Billy McLaughlin is one of the most unique guitar players around. Where most performers rely on fingerpicking, strumming or arpeggiating to create music, McLaughlin did something else entirely: Perfect an instantly recognizable music language using both hands on the fretboard. Guitarists typically play with the non-dominant hand (the left hand, for right-handed players) fingering notes and chords on the fretboard while strumming or picking the strings with the dominant one (the right). McLaughlin developed a flowing, percussive style by hammering, trilling and bending notes with both hands. In the process, he created a sound that was more akin to a dulcimer than a "traditional" guitar.
But McLaughlin received devastating news in 2001: he had developed focal dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes cramps and spasms, in his right hand. His reflexes in his right hand were severely compromised—an "incurable" diagnosis, according to McLaughlin. Rather than give up on the guitar, though, he flipped his playing style (and conventional wisdom about "handedness") by learning to play his already-unique style left-handed. As a guitar player myself, I can tell you that it's confusing, difficult and frustrating to try to play an instrument "backwards." So it's a testament to McLaughlin's spirit, will and talent that he's come out the other side of his illness as a master of left-handed playing. You'll learn about McLaughlin's life, career, diagnosis and artistic growth in the April issue of White Bear Lake Magazine.
Here's a video taken at our photo shoot at Evans Music in White Bear Lake. You can see McLaughlin's signature style on full display. Make sure to grab a copy of the magazine to learn more about this indomitable musician.