In Their Own Words: Cactus Moser
When drummer Cactus Moser lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2012 with then-new bride Wynonna Judd, it looked like the beginning of the end for the veteran road warrior and studio drummer’s music career. Moser, who backs Judd in The Big Noise, shared with us the harrowing details of the crash, his painstaking rehabilitation, and why he thinks the tragedy has made him a better drummer and husband.
The Longest Two Seconds
As soon as I rolled across the hood of the car, I was thinking, “Oh wow, look at the motorcycle – it’s tumbling end over end.” And then I was getting ready to go off the far side of the car and I’m thinking, “Well, protect your arms and legs because you’re a drummer.” From the point of contact to the car on through that whole section I swear in my mind’s eye it lasted five minutes. So I come off the car and hit the ground. That’s when it goes back to real time. I remember laying there thinking, “I hope I don’t spin sideways and the car doesn’t run over my head. So I rolled down the road, and I laid there, and the first thing when I came to a stop, I was thinking, “Can I play the show tonight?”
One of the people that shows up, he kind of assessed the damage. He had a knife and apparently cut my pant leg open. I remember seeing how much blood there was and white pieces of bone laying in the middle of that. Oddly enough, I didn’t put it together that [the leg] was gone – I don’t know why – but I thought, “Oh, maybe it’s a compound fracture.” And I could see my foot was pointing in a different direction. And this guy Sean, who happened to be an EMT, was saying, “There’s no way this guy will make it if we put him in a truck and try to get him to Rapid City,” which is an hour-and-a-half drive. The next person on the scene also had medical training, and she knew as well as this guy Sean knew I was going to bleed to death in a matter of moments. It’s the femoral artery, it’s one of the biggest arteries in the body, and after two, three minutes you’re done, so they called [the Med-Evac] helicopter. They told me later [he]’d called for that helicopter ten times probably in his career and it’s always busy, because there’s like one for the whole state. And it was 45-50 minutes I laid on the ground until it showed up, but it got there thankfully.
The Road Back
[Big Noise] had to go back on the road without me. I was really only gone three months, but I just pushed myself radically. I can’t stand not being me, not working, and being alive and healthy. So I had some drums brought into in the bedroom, and I had a kick drum, a snare, and I put a hat right straight in front of me, and a rack tom to the left of that and then a cymbal, figuring I might as well get used to this. Worst case [scenario], I’ll just play one-handed for a while and just see what happens. When I finally got my left hand out of the cast – it had eight pins in it to hold [the arm] in place that were like 2" inches long each – and even before that, I had to lift my whole left shoulder up just to get a simple snare beat out of the left hand. And there is a window right in front of me – it looks outside here and I can see my reflection – and I just would go, “This can’t be me.” It looked like some little old man playing the drums.
With perseverance and prayer I worked my way back into it. I don’t know if I’m doing things that much differently. Obviously, you know, I’m not using the left leg, at least not yet, but I’m using two hi-hats in front of me. DW sent me the clutches that they have that you can tap it [so that it] opens and closes. So I had a closed hat right where your first rack tom would go, and then kind of a looser hat a little bit above the rack to the right. The doctors were saying, “Hey, maybe in a year you can be back on stage.” They said I would have to have a hand specialist for therapy for years. [The doctor] goes, “Everything that could be disconnected, displaced, or disengaged was in this hand.” I work on my hand still every day, just making it loosen up, because it’s still tight. It’s never going to be quite what my other hand is, but yeah, I can hold a stick and all the stuff I do.
The reality when you are a newlywed – we had only been married two months – and all of a sudden she’s faced with, “Oh my gosh – I’m married to a guy who now has one leg.” The romantic story is always, “Oh, I don’t care! I love you anyway.” But if this was me and I had to come home and put gauze up inside of her leg three or four inches for two and a half months, and doctor it and clean it – are you kidding me? It showed me a lot of her character, who she really is. So those kind of things between us now makes some of the other aggravations that couples go through all of a sudden seem really small.