A stroke of bad luck and some pretty great music

Notre Dame alum who survived a devastating stroke continues to make music that inspires. He’s also writing a book about his near-death experience and how he’s come back strong despite some lingering physical limitations.

On September 4, 2001, Notre Dame alum Tony DeNardo (’90) suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that nearly ended his life. He was completely paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak, which was devastating on many levels, not the least of which was what it could have done to DeNardo’s burgeoning musical career with the increasingly popular Detroit band at the time known as the Muggs.

But fellow 1990 Notre Dame alum Danny Methric, who was the lead singer and guitarist for the Muggs, and drummer Matt Rost decided that the group would not continue until DeNardo, who played bass and sang in the band, was well enough to rejoin them. 

Meanwhile, DeNardo was undergoing intensive therapy both in Detroit and in California where his father lived. From January until June of 2003, he worked hard on his recovery and kept in close contact with his buddy Methric. He also quickly found out that defiance was absolutely necessary in order to overcome the effects of his stroke.

“I am Tony DeNardo!” he remembers saying loudly and proudly back then. “I am a stroke survivor! I never would have thought this could happen to me. But now what?!” He said, “Stroke never had a greater adversary!”

DeNardo continued to make positive strides health-wise, but still he could not use his right arm at all let alone play bass guitar with it. But a friend of the Muggs, Matt Smith, from the band Outrageous Cherry, had an idea. Maybe DeNardo could play his bass lines on a piano keyboard with his left hand. 

So in early 2003, DeNardo decided it was worth a shot and bought a Fender Rhodes Mark I piano to try and perform the same bass lines with one hand that he used to play with two hands on his guitar. After months of grueling practice in California, DeNardo returned to Detroit, still unable to use his right arm but now ready to start rehearsing again with his new instrument and one good hand. After about a month of rehearsals together, the Muggs returned to the stage almost two years to the day after their last show together before Denardo’s stroke.

Since then the Muggs have been one of Detroit’s most successful bands, stringing together a number of successful albums and touring around the world. In addition, they were chosen in 2007 to appear on the FOX TV national series, "The Next Great American Band,” and have earned numerous awards within both the Detroit and national rock scenes.

Notre Dame “dudes”

Currently, the Muggs are on temporary hiatus. “We pushed so hard up until the end of 2015, so we felt we needed to cleanse our songwriting palates and take a well-deserved break,” DeNardo said recently during an interview with the Notre Dame Alumni Association. Not being one to just sit around, he has recently embarked on a new musical journey with a band called Dude, which features still another Notre Dame alum, Stephen Garcia, from the Class of 1994, who also works by day as an attorney with an international law firm.

“Stephen is just too cool,” said DeNardo, who brought in Garcia to play rhythm guitar and sing harmony. “Dude is predicated on two things: ‘guitarmonies’ and harmonies. And I love playing with people who I can trust to get the song right. Stephen adds so much to Dude and he and the rest of the band inspire me to try and outdo even myself.”

NOTE: On Monday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m., DeNardo and fellow alum Stephen Garcia will perform a small, intimate set of music at the Fr. Colin House on the Notre Dame campus.

In the summer of last year, DeNardo’s Dude also released its first album, “Kid Gloves,” which was pressed in Spain, and perhaps not so coincidentally, which is where the band toured last year.

“Spain is just gorgeous,” he said. “I’ve been there six times now (five times with the Muggs) and highly recommend this country to anyone and everyone. The tour went just about how I expected a first tour to go. We lost money! But we played our butts off and the crowds loved it. Since then, I've tweaked the lineup a bit and now Dude is starting to get around the Midwest in cities such as Chicago, Madison, Wisc., Windsor, and Athens, Ohio, among others.”

Dude’s first album is selling just alright, according to DeNardo. He says that’s because he’s not been able to promote it as hard as he’d like. Which is a shame because the album sounds really good and because it’s also a touching rendering of DeNardo’s health struggles since his stroke and how he has overcome them.

Album, book detail struggles

“I wrote the album almost as a prayer,” he said. “After my stroke, needless to say, I was a broken man, full of sorrow and just trying to figure where my life was heading. I actually titled the album Kid Gloves to help me say, ‘Hey, when you listen, handle me with kid gloves. That was some heavy stuff I went through!’ Many songs on the record deal with my struggles in the hospital, my near-death experiences, and the overall lamentation of what fate brought to me.” 

He’s also been working on a book over this past year that will explore those same health struggles as well as his musical career. 

“It will basically be an autobiography about my stroke, the Muggs, Dude, and my own philosophies on how I was able to succeed after such a life-altering event,“ DeNardo said. “Even though I am relatively young now, still I think I’ve lived such an interesting and — maybe I can honestly say — a fairy-tale life, especially after my stroke. So I've been writing week in and week out now since the beginning of the year.”

We have little doubt that it will be an inspiring account of a truly inspiring alum. 

NOTE: DeNardo also occasionally plays in two tribute bands in the Detroit area: Rattlesnake Shake, which is a Peter Green-Fleetwood Mac (1967-1970) tribute band that also includes Methric; and Mega Weedge, a WEEN tribute band, which includes still more Notre Dame alums, Andy Misuraca and Brian Sheehan. Rattlesnake Shake will be performing at the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit for the band’s annual Christmas Party on Saturday, Dec. 16, and then again at Sabby's (10 Mile Rd. and Harper Ave.) on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.