddle player.
The one-armed S. J. Hall plays "Jimmy Brown"
Another modern-day guy with one hand: Lefty Williams. He's got a new album out and he's great!
Mountain Heart . . . featuring a fingerless banjo player!
No fingers, no problem!
"Fingers at the Organ"
Joe Durbin, World's Only Handless Steel Guitarist
Barry Abernathy of Mountain Heart