With both Remembrance Day and Veterans Day honouring those that have served in the military it is without a doubt that some famous musicians have served in the military. Even though some may had short stints, they went through the gruelling process of signing up and going through drill tests in order to become a person within the military. So today we honour those that have served and thank them for what they have done, making music that leaves an impression.
The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley served in the Army for two years in the late 1950’s (1958-1960). Elvis took a break from his fame to join the army. He was offered many times to join the Special Services but he always stated his wish was just to be a regular solider. In 1960, Elvis was given his Sergeant stripes and was given an honorary discharge soon after. He continued to play music until he died.
“[Elvis] pulled his weight,” said his platoon leader, William J. Taylor. “He used his head and did his job well. He was one of us. He cared about us. And he got back the respect and friendship he gave everyone else. In several instances, I saw sparks of leadership in Elvis that made me think he could have induced men to follow him into combat, just as his music caused millions of young people to follow him.”
Maynard James Keenan
Maynard James Keenan has served time in the U.S. Army, even though many people know him at a lead singer of Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer. Not only that but he also owns a winery. However before music, he was in the army. At age 17, it was Bill Murray’s performance in “Stripes” that inspired Kennan to enrol in the army. It was his ultimate goal to go to art school, so his intention was to join the army and have the G.I. Bill pay for it.
Kennan initially served in the Army as a forward observer before studying at the United States Military Preparatory School (West Point Prep School) from 1983 to 1984. In addition to completing the math and English curriculum, he was on the cross country team and sang in the Glee Club. He chose to turn down an appointment to West Point in order to pursue music and art. After completing his term in the army, Keenan studied art at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After graduating in 1988, he moved to Los Angeles and was an interior designer for a short time before jumping into music.
This Seattle native played with both Soundgarden and Nirvana before signing up for the army and enlisting in the Special Forces. He has served with distinction in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not bad for a guy that used to play with some of the biggest grunge acts.
When Jimi Hendrix was 18 years old, the police had caught him twice for driving stolen cars and was given the ultimatum of either going to prison or joining the Army. Hendrix enlisted in 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Although he passed boot camp, he spent most of his time playing his guitar, which made him a not so good soldier in the eyes of the general. So he was given honorary discharge before ever seeing combat.
There was a file that contained comments from his sergeant Louis Hoekstra, who said Jimi’s off-duty guitar playing hindered his ability to be a soldier. “This is one of his faults, because his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar,” Hoekstra said.
Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead joined the Army at the age of 17. He stole his mother’s car in order to enlist into the Army. He went AWOL several times and he eventually received a general discharge from the Army. Garcia told Rolling Stone, “Yeah, 17. I joined the Army, smuggled my guitar in.”
Ray Manzarek, The Doors keyboardist, enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in Thailand but was discharged after a little over a year into his service.
Famous singer Tony Bennett was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944 during WWII and became a rifleman for the 255th Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Infantry Division. He served the front line in 1945, and described that experience as “front-row seat in hell” and he also later sang with an Army band, using a stage name, Joe Bari.
The legendary country singer Johnny Cash enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War at the age of 18. This is where he found his first guitar during his tour of duty in Germany. He was assigned to be a Morse Code Intercept Operator for Soviet Army transmissions in Landsberg, Germany. He earned the rank of Sergeant when he served and even started his first band during this time which was called The Landsberg Barbarians. When his term was over, he sold appliances door to door while he tried to make it into the music industry.
Bruce Dickinson is the frontman for a band called Iron Maiden. He was born and raised in England, mainly by his grandparents and came from a military family. His father served is the army as well and was a mechanic in the army. However, Dickinson was not closed to his parents and was enrolled into s boarding school in Northamptonshire, England. It was his time there that he became interested in the military and was in the cadet force as well as co-founding the school’s war-games society. After leaving the boarding school, Dickinson enrolled on the Territorial Army, which was a part-time voluntary force in the British Army. He served in the army for six months, despite his parents desires for him to be in the army and went towards music. The rest you can say is history.
Ian Astbury is the frontman for the band, The Cult. Astbury was born in England and raised throughout the world. But before he became famous, he was actually homeless due to a dispute with his landlord, which taught him basic survival skills. In 1979, he served in the army, but for a very brief period of 29 days. The following year, Astbury moved to Bradford, England and he began his musical career. Even though he had a short time in the army, he still collects WWII memorabilia.
So if you are out there today, take a moment. Many people have served and these musicians are not alone. Do you think any of these musicians would have stayed in the army if music wasn’t their passion? So blast your favourite track from any one of these artists, they deserve so.