Peter Dankelson on how guitar was shocked into his system by AC/DC, and why nothing was going to stop him playing

Peter Dankelson
(Image credit: Derick Smith)

By any measure, 21-year-old Peter Dankelson has already faced a lifetime of adversity. Born with a rare craniofacial condition called Goldenhar Syndrome (characterized by abnormal development of the eye, ear and spine), he’s undergone 37 surgeries to correct jaw and airway defects, and he’s fitted with a Cochlear implant to do the work of a missing left ear.

“There’s been a lot of challenges, but you just can’t dwell on them,” Dankelson says. “Things could always be worse, so it’s best to look on the bright side. My family has always supported me, and I’ve had many other people who have helped me along the way.”

A longtime music fan, Dankelson experienced a lightbulb moment six years ago when he heard AC/DC’s Back in Black.

“It just hit me, and I said to my dad, ‘I think I want to play the guitar,’” he says. “Fortunately for me, my father played when he was younger, and he pulled out his guitar and amp. From that moment, I started playing all the time. Whenever I came home from school, I picked up the guitar. I just fell in love with it.”

Dankelson’s development as a player was remarkable. Before long, he could jam along to his heroes such as Angus Young, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Gary Moore and Paul Kossoff.

“I gravitated to the blues-rock guys,” he says. “My thumb on my fretting hand has no muscle, so I can’t do some of Hendrix’s tricks, the way he’d wrap his thumb around the guitar neck.” He laughs, then adds, “But I get by.”

Several years ago, Dankelson formed a three-piece outfit – the Peter Dankelson Band – with drummer Ryan “Rocky” Johnson and bassist-singer Mac McRae. The trio has been gigging around their home base of Chicago, and they recently issued their hard-rocking debut EP, All Screwed Up.

Owing to surgeries, Dankelson had to put off college, and he’s weighing whether he should enroll in school or pursue music full time. “Performing came easily to me because I’ve done a lot of motivational speaking,” he says. “I love being in front of an audience. Whatever I do, I’ll keep playing and gigging – that’s for sure.”

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Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar World, Guitar Player, MusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.