YOU VOTED AND THE RESULTS ARE IN! CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR MISSION: MUSIC WINNER, BOBBY “BLACKHAT” WALTERS!!
Bobby is a Coastal Virginia Bluesman and an award-winning recording artist, harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, producer, comedian, and actor. He’s also been playing harp for over 40 years.
After 27 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard, which included serving as Military Aide to the President and being awarded the Coast Guard Medal for Heroism, Bobby started to pursue music professionally. He is a proud graduate of two Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) programs: Piano and Comedy Bootcamp.
“I love doing what I do because music allows me to get fingers poppin’, toes tappin’, hip shakin’, and faces smilin’. Through music I can bring joy and happiness to the lives of others. I am a prime example that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams and check an item off that pesky bucket list.”
Thanks to everyone who voted, USAA will donate $10k to Guitars for Vets, a non-profit organization that enhances lives of ailing and injured military veterans by providing them with guitars and a forum to learn how to play. Your votes helped those who served rediscover their joy through the power of music!
Jimi Hendrix, one of rock’s greatest guitar players, served a brief thirteen-month stint with the famed U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division — nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles” — just a few years before his meteoric rise to rock stardom in the late 60s.
On May 13, 1961, James Marshall Hendrix swore to support and defend the Constitution as a member of the U.S. Army — it was the alternative to serving time in jail on a stolen car charge.
Jimi Hendrix at the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden, May 24, 1967. (Original photographer unknown)
Hendrix wanted to enlist as a musician but had no formal music training, so he opted for the 101st Airborne Division.
“Well Dad, here I am exactly where I wanted to go in the 101st Airborne,” Hendrix wrote home.
As we know, base life can often be a drag, and Hendrix was homesick for his guitar.
“P.S. Please send my guitar as soon as you can. I really need it now,” he requested of his father, Al Hendrix.
Months after joining the Screaming Eagles, life as a paratrooper began to wear on Hendrix’s morale. He was constantly getting reprimanded for dereliction of duties.
Jimi just wanted to play his guitar. His days as a paratrooper came to an end on his 26th jump when he broke his ankle.
Hendrix began exploring the Fort Campbell area nightlife. He played at places like the Pink Poodle with a group called The Bonnevilles.
Hendrix then ventured down to nearby Nashville where he began jamming with local bluesman at places like The Del Morocco on Jefferson Street and venues along Printer’s Alley.
It was in that vibrant music scene where he met fellow servicemember and bassist Billy Cox. In September 1963, after Cox was discharged from the Army, Hendrix and Cox formed a band called the King Kasuals.
Hendrix and Cox played around Nashville and continued to hone their music. There’s a rare video from a local TV station of Hendrix playing guitar for Little Richard’s ensemble act, Buddy Stacy, on Nashville’s WLAC Channel 5 television show, Night Train.
In addition to playing in his own band, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various soul, RB, and blues musicians including Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, and Jackie Wilson.
It wasn’t until Hendrix ventured up to New York City that he caught the big break that would take him over to England, where he soon became the rock star he is remembered as today.
Jimi Hendrix Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California.
Many think his sonic rendition of our national anthem at Woodstock was an indictment of the Vietnam War.
“We’re all Americans…it was like ‘Go America!’ We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, see…” Hendrix explained of his interpretation several weeks after Woodstock.
Dropping an album on iTunes in 2017 is a far cry from releasing a single on vinyl in 1936, but at least one person has done both. Vera Lynn, the acclaimed singer of pop standards, from “We’ll Meet Again” to “The White Cliffs of Dover,” entertained Allied troops from England to Burma, but also sang at the Diamond Jubilee anniversary celebration of Victory in Europe Day in 2005.
Her long, storied career began with her being dubbed “The Forces’ Sweetheart” and is still ongoing, as Vera Lynn also is the oldest living musical artist to make it to number one on the British music charts. And while she may be more of a big deal in the UK, American military aficionados have most definitely heard her voice.
Lynn supporting British troops in World War II.
During World War II, Lynn had her own BBC music show, Sincerely Yours. As the Forces’ Sweetheart, it was an instant hit with Britain’s fighting men. Lynn, determined to do her duty as the rest of Britain was doing in WWII, deployed to support the troops in places like Egypt, India, and Burma.
Like many of the greatest generation, she took the deployment with a stiff upper lip, recalling that she stayed in dirt and grass huts, using a bucket of water to clean herself in those remote locations. She never charged the government a dime for her effort. She even criticized former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, who performed for UK troops in Oman in 2001. Halliwell demanded a fridge full of soy milk for her performance and was paid “tens of thousands of pounds” by the Ministry of Defence.
“She’s lucky to be somewhere there is a fridge,” Lynn told The Guardian. “If she can’t give up her time free for troops who are there to defend her and her way of life, that is very sad.”
Jenkins supporting British troops in Iraq.
Of course, even the most striking rendition of “The White Cliffs of Dover” isn’t going to draw a crowd of 18-25 year old service members these days. Dame Vera Lynn spent her postwar career still supporting the troops, lending her voice to the 1970s documentary, The World at War.
At the 60th Anniversary of VE Day, Lynn passed the mantle of “Forces’ Sweetheart” to Welsh Singer Katherine Jenkins, who was singing a rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” when she pulled Lynn onstage to duet for a few bars. Jenkins promised to go entertain British troops deployed to Iraq — and Jenkins did the very next year.
