Rocking it: Despite being born with no right hand, Ashland musician is a music natural
ASHLAND - If you catch Erin Linderman at the American Hose & Chemical Company in Mount Carmel you might immediately notice her voluptuous hair or her Janis Joplin voice.
But it might take closer inspection to notice that she's missing her strumming hand.
Linderman, 23, was born without a right hand, but that hasn't stopped her from pursuing her dream of becoming a musician.
To perform on the guitar, Linderman makes good use of what she has. Her arm is intact up to where her wrist would be, so she cleverly attaches a guitar pick to this area using brightly colored duct tape.
Once she begins performing, her hoarse, husky voice and bluesy melodies are so captivating that it's easy to forget her unusual appearance.
Linderman also quickly forgets. She works her arm as if her hand existed, frequently using the end to comb through her long, brown hair.
"Twenty-three years and you don't realize it's there," she said.
Linderman picked up the guitar at age 16 when her uncle bought her one. She had been musically active for her entire life and learning to play guitar made sense since she frequently attended local music performances.
"I always went out and saw live music," she said. "I wanted to write and sing."
In her childhood, Linderman was hooked on teen pop. Boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and other bright, catchy groups like the Spice Girls was her music of choice.
Her music taste expanded greatly when, at age 10, her stepfather, Ronald Dembinsky, came into her life. An audiophile who had attended Woodstock, Dembinsky introduced the young Linderman to other genres like rock and metal. She became influenced by his tastes in Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails.
Linderman's first formal music education came when she joined band in fifth grade. She chose the trumpet as her instrument because her "hand situation," as she describes it, meant she could only play something that used the fingers of one hand.
"And I rocked it," she said.
She performed in high school concert band, marching band and with the Schuylkill County Band. With an ear that easily detects tune, she rose to the top of her section. She was also selected for a solo when her high school band performed George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
"It was the sleaziest," she said, laughing. "It's my favorite song so far that I've ever played."
She's kept up with the instrument since graduation and recently joined the Upper Schuylkill Marching Band.
In high school Linderman sang alto in the chorus, and, as a sophomore in her first ever audition, won the lead role of Annie Oakley in "Annie Get Your Gun."
"Nobody knew I could sing," she said.
Her junior year she starred as Sarah in "Guys and Dolls," and played Irene Molloy in "Hello Dolly!" during her senior year.
With a musical background that ranges from metal to Broadway, Linderman had a wide range of inspiration when she finally picked up the guitar and began writing her own tunes.
When she performs live, which she frequently does at the Drunken Monkey, the Ashland bar she lives nearly adjacent to and bartends at, she plays a mix of every genre, ranging from crowd favorites like Johnny Cash and Lorde to lesser known bands like The Honorary Title.
Her early years in large musical groups helped her when she covers other artists.
"In marching band, I could hear when things (were) off," she said. "I can listen to a song and sing harmonies to it."
Although Linderman is open to performing almost any artist, she shies away from those that she greatly admires and instead opts to cover songs she can improve upon or tailor to her own style.
"I don't like Taylor Swift, but I play Taylor Swift," said Linderman. "I can do it as I want."
In addition to playing the guitar, Linderman has also picked up the piano and the mandolin. When she plays piano, she performs to her strengths, using running chords that she can tap out with her right hand to make the songs lush.
She's aware of her limitations on guitar, too, and knows she won't be finger picking any time soon. And sometimes her pick becomes loose while playing, but she just wraps it back up and carries on.
For now she performs alone, except on occasion when she joins what she's dubbed a "jam trio." Solo suits her best because she can work on her music, deeply personal and introspective work that she keeps ambivalent enough to be relatable to the audience.
"I'm inspired by words a lot," she said, citing poetry as a big influence. Lately she's been obsessed with the American writer Charles Bukowski.
"I feel like I get better every time I write a song and now that I've been writing poetry," she said.
While Linderman hasn't studied music on a collegiate level or lived beyond the coal region, she's not in a hurry to leave because she finds plenty of inspiration locally.
"Everyone says you have to get out of this area. I don't know if I want to," she said. "It's like a diamond in the rough in Schuylkill County."
She travels between several area venues, performing almost every weekend and many weekdays. She's frequently at the Hegins Inn and is popular at Dorko's Cafe, in Mount Carmel. Her favorite venue is American Hose & Chemical Company in Mount Carmel.
"The acoustics in it is fantastic," said Linderman. "I'm going to write a "Big in Mount Carmel" song."