Thursday, August 13, 2020
Bruce Innes: The show must go on
Bruce Innes says one thing he didn’t lose was the memory of the songs he sings.
Sunday, May 3, 2015


                Bruces Innes can’t wait to get back on stage.

                But, first, he must learn how to pick up and carry his guitars, including the 1949 Martin which weighs 25 pounds in its case and the bigger guitar, which weighs 40 pounds.

                He must learn how to take those guitars out of their cases without losing his balance. And he must relearn how to play them while standing on his two feet.

                His myriad of fans are just happy that it looks as if he will be able to play again, following a horrific accident they thought might rob him of the ability to perform.

                Innes has legions of fans around the world thanks in part to his 1969 hit “One Tin Soldier.” He was pumping gas at the Sun Valley Sinclair service station in mid-October when a motorist accidentally backed into him and two other vehicles and over a fuel pump.

He was flown by air ambulance to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center—Idaho’s regional trauma center in Boise. There he spent the next five weeks in a coma with a couple head injuries, his left leg shattered, several ribs broken and his body battered and bloodied.

                “I can’t even remember getting up that morning,” he says. “I don’t have any retention of the next month and a half.”

Innes characterizes what happened to him as a “most inconvenient thing.”

The last time he was in a hospital was when he and Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills were touring hospitals in Japan visiting with American G.I.s wounded in the Vietnam War.

“I never even got sick,” he says. “I got banged up a few times playing hockey, but that was usually over in a couple days.”

Innes came to while being transferred from the hospital to a rehab facility.

It was the first real sign of hope for his wife Wanda, who had slept on the couch next to him for more than two months following the accident.

 “Someone asked me recently how Wanda was and I said, ‘She’s covered in gold stars.’ He said, ‘Bruce, all of us have known that she was covered in gold stars for years!’ ” Innes says, casting a loving gaze at his wife as they sit on the balcony of their condominium.

Coming to was just the beginning of an arduous process that Innes says resembles swimming upstream as he learns to do things like put on his socks with a long-handled pole.

The hardest thing, he says, was relearning to walk.

“I thought it would be like getting back on a bicycle—that I’d just get up and do it. But my legs looked like pencils, and I had no balance at all. They say that every day you spend on your back takes three and a half days to recuperate from.”

 Innes relearned how to walk again by marching his feet while sitting in a chair. He stood in place, his physical therapists holding him by a strap around his chest, as he practiced regaining his balance and muscle tone. And, finally, he took a step forward on his good leg, dragging the other behind him.

“I counted the tiles on the ceiling to see how far I could go. I went eight tiles the first day. I had to learn all about the physics of transferring weight—I’m still not very good at it,” he recounts.

Innes came home at Christmas to the condo that he rents overlooking the Sun Valley Golf Course.

He was unable to climb the stairs so a friend lifted him up—all 5-foot-6, 128 pounds of him—in his wheelchair and carried him up.

Now he can walk a couple blocks with Wanda’s help. When he’s able to resume fly-fishing, he says, he will have to practice first in the moving water at the Y.

“Not being able to walk after all these years affects your confidence,” he says. “You have to feel you can do it in your head or you never try. Thankfully, my physical therapist kept encouraging me.”

Every day is a struggle to do simple tasks he used to give no thought to. But Bruce has a positive attitude beyond all reason, says Wanda.

He tackles each difficult task with the same good humor and dry wit that gave birth to such songs as “Jack Daniels, You Lied to Me Again” and “Mama’s in the Sky with Elvis,” which he wrote for Ray Stevens.

“I’ve had other musicians say I’m delusional,” he quips. “It was mid-February when I started getting the idea I could live life again. I want to walk with Wanda around all these beautiful places we have here.”

Innes had been slated to perform at the Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival just a few days following the accident. And he was to have hosted 13 TV variety shows last winter in his native Alberta, Canada—the first with longtime friend Ian Tyson.

He—and others--feared for awhile that he might not be able to play the guitar or piano again.

But Rob Santa plopped a mini-Martin in his scarred hands one day and Innes was able to strum a few chords holding the guitar against his chest.

He has already began lining up gigs for this summer starting with a private party on June 21,  followed by a concert on the porch of the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch where he has several concerts lined up.

He also hopes to resume work with jazz pianist Paul Tillotson on a CD the two started last summer. The album could easily be called “Two Tough Guys,” as Tillotson has fought his own battle with cancer.

“He’s another guy I admire who has a life-saving positive attitude,” says Innes. “Here he is fighting against all odds and I call him and ask him how he’s doing, and he jokes, ‘Well, I’m up and I’m breathing.’”

Innes is nothing but complimentary about the care he’s received from the doctors and therapists who helped heal—both those in Boise and those who take care of him at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center whenever he has to make a quick trip to the emergency room.

 “It’s not the money that gets you through things like this but love,” he says. “I have one friend who brings me coffee lattes a couple times a week. There’s a young policeman who checks in on me. And the ambulance people remind me that they took care of me the day I got hurt.

“They’re like family now. It makes me feel so good about where I live—the fact that I’m a person, not a patient number. These people think of me as a friend and they’re going to do the best they know how to do for me.”

Innes is trying to build up the strength in his forearms so he can play the piano again.

He also promises he’s going to practice more than ever before—at least two hours a day as he works towards returning to stage.

 “I want to be in exactly the same shape I was in when I played last,” he says. “Again Paul Tillotson is such a role model. He’s one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard in my life and he practices like a son of a gun.  I want to do that. I just want to get better and get back at it.”


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