How Django Reinhardt, After Losing Two Fingers, Developed An Innovative Style & Inspired Black Sabbath Guitarist Toni Iommi to Do the Same

Heavy Met­al owes many debts, though it doesn’t always acknowl­edge them—debts to clas­si­cal music, through gui­tarists like Yng­wie Malm­steen, to the blues, through Led Zep­pelin and Deep Pur­ple, and to jazz, through a host of play­ers, includ­ing Black Sabbath’s gui­tarist Tony Iom­mi. But while oth­er play­ers have picked up tech­niques from the jazz idiom like blast beats and sweep pick­ing, Iom­mi found some­thing else: the moti­va­tion to relearn to play the gui­tar after los­ing three of the fin­ger­tips on his right hand in an indus­tri­al acci­dent, on his last day on the job, right before he was to embark on a Euro­pean tour. He was only 17 years old. Iom­mi nar­rates the sto­ry him­self above in “Fin­gers Bloody Fin­gers,” a pow­er­ful ani­mat­ed short by illus­tra­tor Paul Blow and ani­ma­tor Kee Koo.

After the grue­some acci­dent, Iom­mi, “extreme­ly depressed,” trag­i­cal­ly resigned him­self to nev­er play the gui­tar again — that is, until his fac­to­ry man­ag­er vis­it­ed him in the hos­pi­tal and told him the sto­ry of Djan­go Rein­hardt, the Bel­gian-Romani swing gui­tarist who lost two fin­gers in a ter­ri­ble fire at age 18, him­self just on the verge of star­dom and high­ly sought after by the great­est band­lead­ers of the day. In the clip above from the French doc­u­men­tary Trois doigts de genie (Three Fin­gers of Genius), learn how Rein­hardt over­came his dis­abil­i­ty to become one of the most famous gui­tarists of his day, and see why Iom­mi was so inspired by his sto­ry. “A less­er musi­cian would have giv­en up,” wrote Mike Springer in a pre­vi­ous post, “but Rein­hardt over­came the lim­i­ta­tion by invent­ing his own method of play­ing.” Iom­mi, of course, did the same, also along the way intro­duc­ing a lighter gauge of string, which mil­lions of rock gui­tarists now use.

Rein­hardt toured and record­ed with his own ensem­bles and with Duke Elling­ton and oth­ers. Unfor­tu­nate­ly pre­cious lit­tle footage of him exists, but you can see him above with vio­lin­ist Stephane Grap­pel­li in their Quin­tette du Hot Club and in a few oth­er short clips in this post. Once you hear Djan­go’s sto­ry of over­com­ing adver­si­ty, and once you hear him play, you’ll under­stand why he inspired Iom­mi to push through his own pain and lim­i­ta­tions to become one of the most influ­en­tial gui­tarists of his gen­er­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Djan­go Rein­hardt and the Inspir­ing Sto­ry Behind His Gui­tar Tech­nique

Djan­go Rein­hardt Demon­strates His Gui­tar Genius in Rare Footage From the 1930s, 40s & 50s

Heavy Met­al: BBC Film Explores the Music, Per­son­al­i­ties & Great Cloth­ing That Hit the Stage in the 1980s

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • Ben Robertson says:

    Djan­go did not lose two fin­gers. All you have to do is look at any pho­to of him or sim­ply watch this film to see that. He lost par­tial USE of the last two fin­gers of his left hand after the fire. The scar­ring of the ten­dons left his ring and lit­tle fin­gers per­ma­nent­ly bent in a claw shape. Being unable to straight­en those fin­gers out, he had to cre­ate new ways of fin­ger­ing chords, and he soloed with just two fin­gers. He was able to use the crip­pled fin­gers in chord­ing by using them on the first few strings, and he also used them in play­ing octaves Today we strug­gle to recre­ate his solos with ful­ly func­tion­ing left hands.

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