By John Swartz
There’s an old saying, “go out with a bang.” Carl Dixon tried that. Not intentionally, and it’s the one thing in his life he’s glad he failed at.
“It drove over top of my car and crushed it. It was absolutely about as bad as it can be accident. The fact I am still alive surprised everyone.” Carl said of the April 2008 accident that changed his life.
“Imagine somebody winding up with a sledge hammer and hitting you from head to toe with it. That’s kind of how I was.”
Carl can only relate what he was told about the accident. He had one of those, “where am I,” experiences none of us want to have.
“Oh, absolutely. Not a clue where I was, how it happened, how I got there. It really was the most remarkable thing to start to piece the story together. Everything I know about what happened is from police reports and meeting other witnesses.”
That’s after he got past the accents and peculiar English dialect of his new friends. The accident happened in Australia. He’d been visiting his daughter who was staring in a television series, and doing a little music writing for the program.
“This is kind of the punchline of the story. I forgot they drive on the other side of the road for about one minute. I hit another guy head on. He escaped with very much less trauma, injuries. As I always say, he didn’t deserve anything. He just happened to run into a forgetful Canadian on the wrong side of the road. I’ve always felt bad about that. I take comfort it could have been a lot worse. He was in a much bigger vehicle so he was more cushioned from the impact.”
It’s an interesting story, but just part of a more interesting life story of the musician many people will know of as a founding member of Coney Hatch, and member of April Wine and The Guess Who.
Carl is a busy as ever. Coney Hatch has a new album, Postcard From Germany, out in November and has 5 bands he gigs with on top of his own solo concerts. That’s the music side. Since the accident he’s added motivational speaker to his resume. He’ll be in Orillia October 28 for a night at the Opera House, combining the music with the storytelling. People for sure will want to hear the music.
“For the Orillia show, the theater shows, I do material from the Guess Who, I was in April Wine for 4 years so I do a song or two from that, the Coney Hatch stuff I was part of, and a lot of my own songs I’ve written because I have 7 solo albums as well,’ Carl said.
And he’ll tell the stories from the road, travelling and otherwise. The fact he still has a music career and the story behind it is maybe as fascinating as the music he’s written.
“It was improbable,” Carl said. “My left arm and my left hand were the only part of me that wasn’t injured.”
“The prognosis when they first looked at me – and this was when I was in a coma, doing surgery – was that I was likely to end up with brain damage, blind possibly, quadriplegic, amputate one arm, amputate one leg; and that was if I lived even through the first night. From that prognosis I am a bleeding miracle really to be back where I am. I actually play and sing better than I ever did.”
So about those Australians, the doctors and nurses, did they know anything about who they had to treat?
“If they didn’t know who I was, they learned pretty quickly. Australia is a long way from the center point of my fame. I was making headlines around the world and people were checking in from all over the world,” Carl said.
As mentioned, the doctors were prepared to amputate his arm. That’s’ a frightening circumstance for anyone, and ten times as frightening for a musician.
“My wife at the time said to them, “This man’s identity is defined by his ability to play guitar. If he doesn’t have that he will have no future, so please do your best to stick his arm back on, don’t amputate it.””
At the time, Carl was determined to bounce back, not figuratively, but literally.
“I was accelerating the pace on everything because I wanted to get back to, as I thought then, the band – I was the singer for the Guess Who at the time. I wanted to get back to the band, I wanted to not let my family down and I felt like a colossal fool that I’d forgot where I was for one minute. I wanted to try and minimize the impact of my one moment of forgetfulness by pushing myself as hard as I could.”
One would think it would take years to get back to some semblance of proficiency from that kind of catastrophic event, especially when one is known to be one of the great guitarists of his time.
“It was shorter than anyone thought. I was in the hospital for about 6 months. They wanted me to stay longer. By the 4th month I got the fattest guitar pick I could find brought to me and I had it stuck on my thumb and index finger with Mactac and just started strumming very lightly.”
“They had a music therapy studio in the hospital. I started going to that and before long the instructor was asking me to teach her how to play some songs on guitar. It was 8 months after the accident I return to my first night performance, doing a gig myself again, solo acoustic, came in on crutches, sitting on a stool.”
The brightest spot on this story is Carl can still play drums. What, you ask? Carl plays drums?
“My first instrument was piano starting when I was 4 and then I went to guitar for a year, hated it, then I went to drums all through high school. On paper I have my Grade 8 conservatory in percussion and drums, so that’s’ the only instrument I’m qualified to play.”
And there’s the new skill, public speaking, he developed. He’s in demand just to tell audiences of his story and how he gained new perspective trying to return to his old self and. You’ll get to hear that at the Opera House performance.
“I never would have thought doing that (public speaking) prior to being torn to pieces. It’s really changed the direction of my life in a few ways,” Carl said.
“That’s the theme I explore; the music career and the things I learned in the process. It wasn’t just an attempt, it was a success. It was a long process and there was no guarantee I’d get to where I wanted to go because I was so broken down with the injuries.”
You can get tickets online for the October 28 event, Stories and Songs from A Life Well Rocked.