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Gamblers guitarist ready to rock again

Ian MacDougall still recovering from bike accident last fall, but he's back onstage with his Austin band.

Staff Writer
Austin 360

There's a tattoo on the inside of Ian MacDougall's left wrist. Simple black traditional lettering, nothing fancy, just four letters: G.F.F.G.

Gamblers forever, forever Gamblers.

About a week after fracturing the same wrist in an Oct. 18 bike-vehicle traffic wreck that also broke an ankle and hip socket and fractured his skull and facial bones, the Riverboat Gamblers' co-guitarist was fashioning the mangled paw into something resembling a guitar chord position, to see whether he'd have to pursue a new vocation.

"I had this cast on my arm, and it went basically to the tips of my fingers at first, since I had fractured my wrist," MacDougall, clearly on the mend but not all the way back yet, said over coffee recently.

"As soon as they put on a hard cast where I could move my fingers I asked them, 'Can I please have some freedom with my fingers?' I totally had to work them out one by one because they hadn't moved, so when I went home I tried it with a guitar and could make a chord sound. I thought, 'I could totally play a show right now.'..."

That isn't exactly what happened next. But fans of the Austin punk band saw MacDougall, 24, back onstage sooner than most ever thought they would, still in a cast and on crutches but managing a guitar and joining a cast of former bandmates filling in for him and closing out the Gamblers' set at Fun Fun Fun Fest in early November. It was a day those in and around the band talk of reverently, since MacDougall's ability to continue as a musician had been cast into doubt with the accident.

"It was all rainy that day, and I went into that show with a bad attitude, and I didn't want to be there since Ian can't play," singer Mike Wiebe said of the day that was marked by a steady rain. "It was weird with people filling in and the conditions of the day, and the condition of the band had me thinking we should maybe cancel. I was in a total bad mood but Ian showed up and it wound up being a party. By that point it wouldn't have mattered if no one was there, since at the end it was a bunch of friends hanging around on stage."

There won't be that same cloud of uncertainty today when the band plays its first proper show in Austin with MacDougall as a planned part of the lineup. In fact, the show is marking a return to action for the band after a busy but often scattershot 2009 that saw it criss-crossing the globe in support of its latest album, "Underneath the Owl."

Wiebe starts to explain that the band already had planned on a two-month break in the fall that grew to four-plus months after MacDougall's accident.

And MacDougall agrees, saying the unplanned time off might help the band and its new booking agent put together a more coherent plan for the band going forward. And, of course, it'll let him continue with physical therapy and treatment for occasional vertigo and a balky hip he's still adjusting to.

"I think that's beneficial for us to put some ducks in a row for this coming year and figure it out," he said. "Of course it sucks I had to focus on me getting my stuff together during this time, but that'll be OK.

"Looking back, 2009 was a really dense year for us, even though it didn't seem like it at the time. I hope we're working as hard this year but feel like there's something coming from it. Not that there was nothing from it, but it did seem like we're spinning wheels. I'd like to see a step of some kind for us. Nothing huge, but something realistic."