13 famous rock stars who served in the military

There are some jobs troops leaving the service are expected to go after, but world-class musician isn’t typically one of them. Still, these 13 veterans prove that it can be done.

1. Elvis Presley

It’s not like Elvis needs an introduction. He was drafted in December 1957 and reported for his induction in March 1958. He turned down offers to perform for the troops in lieu of traditional service. Instead, he became a tanker and served in West Germany.

2. Johnny Cash

Before “The Man in Black” was a famous singer, he was a U.S. Air Force Morse code intercept operator who was the first westerner to learn of Joseph Stalin’s death.

3. George Strait

The “King of Country” served in the U.S. Army from 1971 to 1975. While in the Army, he began playing with an Army-sponsored band, “Rambling Country.”

4. Toy Caldwell

A founding member of the Marshall Tucker Band, Toy Caldwell served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. After he was injured by a land mine in 1967, he was shipped home and medically discharged.

He created the Toy Factory band which would later become the Marshall Tucker Band. They released 14 albums. Five went gold, and an additional two went platinum.

5. Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan, now a country music star, spent nearly a decade as a forward observer in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division. He would serve another six and a half years in the Army Reserve.

6. Shaggy

Shaggy, the Grammy-winning singer of “It Wasn’t Me,” developed his vocal skills while calling cadence as a field artillery cannon crewman in the U.S. Marine Corps. By his own account, he wasn’t a great Marine, but he did fire during the first Gulf War.

7. Willie Nelson

The legendary Willie Nelson was once a lackluster airman. He was discharged after only nine months due to back problems. He maintains ties to the veteran community though, advocating for veteran issues and providing support to vet groups.

8. Maynard James Keenan

The frontman for Tool, Keenan spent three years in the Army, starting with a stint in the U.S. Military Academy Prep School. He turned down an appointment to West Point and instead completed an enlistment before going on to become a world-famous musician.

9. George Jones

George Jones was once the top name in country music. In 1951, two years before he was discovered, he was a newly enlisted Marine. Jones never served overseas though the country was at war with Korea. He was stationed in California where he played gigs during his off time. His country music career took off in 1953.

10. Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson came from a military family. His father was in the Army Air Corps and his brother became a Navy jet pilot. Kris graduated Ranger School and became a helicopter pilot before eventually leaving the Army.

He was disowned by his family for leaving the service to pursue music. He went on to write hits like “Me and Bobby McGee.”

11. Jimi Hendrix

Before he was famous worldwide for shredding guitars, Jimi Hendrix was famous in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division for being a bad soldier. He was a poor marksman and undisciplined. Fellow soldiers complained about his constant guitar strumming.

He was allowed out after a year when an ankle injury on a training jump gave the Army an excuse to let him go. Only a few years after his discharge, the Jimi Hendrix experience wowed London and launched Hendrix’s career.

12. James Otto

James Otto was the son of an Army drill sergeant, but he opted for the Navy when he enlisted. He credits his two-year term with giving him discipline and life experience to make it in Nashville. James Otto wrote the hit “In Color,” which won multiple country awards for best song of the year. He continues to write and perform hit songs like “Soldiers and Jesus.”

13. Ray Manzarek

Most famous for playing the keyboard in “The Doors,” Manzarek joined the Army during the buildup to Vietnam. He served in Thailand and Okinawa before being kicked out. Manzarek, who had been a student at UCLA Film School before enlisting, returned to college. Only two months after graduation, Manzarek and Jim Morrison formed “The Doors” and became icons.