Bob Gifford stands on the promenade plucking the strings of his Fender Telecaster electric guitar.
People wandering by on busy Lincoln Road do a double-take, then snap photos and videos with their phones.
"He stopped me in my tracks — at first I thought what he was doing was a gimmick," said Otus Miliner of Georgia, who watched as Gifford played Pink Floyd and Carlos Santana songs using only his right hand.
But Gifford's one-armed guitar street performance isn't a gimmick — a brain aneurysm at age 26 rendered the left side of his body, including his left arm, useless. He uses his right hand to pick at the strings on the neck of the guitar while his left arm hangs limp to his side.
The Plantation resident jams at open-mic nights at Broward County bars such as Yee Ole Dugout and Buzz's Lounge or at his favorite spot on Lincoln Road.
"They're tourists, they're happier people," said Gifford, 57 of the crowd that stops to watch him play across from the Apple Store on South Beach's pedestrian-only street. In less than an hour there on a recent Wednesday night, Gifford accumulated $20 in his open guitar case. He usually makes $100 to $200 a night.
Gifford first learned to play when he was 5 years old on a $10 box guitar. Today, he plays an electric guitar that he rests on the base of a keyboard stand. The neck of the guitar is carved out into divots so Gifford can easily pick at the strings.
"It allows my fingertips to get underneath the string and pluck up," said Gifford, whose fingers are scarred from picking at the guitar nightly.
Gifford caught the attention of Daniel Rodriguez, of Miami, who stopped to take videos with his cellphone. "I'm curious as to how he does it — it's amazing," Rodriguez said.
Gifford plays with the guitar hooked up to an amplifier and rotates through 300 songs on his iPod that he uses as background tracks. He plays mostly rock, blues and jazz.
When he's not playing on the streets, Gifford performs with other musicians at open-mic nights.
"I realized that if I say I play with one hand, I'd be rejected [at bars] so I don't even say that anymore," Gifford said.
Fellow musician "Blues" Bobby Weinberg, who is also president of the South Florida Blues Society, likened Gifford's technique to a violinist playing in the staccato style.
"It gets to a point where you don't think of his disability anymore, you just think of the music," Weinberg said. "[People in the audience] seem to be mesmerized by his ability."
Gifford wasn't always comfortable playing in front of audiences or strumming with strangers at bars. It took him more than 20 years to pick up his guitar after his injury.
During those years, Gifford struggled to hold a steady, honest job. In 1990, he was sentenced to five years of probation, ordered to pay $15,000 in damages and fined $1,000 for operating a job placement business that swindled thousands of people out of their money.
"I'm ashamed — I take full responsibility," Gifford said, who only works as a street performer now.
More than 30 years later, he's recorded five original songs and is on his way to making his first album.
"[These are] things I never thought I'd be able to do," he said.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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