With just one hand, 'The Hook' kept the music going

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 30, 2009 - 8:47 PM

Musician Michael Deutsch switched from guitar to piano after losing his left hand in an industrial accident.

The Hook is dead.

Michael Deutsch, "the world's only one-handed, one-hooked, piano player extraordinaire," died of cancer June 24 in Minneapolis.

A musician all his life, Deutsch, 52, played bass guitar until he lost his left hand in a workplace accident at age 20, said his brother, Mark Deutsch, of Bloomington, Ill. Then he switched to piano and turned bad luck into opportunity.

Calling himself "The Hook" and his band "Hook's Combo," Deutsch played gigs across the Twin Cities.

He performed with various bands and backed up many national acts. Deutsch was a customer favorite at the Malt Shop in southwest Minneapolis, where he played solo piano every Wednesday and Sunday for years.

"Of course, the young are really curious" about the hook, he said in an interview with Current.com. "They'll whisper, 'Look at that.' That's OK. I don't mind. You go ahead and talk about it."

It was just another opportunity for Hook to share his beliefs and strengths.

At Eisenhower Community Center in Hopkins, he often gave talks about perseverance and overcoming adversity, Mark said. These were subjects in which he was well versed.

When Deutsch was 13, his mother and sister were killed when the family's St. Paul house burned down. His father was injured in the fire and couldn't care for him or his siblings, so they were sent to live with relatives.

After he lost his hand in a machine shop accident, there was no formal training in piano, his brother said; Deutsch taught himself to play with one hand and the hook. But he encountered a stubborn problem: The sharp end of the hook made a clinking noise when it hit the keys. He placed paper towels, toilet paper, even a cigarette butt on the end of the hook in an attempt to mute it, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, he happened upon the rubber boot of a spark plug. He cut it in half and fitted it over the end of the hook. The problem was solved.

His misfortunes, however, continued. In 1997, he had a stroke and could no longer play with groups. In 2006, his son, Michael II, was killed in a car crash.

His musical style was jazzy blues, which seems fitting given the losses in his life. But in interviews, Deutsch talked about loving the blues because it was America's music. "We have to keep it going," he said, which he did for as long as he lived.

In addition to his brother, Mark, Deutsch is survived by a son, Miles; two sisters, Donna Tschida of Austin, Texas, and Lois Johnston of Maple Grove, and a grandson. Services have been held.

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Michael Deutsch