Famous Musicians Open Up About Playing with Hearing Loss

Music is a noisy business. On an average night, artists deal with beating drums, booming speakers and — for the biggest stars — thunderous applause. Multiply that and the harmful effects become apparent.

About 60 percent of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are hearing impaired, according to H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers).

Research shows that it typically takes a person seven years before they address their hearing loss process. That’s seven years too long for the estimated four million Canadians living with some form of hearing loss. Here’s how some of the world’s best-known musicians have tackled the condition.

Eric Clapton

Famed guitarist Eric Clapton was notorious for cranking up the volume in studio. He liked to turn his amp up “to eleven” — much to the dismay of his bandmates. He’d also move the microphone across from the amp to produce feedback and hold notes. “I probably had two 100-watt stacks at the height of things and I would turn one on for guitar solos. It was just mad!” he said.

Over time, Clapton developed tinnitus — a constant ringing in the ears.

Thankfully, Clapton’s condition improved once he started taking better care of his ears. “I started using Fender Deluxe Reverb amps and 50-watt Marshalls around ’97, after I started having some problems with tinnitus. It was my own doing — being irresponsible and thinking I was invincible,” said the three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and winner of 18 Grammy Awards.

His lasting advice: “Take care and wear earplugs.” It’s the best way to push your hearing health back to eleven.

Phil Collins

Photo: Raph_PH
Photo: Raph_PH

In an interview, the English singer-songwriter recounted spending the day singing in the studio and later picking up his daughter from school. “We got home, had something to eat, played a video game. Then suddenly my ear went sssssssshh. Within a second my left ear simply closed down. As if I had been under water. I tried to clear it by pinching my nose,” he said.

The diagnosis: An infraction of the inner ear, which resulted in an inadequate flow of blood to the ear. It’s caused by stress and can manifest as vertigo, tinnitus, imbalance, deafness and nausea. The condition plus other health issues forced Collins to take a break from performing 2011, but he announced he was returning to music in 2016 after taking steps to address his hearing loss.

Neil Young

Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young has released more than 30 albums over a five-decade career, garnering a number of Grammy and Juno Awards. But it was his 1991 live concert album Weld that proved memorable for unforeseen reasons. While mixing the album with his bandmates, Young says he developed tinnitus.

“That’s why I really regret it,” said Young, who’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. “I hurt my ears and they’ll never be the same again.”

Young tried to protect his hearing with his 1992 album Harvest Moon by shifting to a softer, gentler sound.

“I made Harvest Moon because I didn’t want to hear any loud sounds. I still have a little bit of tinnitus, but fortunately now I’m not as sensitive to loud sounds as I was for a year after the mixing of Weld,” he said.

By speaking out, these musicians have helped address the stigma toward hearing loss and reminded us that hearing well is part of a good quality of life.

What can you do to prevent hearing loss? Follow these tips:

1. Get your hearing tested every year. It’s free.
2. Wear ear protection in noisy environments. Carry earplugs with you when travelling, attending concerts and sporting events.
3. Avoid loud noise. Exposure of more than 10 minutes can cause hearing loss.