All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for November 2003

Guitarist with MS releases debut CD

James LaRocca persevered despite symptoms

November 6, 2003
Mark Woodlief
The Oregonian

Many musicians dream of recording their own CDs, but only the most impassioned make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their ambitions. Then there are times when mere sacrifice isn't enough, when it seems life is setting up obstacles in every direction.

A major hurdle for McMinnville guitarist James LaRocca was being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000. But, like many who struggle with the incurable neurological disorder, LaRocca has persevered. He recently released his 11-song debut, "A Different Road."

"It's the soundtrack to the past five years of my life," LaRocca, who began experiencing symptoms in 1997, said of the all-instrumental CD. Song titles such as "Changes" and the title track represent the kind of adjustments people with MS might go through.

LaRocca's right hand is completely numb -- a challenge for any person, but especially disconcerting for a classically trained guitarist. "It came to the point where I couldn't button a shirt," he said.

To compensate, LaRocca has had to be resourceful. He's even used glue on his guitar picks. By making changes in his diet, reducing stress and taking medications, LaRocca is managing the illness as best he can.

"I haven't had any flare-ups for about 21/2 years," he says. "My goal is to maintain my health until they cure this thing."

A Portland native, LaRocca, 36, received his music degree from the University of North Texas. He played professionally in the Dallas area, where he and his wife, Sunday, lived for a time before returning to Oregon to raise a family. The LaRoccas have two children, both of whom have songs named for them on "A Different Road."

Family and friends came together to bring the CD to fruition. The project unofficially began when LaRocca performed a composition in honor of his grandmother, Eleanor, at her funeral earlier this year. Sunday LaRocca designed the CD packaging while LaRocca's father, Jerry, photographed the cover. McMinnville's Instep Recording provided discounted studio time. And four musicians -- violinist Gordon Hall, bassist Matt Seymour, drummer Matthew Eagan and pianist Jonathan Swanson -- accompanied LaRocca.

"A Different Road" is a melodic, and occasionally melancholic, album brimming with personal songs. "Every single piece is special to me," LaRocca says. "I laid out all the feelings I was going through."

Fifty-one percent of the proceeds from sales of "A Different Road" will go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The CD has received airplay on KINK, and is available at Music Millennium, Barnes & Noble's Lloyd Center location or online at

"I want to reach out and communicate with all those who are battling MS. I want to tell them that there is hope," LaRocca said.

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