According to 25-year-old drummer Jim Loomis, there is always a way around something. He has seen one-handed guitarists who have either made their own prosthesis or had their prosthetist make one for them in order to continue playing. He points out that drummer Rick Allen of Def Leppard lost his entire left arm in an automobile accident but continued his career. Loomis is no different. He has also found a way around his disability. A congenital amputee below his left elbow, Loomis has been playing the drums since he was 16 and is currently in a band called Amplifiers.
Before deciding to play the drums, Loomis watched and listened to his friends jam. He got a job, saved his money and bought his first drum set. The problem was not if he could play, the problem was finding a way to feel comfortable while playing.
“Unfortunately, I did not get much help starting out in drumming,” Loomis said. “I just kind of had these ideas to help me play.”
He first tried wire straps but those did not work because they were uncomfortable and had little to no friction to help hold the sticks.
“Eventually my mom showed me these sauna belts,” Loomis explained. “They are used to help you lose weight. You strap them around your waist and you sweat. They are made of out a neoprene material. They turned out to work perfectly for drumming.”
Finding the right tension is important for disabled drummers.
“If you want to play, you have to have the right tension,” Loomis said.
He explained to O&P Business News that if you are looking to play heavier rock beats, you want the tension to be tighter so you can hit the drum harder. If you are looking to play ghost notes, you want the tension loose.
“When I first started playing, it was mostly standard rock beats,” he said. “I played a lot of AC/DC because it was easy. It just grew from there. I was just sticking with it.”
Loomis had wanted to play the drums since he was 5 or 6 years old. However, the first instrument he played was the trumpet. But he quickly quit.
“My father discouraged me from playing drums, but it had more to do with my attitude toward such endeavors at the time and nothing to do with my amputation,” Loomis explained. “I had just quit playing soccer and dropped out of band as a trumpet player so his doubt was understandable.”
It was not until his friends, who happened to play the drums, encouraged Loomis to start playing that he decided to give it a try.
“Many of my friends are drummers and many more of them are in bands and thought it would be cool if I started playing,” Loomis said. “I had lots of help from my friends Danny Mazzant and Matt Flowers. Sadly, Danny died of a heart condition a few years ago. They both taught me a lot and gave me tons of support.”
According to Loomis, it was Mazzant that got him started on the drums.
“Much of my encouragement today comes from the people who see me play or who have seen me on YouTube,” he said. “Many people have a hard time realizing that I have one hand with the way I play. I love the feeling I get from the look of astonishment on their faces after realizing my situation.”
Loomis was a camper at Adolescent Amputee Camp in Fombell, Pa. when he was 9 years old. The camp, which is just north of Pittsburgh, was closed in 2002 due to lack of funding. Loomis called the camp his savior as a child and tried to raise money to revitalize the camp. With the help of the Girl Scouts and some local media attention, the camp reopened in the summer of 2008.
“It turned out really well,” Loomis said. “We had a small gathering, being that the camp was on hiatus for such a long time. I would say we had about 15 to 20 kids from around Pittsburgh, other areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
While he has garnered a passion for photography, the formation of his band, Amplifiers, rekindled the love he had for drumming.
“I fell into a really good situation with my current band mates and as a result my passion for music has found new life.”
Anthony Calabro is a staff reporter for O&P Business News.