With his debut album “Tale of an Underdog” released March 6, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh senior Tony Memmel has had to overcome an unusual obstacle to earn his place as the music industry’s newest underdog.
Since age 14, the music business major has been telling his tale with natural talent and no left hand.
“I started learning to play upside-down on my Mom’s acoustic guitar when I was in eighth grade,” said Memmel who was born with one arm. “I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it, but then I started experimenting with different ideas to how I could secure a guitar pick to my left arm.”
By using a very strong tape called “Gorilla Tape,” Memmel is able to fasten a pick to his arm and play with the same talent as a two-handed guitar player.
Sticking to the folk/acoustic genre, Memmel sings about life, love and friendship in an instrumental blend of guitar and harmonica.
“I’m very inspired by my relationships, travel and just watching what people are doing,” Memmel said. “Watching people in the train station and the thrill of being ready to travel in the morning inspired my Train Song.”
Memmel has also picked up inspiration from listening to his grandparent’s stories. His song, “A Soldier in London in 1943,” was born from his grandfather’s memories of being led through the dark London streets by an English girl during World War II.
By spreading his inspiration and sharing his story, Memmel has touched several people in the Oshkosh community.
“There are definitely people I would consider my fans now, and they come out to see me every time I play,” Memmel said. “They are very supportive of my music and the support keeps growing with all the new stuff I do.”
Beginning to perform publicly in high school, Memmel’s appearances have increased with experience and he now plays weekly in Reeve Union’s Open Mic forum and sporadically at area bars and coffeehouses.
After being continuously urged by his friend and now recording partner Scott Puro to play in Open Mic, Memmel finally caved.
“Scott finally just wrote my name on the sign, and I played and really haven’t stopped since,” said Memmel of his first appearance at Open Mic in the spring of 2007. “The first time I played in Open Mic I was really nervous. I used to come watch all the time, but I just liked to watch.”
Now an organizer of the weekly program, Memmel opens and closes every Open Mic session and encourages new artists to take the stage.
Puro, also a UW Oshkosh student, met Memmel at school in 2005.
“I have always been impressed with Tony’s musical abilities,” Puro said. “I would sum up Tony and his music in one word – real – because he puts so much emotion into his song writing and playing.”
Memmel attributes this “real” and can-do attitude to his parents.
“There’s never anything they told me I couldn’t do,” Memmel said. “They’ve always helped me to learn to appreciate what I have and to just work with it. I was never allowed to quit things.”
Memmel will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in music business from UW Oshkosh. Following graduation, the singer-song writer has plans to get married and will continue to write music and share his passion for song with the world.
Click here to see a video of Tony Memmel.