The beating heart of British hard rock band Def Leppard, Rick Allen is an incredible example of strength, perseverance, resilience, and unconditional love for rock music.
After replying to a notice board ad in 1978, he became the drummer of a super-star rock band at just fifteen.
As Def Leppard quickly became successful, opening at massive arenas for acts such as AC/DC, everything seemed to be working magically for this enfant prodige.
Life, however, had some obstacles ready to throw at him: at 21, after a terrible car accident, Rick lost his left arm, having to face one of any musician’s worst nightmares.
Luckily, he never gave up. Allen and his bandmates found some clever solutions that allowed him to continue his career as one of the best drummers in music history: Def Leppard could continue walking on their extremely successful rock’n’roll path.
What happened to Rick Allen? How did he lose his arm? How did he manage to come back to stardom? How did the accident affect his drumming style? Let’s find out.
If you’ve come to find out how Rick Allen plays, check out this video from Rick’s drum tec, which shows the hybrid acoustic/electronic set that he uses:
Rick Allen lost his left arm after a hideous car accident.
On New Year’s Eve 1984, Allen was driving his Corvette C4 on the A57, a road immersed in the English countryside. While trying to pass another vehicle, Allen suddenly lost control of the car. The impact with a stone wall and the subsequent wreck in a field bounced the driver out of the vehicle. Rick survived but his arm was cut off, probably by the seating belt, which wasn’t properly locked.
At the hospital, doctors initially managed to reattach the arm to his body, but an infection soon took its toll and the limb had to be amputated again.
How could he get back to drumming?
After the very first days following the accident, Allen convinced himself he could overcome this major difficulty and go ahead with his career.
While at the hospital, he had a piece of foam rubber at the foot of the bed to prevent him from sliding down. At some point, he started tapping and tapping on the foam, realizing that his feet could represent the solution he was looking for to keep playing drums for Def Leppard.
A valiant return
Moving from the basic idea of using his left foot instead of his left arm, Rick Allen developed a new custom drumkit, that allowed him to get back on stage.
It took him two years, spent between self-doubt and some really hard work on his new drumkit, but Allen made his brave return to Def Leppard in 1986, in a tour that culminated at the Monster of Rock festival.
His return to the legendary rock band was just the beginning of a new series of endeavors that led him to create art and communities around what seemed to have been his major setback in life.
A new approach
As we can read on Rick’s official website, playing drums is now a sort of spiritual activity for him. It is an active meditation, during which the musician can connect the body, the mind, and the spirit.
This new point of view led Allen to pursue many more activities, in the fields of music, art, and solidarity.
The One Hand Drum Company
One of his endeavors is the Raven Drum Foundation, a charity, founded with the help of his wife Lauren Monroe, that aims at helping disabled and needy people.
The Foundation offers healing arts programs, educating and empowering people in crisis or veterans undergoing a rough patch.
To fund the Raven Drum, Rick Allen constituted the One Hand Drum Company, through which he sells exclusive merch items and articles, directing most of the proceeds to his charity.
His drumming style
Rick Allen is praised for his energetic drumming and precise timing.
Even with one arm, he is still able to impress the audience with powerful solos and tricky drumming solutions on many hits.
While he taught himself most of what he knows, his handicap forced him to adopt a more studied approach. For this reason, he often expressed the belief he became a better drummer after the accident.
Rick Allen’s Drum Set
Rick Allen’s drum set is a hybrid of acoustic and electronic drums. He had to modify his acoustic drumkit to be able to play with a single arm. The main change in his playing was switching from his left arm to his left foot to control a series of pedals that substitute some classic components of the kit.
In a 2012 interview, he explained he prefers to focus on the acoustic elements of his drumkit in the recording studio, where he has a chance to experiment more and record multiple tracks. Therefore, his drum set features a lot more additions than a conventional one.
On stage, however, he had to add a software-based sampler with mesh pads (initially made by Simmons) to his acoustic snare drum and acoustic cymbals. This solution helps him play the trickiest parts.
With his left foot, he hits an electronic hi-hat, a bass drum, a snare drum, and a tom drum, with some impressive results. Surprising how with practice even this is possible.
In conclusion, Rick Allen is an outstanding figure in the history of rock’n’roll, not merely as a great drummer or as a strong resilient man, but as someone brave, who decided to use his setbacks as a push to give back to others, with both his music and his charity activities. He is also a living example of how technology can help disabled musicians if used creatively.