Left of Center. Left of the Dial. The Left Hand Path. From Out of Left Field.
These and other “left” phrases associated have long been used to describe ways of thinking, living, and creating that boldly break from society’s normal, constrained expectations.
It hardly seems a coincidence, then, when such sayings also regularly get applied to heavy metal, punk, and hard rock.
Within that already “left”-leaning realm of cutting edge sounds and extreme musical artistry, then, players who are also left-handed automatically share an inborn bond, a rogue kinship, and a call to rise higher and rock harder than the rest of the righty oriented world.
Since August 13 is Left Handers Day, let’s celebrate the most righteous lefty guitar shredders, bass rumblers, and drum pounders in the most adventurous realms of rock. Left horns up!
10. Tom Hunting
Exodus drummer Tom Hunting drove the thrashtastic beats for Exodus on the Bay Area brutalizers’ first three classic albums, Bonded by Blood (1985), Pleasures of the Flesh (1987), and Fabulous Disaster (1989).
Illness sidelined Tom for a while at the end of the ’80s, after which he drummed for New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends, Angel Witch. Come 1996, Hunting rejoined Exodus for their ferocious Another Lesson in Violence album and tour.
Tom Hunting’s own left-hand turns have weaved him in an out of Exodus through the years, prompting another hiatus between 2005 and 2007. At present though, Tom is continuing to thrash out his greatness as the group’s only presently original member.
9. Paul Gray
In 1995, left-handed bass beast Paul Gray (aka The Pig; aka #2) co-founded hyperkinetic extreme metal terror squadron Slipknot with multi-percussionist Shawn Crahan (aka The Clown; aka #6).
From the get-go fuel of Slipknot’s attack was its rhythm—an unrelenting, unprecedented, and unsurpassed hell-storm driven by the band’s beat pounders and hurled forward Gray’s thunderous, groove-laden basslines. To hear that tsunami of sound was to feel Paul’s left hand personally whipping up every bottom-blasting note.
Tragically, Paul Gray died at 38 from a drug overdose in 2010. He’s another giant fallen too soon and one made even more unique by the fact that he started playing the bass-right handed, then hit full strength when he switched to his natural left.
8. Mike Bordin
Bands: Faith No More, Ozzy Osbourne
Few world-class rock ensembles more brilliantly embody a “left-field” sensibility than Faith No More. Much of that, in turn, has been delivered by way of the group’s electrifying left-handed drummer, Mike Bordin.
Bordin began playing with FNM all the way back in 1979, when they were initially known as Sharp Young Men. Through various iterations, Bordin’s drumming propelled FNM onward and upward, to the point that when they issued their avant-garde, proto-rap-rock landmark We Care a Lot in 1985, Mike's beats largely served as the focal point of the music.
Several years later, after the addition of vocalist Mike Patton, Bordin became an immediately recognizable rock star via the video for FNM’s breakthrough smash, "Epic." He was the cool drummer with the long, black dreadlocks.
Bordin remained with FNM through the rest of their rocky 1990s, but in ’96, he also joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band. At present, Mike Bordin is back behind his monster drum kit for the reunited Faith No More, continuing to hammer out weird and amazing new off-shoots of the group’s left-hand trailblazing.
7. dUg Pinnick
Band: King’s X
Left-handed bassist, full-throated vocalist, and high-minded thinker Douglas “dUg” Pinnick co-created the prog metal power trio King’s X back in 1979.
Since then, dUg has fronted the group through fifteen albums and multiple world tours. He’s also released four solo projects and tirelessly takes on other endeavors, always crafting energetic, inventive, fantastically unpredictable work.
dUg's unique approach to life, music, and conquering new artistic worlds can only come from him, and it’s simply impossible to imagine dUg not plunking out those basslines with that wizard-gifted left hand.
6. Martin Eric Ain
Band: Celtic Frost
Switzerland’s avant-garde metal masters Celtic Frost emerged from frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer previous black metal gut-grinders, Hellhammer.
They did not truly become Celtic Frost however, until Fischer changed his name to Tom G. Warrior and, more importantly, lefty bassist Martin Eric Ain came in from the Swiss cold and unleashed hell, four strings at a time.
Ain has played bass, at least in part, on five of Celtic Frost’s six albums. Somehow veered left, and temporarily out of the group, to avoid Tom G. Warrior’s ill-conceived 1988 hair metal effort, Cold Lake aka "Celtic Frosted Tips."
