The Next Chapter

Why Liona Boyd had to relearn the guitar late in her career

The musician shares the challenges that affected her most as a person and performer in her memoir No Remedy for Love.
The celebrated guitarist reappraises her life and career in her memoir No Remedy for Love. (Don Dixon/Dundurn)

Liona Boyd is known as The First Lady of the Guitar. She has released 28 albums. Her second memoir is called No Remedy for Love and it traces her post-divorce life and how she changed guitar techniques after being diagnosed with a little-understood condition due only to overplaying an instrument called musician's focal dystonia. Her memoir is accompanied by an album of the same title.

A change in tone

"My first autobiography ended in 1998. For the second book I thought, 'It's time for a new autobiography to explain a lot of things in my life.' No Remedy for Love is a bit more reflective, a little more analytical with not quite as much drama as the first book. I'm really pleased that I could tell my story because there are many interesting things that happened to me – I got divorced, I had to reinvent myself as a singer and change my whole guitar technique. I tell the truth in my books; it's not fake news, it's not fake anything – it's from the heart. It's been a long time since I began my career in the 70s and I just wanted to share."

Adjusting to adversity

"I had a condition that occurs when you repeat the same motion over and over again. I was famous for a technique called tremolo where the fingers make rapidly firing little motions. I would do it mindlessly while watching TV with my former husband. I knew something was wrong; I wasn't playing up to my standards.  I would go back to my hotel after giving a concert and just sob because I knew I was losing my technique – I didn't understand it at the beginning. I went from doctor to doctor, from scientology to witch doctors to crazy hypnotherapists. I was in despair and I spent every day trying to figure out what was wrong with my hands. There is no real solution other than redoing your technique very slowly.  And that's what I did – I took six years off from performing, slowly reworked my technique and I found a duo partner from Croatia who helped me sing and arrange songs. Now I can still play the guitar and we still do some classical pieces, but it's different. I don't play the difficult concertos – mostly it's the songs I write myself."

Liona Boyd's comments have been edited and condensed.