When drummer Ricky McKinnie lost his sight from glaucoma in 1975, he was never going to let it stop him from doing what he loves most. He had been playing drums since the age of twelve and was given the “most talented musician” award in high school, after which he attended Decamp College in Atlanta. Then, fifteen years ago, McKinnie found his perfect musical outlet – working with the Grammy award-winning Gospel act The Blind Boys Of Alabama, a group with four blind members.
“I just kept doing what I was doing,” says McKinnie in regards to his joining The Blind Boys. The drummer had been playing with another Gospel group at the time he joined. “Even though I couldn’t see, I could feel the beat,” McKinnie says. “It’s pretty much all in the touch. I have what is called phantom sight, which means I had sight long enough that I can imagine things in my head. All of that works together to help me play.”
Although McKinnie did not record The Blind Boys’ latest album, Atom Bomb, he can be heard on the band’s live recordings and on their Go Tell It On The Mountain DVD. “In order to be a good Gospel drummer,” he says, “you have to be steady with your beat. I’ve also learned to adjust the feel to take the music where it needs to go.”
McKinnie is a positive soul. “My motto is, I’m not blind – I just can’t see,” he insists. “I’ve always told people that I’ve been able to take a disability and turn it into an ability. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”