In early 2005, drummer Billy Brimblecom was excited about his new band, Blackpool Lights. The fledgling group he’d recently formed with ex–Get Up Kids singer Jim Suptic and two mutual friends was on the cusp of recording its debut album. Then Billy got the kind of news no one wants to hear. “A week after we played our first show, I found out that I had cancer,” he says, recalling how a biopsy of his left leg resulted in a diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma.
With their drummer’s prognosis unsure, Blackpool Lights immediately booked studio time, and Billy recorded drum tracks the weekend before he was due to begin a round of chemotherapy. “With only two days to track fourteen songs,” Billy recalls, “I prayed that I’d have a creative burst of ideas. A couple of songs weren’t completely arranged, but since we knew it would be our last opportunity to record drums for a while, we basically arranged the songs around the drums.” Billy believes his playing on This Town’s Disaster represents his best recorded work thus far.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy was unsuccessful in halting the spread of the invasive tumor, and Billy’s left leg had to be amputated just above the knee. Now cancer-free, he wears a state-of-the-art prosthetic known as a C-Leg, which features a microprocessor-controlled knee. Miraculously, other than one small equipment adjustment, not much has changed in his approach to drumming–though obviously some issues had to be dealt with. For instance, he explains, “My prosthetic foot was very unstable, so I built this little box onto the toe of my hi-hat pedal that holds it in place.” The drummer is determined to recapture the subtleties of his hi-hat playing. “I want to be able to open it up for accents or have it way open for loud, bashing parts and crescendos–just play like I normally would. I’ve definitely gotten way better at keeping time with the leg since my surgery.”
Billy admits his recovery has been bolstered by his strong religious faith, which has motivated him to play drums in his church band. “This was meant to happen,” he says, “and I was supposed to still be able to play drums. I honestly feel that my playing is better than it’s ever been. It’s great to be able to say that, considering what happened.”