Tony Memmel bills himself as "one of Wisconsin's finest one-armed guitarists."
While the statement is true, there is much more to his music than his ability to perform it single-handedly.
Born without his left forearm, the Milwaukee singer/songwriter has involved himself in music since he was 13, learning to play the piano and guitar on his own.
"The guitar is totally self-taught. I did have some formal piano training when I started college as a music student, but to a degree," said Memmel. "I spent a lot of time practicing and learning songs I liked by ear."
Since college, Memmel has built a full-time career out of his music. In taking on the guitar as his main instrument, he also had the unique task of figuring out his own method of playing it.
"I actually use a strong duct tape to tape the pick to my arm. It's sort of elementary but it took a long time to learn how to get such a simple mechanism as duct tape just right," said Memmel, adding that he reconstructs the tape-cast every time he performs. "It doesn't take a super long time now that I kind of know what I'm looking for, but it took a long time to go through the trial and error of what would work and what didn't."
With this system, Memmel has been able to perform solo acts across the country, and has been taking the stage with his band since 2008.
"The band came around as an opportunity to play in a lot more clubs and venues, and also just to be able to play together with people who are rewarding musicians that can enhance the music," said Memmel.
Since joining forces with drummer Brian Farvour and his wife, Lesleigh, on piano, Memmel has produced three albums, including "Here We Go," which the trio released on its Web site and on iTunes in October 2010.
Fresh off a mini-tour of Wisconsin, Memmel is gearing up for a nationwide spring tour, which kicks off this Friday at the Steaming Cup in Waukesha.
"We do travel a little bit as a band, but this one's just going to be just my wife Lesleigh and I," said Memmel, whose lineup will take the duo through much of the southern and eastern United States. "I really enjoy making my way to the east coast a lot, but I've always wanted to try my hand in Nashville and Memphis. We're going to making our rounds and play some new places, trying to make some new contacts and reach some new people."
There are also a few special stops mixed in with his regular coffeehouse gigs.
"I'm going to be playing at a hospital in Dallas for a support group for children who are amputees, and also I'm going to be playing a VA medical center in Washington, D.C.," said Memmel. "I'm kind of excited to be able to do some encouraging kind of shows like that and spread my story and show people that they can do whatever they want to if they set their mind to it."
While some of his music channels his own life experiences, more of what makes Memmel's performance his own is the universal message the music conveys.
"I have a few songs that make mention of my specific situation, but the majority of my songs are about relationships, or travel. I kind of get inspired by a lot of different things," said Memmel. "I do think that just the overall theme of overcoming adversity and trying to break free of certain molds kind of makes its way into my music a lot."
In fact, it's common for people not to notice anything different about him at all.
"It's funny, because somebody actually just wrote on a Facebook photo that was posted from one of last week's shows. A guy and his son were at one of the shows, and as they were exiting, apparently the kid said to his dad, 'Hey, that guy only has one arm!' And they had been there for like an hour and he didn't even realize.
"I always take that as a little bit of a compliment because that means that my playing is at a high enough standard that you wouldn't be like, 'Hey, what's up with this guy?' I try to be the best I can be with my music and my guitar playing, so when somebody says that it's kind of a cool experience."
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.