Guest Post: Paralyzed Guitarist Kurt Skrivseth Shares His Musical Journey

I received my SCI and brachial plexus injury in 1988 during a Cesarean birth when the doctor pulled too hard on my right shoulder. This left me without the use of my legs or right hand. Growing up I progressed through a series of orthotics, walkers, and wheelchairs. I had a spinal fusion surgery when I was 9 that corrected some of my scoliosis, but made it painful to remain in a standing position. Prior to my fusion I was not able to sit upright without assistance. Shortly after high school I was able to switch from an electric wheelchair to using a manual chair full-time.

When I was 14 I saw my first live concert and I immediately wanted to play guitar. I have no finger function in my right hand and can’t grab or hold a guitar pick. I figured out I could tape my index and middle fingers together, then place a key chain size discount club card between the two fingers and use it as a guitar pick. I started playing bass about a year later. One day after school I was desperately wanting to get out some adolescent aggression on my bass, and I couldn’t find my adaptive pick anywhere.

I picked up the bass anyway and just began to try to hit the strings with my right hand. As part of my injury, I’m missing my radial nerve in my right arm, which allows my thumb to wiggle free from the joint. This ended up being a blessing in disguise and makes playing with my thumb much less effort for me than trying to use a pick. I eventually figured out how to hook my non responsive index finger under the strings to be able to pop and slap.

I continued to work on my playing and at age 19 I got my first professional gig, being hired by Best Buy as their corporate bass player, where I got to perform with Slash and Snoop Dogg. In 2011 I went to college to study composition and audio technology. Since 2015, I’ve been the recording engineer, bassist, guitarist, producer, video editor and marketing director for the piano rock band Pale People. We’ve done several northwest US tours (I do all the driving in my modified van), just released our 5th full length album, and are producing an ongoing YouTube vlog about our experience as an independent rock band.

To help pay the bills, I also teach lessons, repair instruments, and perform in musical theater productions and other various projects. I have amazingly supportive family and friends. I’ve never felt less disabled than when I’m on-stage performing.

Growing up triplegic I had no reason to think I’d be able to play guitar, let alone play it professionally, which I’ve been doing for over a decade. If there’s two things I could impart to people is to take chances and arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can.

I’m also happy to answer any questions or help someone out if they want to reach out/DM me.

– Kurt’s band Pale People is available on all streaming platforms: Bandcamp and YouTube

– Kurt’s personal Facebook Instagram @kurtskrivseth

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