Banjo playing during brain surgery

Banjo player Eddie Adcock recently had brain surgery where surgeons installed deep brain stimulator electrodes to control a tremor in his right hand. Patients are sometimes kept awake during brain surgery to interact with the surgeon and help guide the procedure. In Adcock's case, he played the banjo as the surgeon worked. From Eddie and Martha Adcock's site:
Now you can truly call Eddie Adcock the Bionic Banjo Player --and don't forget Gearhead Guitarist-- as he recovers from some remarkable brain surgeries to control a right-hand tremor.

The three-part surgery, termed Deep Brain Stimulation, involved implantation of electrodes into the brain as well as insertion of a palm-sized battery-powered generator within the chest wall, plus lead wires to connect the two. The technologically-advanced procedure was performed in multiple stages over the month of August in Nashville, Tennessee, at Vanderbilt Medical Center, a teaching and research hospital which is a world leader in neurological studies and surgeries.

Those neurosurgeons were eager to operate on Eddie, with his life-long high level of musical accomplishment and the unique requirements related to his fine motor skills. During the brain-implantation stage of the surgery, he was kept conscious in order to be able to play his Deering GoodTime banjo and assist the team of surgeons in directing the fine-tuning of their placement of electrodes in the brain -- an operating-room 'first'.

According to Eddie, "I came up in music the hard way and learned to be a trouper fast. Some of those early days were pretty rough, and I've been stomped, cut and kicked; but I never went through hell like this -- it was the most painful thing I've ever endured. And it was risky. But I did it for a reason: I'm looking forward to being able to play music the way I did years ago prior to getting this tremor. It means that much to me. I'm far from being done!"
Brain surgery and the banjo player (Thanks, Sean Ness!)


  1. Interesting, but I am glad you can’t see what’s going on on the other side of the plastic sheet.

  2. I found this so inspiring that I went to to buy one of his albums.

    The artwork on the one I chose had a Confederate flag superimposed on the banjo.

    Uhh… Since I bought the MP3 download, that means I’ll never actually touch this artwork. Does that keep my hands clean. (Please say it does.)

  3. Oh. . . I thought this was going to be an article on how they gave him a lobotomy to make him a better banjo player. . . you know, like the old joke — Q: How do you know when the stage at the Opry is perfectly level? A: when drool comes out BOTH sides of the banjo players mouth.

    (playful kidding)

  4. I wonder if having his banjo there was at all beneficial? As in, having a comforting and familiar object there with him might have calmed him down or helped release endorphins?

    Awesome vid, no matter what the banjo-haters say! :P

  5. Re: Comments: So much for respect for the elderly. Or musicians. Or brain surgery patients. Or a whole region of America.

  6. “According to Eddie, “I came up in music the hard way and learned to be a trouper fast. Some of those early days were pretty rough, and I’ve been stomped, cut and kicked; but I never went through hell like this”

  7. This may sound odd, but how was this painful? I didn’t think there were any touch-sensitive nerve endings in the brain, so the most I can come up with is skull pain, but wouldn’t that be hit with a local anaesthetic? I can understand the psychological stress associated with such a procedure (actually, I probably can’t) but it seems like from the article it actually physically hurt!

    Either way, it’s a pretty cool story and the dude’s a lot braver than I am. I’d be flipping out if they were messing with my brain and telling me to play a musical instrument.

  8. #11: even after a mere eyeball surgery i felt it would’ve been nice to have something to distract me from the whole slicing & stitching thing. but really, an iPod would’ve done the trick… i can’t play banjo & my clarinet would have made things awkward.

  9. @4
    Most, if not all, bluegrass musicians who identify with the Confederate flag do so out of reverence for their regional heritage, not for any kind of political or racial statement. So I’d say yes, your hands are clean. ;)

    What an amazing guy. I doubt I’d be able to lay there and play “Old Joe Clark” while doctors fiddled with my brains. I hope the surgery was a major success, and his tremor is gone for life.

    Reminds me of a video I saw awhile back about a man undergoing brain surgery while awake. He was asked to count while they worked, and you could see when they touched a sensitive area, because he’d just sort of blank-out, and have to relax and start over. Weird, weird stuff.

    All the best to Eddie Adcock.

  10. This is so unfair. Whenever I have people’s brains experimented on, I’m lucky if the subjects can pick their nose, much less a banjo.

  11. My father is an old bandmate of Eddie. He’s a profoundly tough man, a semi-pro boxer and racecar driver when he was young. His tremor had grown from a bother to a hindrance in the last couple of years, and he was just about forced to retire because of it. His doctor told him he could quiet the tremor with significant quantities of beer, but he said that the doctor’s orders took all the pleasure out of the drinking.

    To clarify, the reason he was playing banjo on the operating table was to allow them to fine-tune the implanted device, placing it where it would do him the most good for the skill he wanted to regain. He was able to get up and play a few numbers at the IBMA Awards less than a month after his surgery, which is remarkable. He’s already booking shows for next year, both to prove he’s still in the game and to take advantage of this spurt in notoriety.

  12. One great absurdity here: 35 years ago, Eddie had his psychedelic-grass band called Second Generation, who released an album called Head Cleaner. Take a look at the cover photo, it really is an amazing correlation to what went down this year:

  13. Whatever else this guy does in the future, he’ll be able to absolutely rule dinner-party conversation by saying, “I played banjo during my brain surgery.”

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