Although the demands of the military don’t seem to complement a creative spirit, many famous musicians have answered the call to service – many even credit their time as the driving force behind their foray into music.
From country stars to rock icons, these musicians can add veterans to their laurel list alongside their illustrious musical careers.
When we think of musicians who served in the military, we immediately think of images of a young Elvis Presley in military green. Already known at the end of the 1950s, the writing of The King was nicknamed “Black Monday” in the press. The rock n’ roller idol was greeted by hordes of screaming fans at the airport when he arrived for basic training.
Despite his celebrity status, Elvis dutifully completed his time in the military. When given the choice between serving in a more secure role and the pangs of regular soldiers, Elvis chose the latter, serving from 1958 until the spring of 1960.
2. Johnny Cash
Before being a once-in-a-generation musician, Johnny Cash served in the Air Force. Cash enlisted at age 18, straight out of high school. He then served in the 12th Mobile Radio Squadron of the Air Force Security Service in Germany as a Morse code operator working to intercept Soviet transmissions.
His income in the army allowed him to buy his first guitar and create his first band, The Landsberg Barbarians, named after the town in West Germany where he was stationed. On his release, he took advantage of the GI Bill to take a radio announcer course in Memphis before venturing into the limelight with his first recordings of “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Shout! Shout!”
Due to his time in Germany, Cash recorded a handful of tracks in German, including a translated version of his famous track “I Walk the Line”.
3. Jimi Hendrix
The rock legend remains one of the most influential guitarists of all time, despite a career that only lasted four years. Hendrix entered the military as one of two choices given to him by the police after being caught in a stolen car twice. It was either prison or the army.
Hendrix enlisted in 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky. For his service, he was awarded the prestigious Screaming Eagles crest in early 1962. Just six months later, the trailblazing guitarist was discharged due to “mismatch”. The rock and roll mentality didn’t seem to mix well with military service.
4. Willie Nelson
From crooner to outlaw country star, Willie Nelson has had a sprawling career that has spanned genres and decades. Prior to his rise to fame, Nelson enlisted in the Air Force in 1950.
He only served about nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back problems. Although he did not serve long, he remained committed to issues plaguing veterans, including inadequate medical care and homelessness. He is a long-time supporter of veterans advocacy groups, including Operation Firing for Effect, which is dedicated to protecting people with disabilities while in service.
5. George Strait
The “King of Country” himself joined the US Army in 1971 following a runaway with his high school sweetheart, Norma. He served from 1971 to 1975, attaining the rank of corporal.
While stationed in Hawaii, Strait launched what would become a decades-long career in country music with an Army-sponsored band called Rambling Country. Strait remained a strong supporter of the armed forces throughout his career. He was notably the spokesperson for the Wrangler National Patriot program and used proceeds from the concerts to help fund homes for veterans.
6. John Prine
Nicknamed the “Mark Twain of songwriting”, John Prine served in the military during the Vietnam War. During his stay in Germany, he spent his evenings at the barracks playing the songs he knew by heart. After his service, Prine returned home to Chicago and embarked on a acclaimed career in country music.
Many of his lyrics relate to his time in service as well as the plight of returning soldiers. “Sam Stone,” which was covered by fellow veteran Johnny Cash, told the story of a soldier struggling to adjust to life at home after his time in the Vietnam War.
Tracy Lauren Marrow, better known as Ice-T, joined the service after the birth of her daughter in an effort to support her family. He was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Tropic Lightning Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
While serving, Ice-T served as a team leader, earning enough to purchase equipment and hone his musical talent. After his stint in the military, he returned home and launched a acclaimed career in hip-hop.
8. Craig Morgan
The singer may be best known for his hit “Redneck Yacht Club,” but he’s also an Army veteran. Morgan served nearly ten years on active duty in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and another six and a half years in the reserves.
While pursuing his illustrious music career, he continued to support fellow veterans by donating to various advocacy groups, including Operation Finally Home, an organization that seeks to provide mortgage-free homes for veterans.
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