CORNER BROOK, N.L. — Denny Solo may have been given a bad break, but he still considers himself a lucky man with an awful lot to live for.
The Corner Brook man, renowned in the music community as one of the finest drummers Newfoundland and Labrador has ever produced, was diagnosed in December with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a devastating neurodegenerative disease that results in progressive paralysis. Eighty per cent of those who have it die within two to five years.
Solo, 57, is determined to be in that 20 per cent who defy the odds. Even if he’s not that lucky, he is not about to feel sorry for himself.
“I have two to five years to live, not two to five years to die,” Solo said in an interview. “And I’m not going to let them (doctors) tell me when I’m going to die. God tells you when you’re going to die and not a doctor.”
It was about two years ago when Solo first noticed his left foot slipping a bit when he walked. Then it started to drag and he would often scuff his toes on the ground or even trip. Eventually, both of his legs began feeling heavy below the knees. At night, he would be plagued by muscle cramps and endured disturbed sleeping patterns for a year before he was finally diagnosed.
Solo, who took his first drum lesson at age 12 and played his first live gig at age 17, particularly noticed the symptoms when drumming. As a left-handed drummer, it was his left foot which had always been the strongest and which he used to beat his big bass drum. As his left foot became weaker, he relied more on a double beater, which allowed him to switch to his right foot if the left got too tired.
Eventually, Solo had to switch the entire lower part of his drum kit to a right-footed setup, although he maintained the upper components for a left-handed player.
That’s how he played his last live gig months ago. He still drums, but it’s now more of a therapeutic activity on his kit in the basement or on a pad in his living room.
In the late 1980s, many local musicians began using programmable drum machines for local club gigs, a decision which left live drummers like Solo with fewer opportunities to make a living.
It was around that time Solo took a job as an outside worker with the city of Corner Brook, a job he held right up until he had to go on long-term disability late last year.
He thought he was lucky to get the job when he did, since downturns in the economy shortly thereafter meant fewer gigs and less money for even the guitarists and singers who had abandoned live drums.