For Celtic Frost’s astonishing (and “final”) comeback album, 2008’s Monotheist, Ain, wielding his trademark left-handed Warwick bass, provided lead vocals on the track, “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh.”
5. Ian Paice
Band: Deep Purple
Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice has applied his speed-pumped, jazz-influenced, louder-than-life style to all 19 albums the group has released to date, being the one constant through its nearly fifty year run—a true rock seated atop a left-handed drum kit.
Paice has always been one of the best-loved musicians among canonical classic rockers. Beyond Deep Purple, Ian has also drummed for Whitesnake, the Gary Moore Band, and in collaboration with, among many others, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, David Gilmour, Paul Weller, Chad Smith, Johnny Winter, and even William Shatner.
Here’s hoping Ian gave Captain Kirk a left-handed Vulcan salute.
4. Kurt Cobain
The term “left of the dial” certainly existed before the 1990s alternative-rock revolution, but once underground bands took over mainstream FM airwaves and MTV, cultural commentators couldn’t toss it around enough.
They also couldn’t get enough of the Seattle grunge threesome that spearheaded the charge, Nirvana, especially left-handed frontman and guitarist Kurt Cobain.
The left-handedness couldn’t have fit Cobain’s persona more perfectly. During his horribly cut-short life, Kurt had the mantle of all things non-conformist and anti-establishment thrust upon him.
We know now it was too much for him to bear, but to hear Nirvana is to experience legitimate genius, and to watch Kurt tear up his favorite Fender Mustang is to witness kickass commercial rock’s last great explosion as only a lefty could set it off.
3. Joe Perry
Aerosmith guitar god Joe Perry not only looks cooler than anyone else as he wails on his beloved Gibson Les Pauls. What’s more amazing is that Joe Perry is left-handed and he plays righty.
Keen-eyed ’Smith devotee are also familiar with Perry’s other axe of choice, a series of left-handed Stratocasters that Joe busts out in concert to play “Sweet Emotion”—and he even plays those with his right hand!
“It sounds different and feels different to me,” Perry has explained. “It’s just a subtle difference. And I know the way the pickups are set in there, and the way the tension on the arm is, and the length from the nut to the tuning pegs are all different–so it has to add up to something. It’s the most comfortable guitar for me, and it stays in tune better. The only reason I play it is for the vibrato arm, and the Strat has a certain unique tone.”
2. Tony Iommi
Band: Black Sabbath
Heavy metal is the music of the Left Hand Path. Black Sabbath invented heavy metal. Tony Iommi invented Black Sabbath. It fits like the metal tips that Iommi wears on his semi-severed fingers, then, that the inventor of heavy metal music could only have been born left-handed.
Regarding those fingertips, Iommi famously lost them at 17 during an industrial accident. He’d been an enthusiastic guitarist, playing a left-handed instrument, and he remained determined to stay the course.
“Probably the easiest thing would have been to flip the guitar upside down and learn to play right-handed instead of left-handed,” Iommi writes in his 2011 memoir, Heaven and Hell. “I wish I had in hindsight, but I thought, ‘Well, I've been playing for a few years already, it's going to take me another few years to learn it that way.’ That seemed like a very long time, so I was determined to keep playing left-handed.”
And from that decision onward, all hell followed with him—to heavenly effect.
1. Jimi Hendrix
Band: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Instrument: The One Jimi Hendrix Made Famous
Jimi Hendrix not only played guitar like no other musical deity before or since his too-brief tenure among us mortals, he famously did it upside-down and backwards.
Believing that young Jimi’s left-handedness was a sign of the devil, the guitarist’s father, Al Hendrix, bullied the boy into playing his instrument right-handed. We’re not saying that was cool of Al, but we are saying that Jimi Hendrix happened as a result.
Later in life, Jimi signed autographs and often wrote as a righty, developing an ambidextrousness that applied not only to his unequaled physical playing techniques, but also to the limitless possibilities of his song crafting.
Psychologist Stephen Christman published a study on Hendrix in 2010, concluding that Jimi’s inherent lefty instincts and learned righty abilities combined to make him the greatest that ever could be.
Chrisman notes that Hendrix’s full-blown ability to lead with both hands "enabled him to integrate the actions of his left and right hands while playing guitar, to integrate the lyrics and melodies of his songs, and perhaps even to integrate the older blues and R&B traditions with the emerging folk, rock, and psychedelic sounds of the 60s.”
Also, as previously noted, Jimi Hendrix was Jimi Hendrix!