Dame Vera Lynn is 101 years old as of 2018, but she just released two albums the last year, and is the only centenarian to have an album top the charts. She beat out Bob Dylan as the oldest artist to chart in the UK and beat both the Arctic Monkeys and the Beatles in the pop charts that year.
Vera Lynn 100 and Her Greatest From Abbey Road were released in 2017, the latter containing previously unreleased recordings of Lynn in her prime.
Made on a budget of $0, the Annapolis midshipmen’s version of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars is the most polished military music parody to date. The cast and crew consist entirely of midshipmen, and it perfectly captures the joy of being on liberty. The crew even managed to mashup Anchors Away into the funky tune, listen closely around 3:00 of the video.
There’s always at least one person in every deployed unit who brings their guitar with them. Sometimes it’s because they want to learn how to play and decide their down time as the perfect opportunity to practice. Sometimes they just can’t part with their baby for 12 months.
Either way, you’ll find them hanging around the smoke shack playing for the masses. If they’re at the point where they’re willing to play for their squad in between missions, they’re probably pretty good at it. Here’s why:
If you start playing, others will stop what they’re doing — giving you even more free time. Just saying.
(Photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)
They’ve got plenty of time to practice.
Contrary to popular belief, there actually is down time on a deployment. Which unit you’re serving in will determine how much time that is, but everyone can at least have a moment to breathe.
If the guitarist brought an acoustic guitar, they can play it whenever and wherever they feel like it.
But thankfully they’ll stop caring before the guitar solo comes up.
(Photo by Pfc. Nathan Goodall
They learn to take requests.
There’s a handful of songs everyone who first picks up a guitar has to learn how to play. Iron Man, Smoke on the Water, Seven Nation Army, and eventually Stairway to Heaven. They’re kind of ‘rite of passage’ songs.
But not everyone on the deployment gets that and everyone will always request Free Bird.
It’s always a great time when other musicians get together.
(Photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)
They play all genres.
When you first pick up a guitar, you’ll play what you know and play what you like. But the deployment guitarist, after taking requests from everyone, learns to play all sorts of genres of music. Especially if they find other gifted musicians or singers in the unit.
Rock guys learn to play gospel. Country guys learn to play pop. And everything in between. As long as you’ve got someone to play with, you’ll learn their style too.
And I’m just saying, from personal experience, it’s also very common in the aid station since the guitarist is often times a corpsman or medic.
(Photo by Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez)
They’ll play to the battalion or just a handful of smokers.
An odd thing happens when command teams find artists in their unit. They’ll single them out and voluntell them to share their art with the unit. Normally, this never bothers them because they just love playing.
But more often than not, they’re usually in the smoke pit — just strumming away at whatever comes to mind.
If they brought an electric guitar, oh yeah…they have passion.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse)
They really do have the passion in their art.
A good guitar isn’t cheap. A beginner’s guitar can run you around 0 but the ones our semi-pros play on are up in the 0-00 range.
If they’re willing to risk losing that money by having their guitar get damaged though out a deployment, play in front of their brothers-in-arms, risk ridicule if they suck, and still get out there and perform — they’ve got as much passion as any recording artist out there.
Other than the National Anthem, there really isn’t another song out there that evokes the pride of country like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” So when the iconic singer teamed up with the United States Air Force band to perform it during COVID-19, it’s no surprise the rendition is truly breathtaking.
Home Free – God Bless the U.S.A. (featuring Lee Greenwood and The United States Air Force Band)
Army Chorus and Lee Greenwood sing a capella God Bless the USA impromptu at the Winter Classic
While Greenwood never served, he has long supported the troops and military community. In a 2000 interview with Military.com, Greenwood was asked why he thought the song has such a powerful message for the military. He responded:
“I knew we had a song that touched the heart of the public. I knew that it was a song that gave proper salute to the military and its job. I knew that it honored those that had died, and I knew it made people stand up. I actually wrote those words: “I’d proudly stand up and defend her still today,” [meaning] even though pride had been gone in the past, it’s back and we should stand up at any time and defend this free country. So those who are away from home, it has much more impact on. I am a world traveler as well, and have been with the USO for 15 of the world USO tours with my celebrity cast. It does mean much more. You’re in another country where you’re subject to attack, and you long for the protection of the United States and all the things you find familiar about it.”
Here’s to you, Mr. Greenwood. Thanks for continuing to serve all of us.
Hollywood has always found a way to connect music with visuals. This seamless blending is an art that has constantly evolved alongside filmmaking.
Legends by likes of James Cameron and Martin Scorsese have used hit songs like “Bad to the Bone” in
Terminator 2: Judgement Day and “Stardust” in Casino to enhance the audiences’ experiences and bring their films to life.
Recently, a young director by the name of Edgar Wright has changed cinema with his revolutionary take on how to perfectly mold film editing with one’s favorite tune in Baby Driver.
Once we see this kid start bumping “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on his iPod, there’s no stopping him.
Baby Driver definitely had the moves, but the military has always had the attitude. The songs on this list capture the attention of audiences and pull them into the on-screen battles, parties and periods of mourning.
So, let’s kick the tires and light the fires, because this list is sure to have you on your feet.
Let’s kick off this list with a classic. Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone set the tone for Tony Scott’s high-octane blockbuster and the song’s never been the same since. Now, when you hear Loggins start to croon, you immediately conjure up images of Maverick taking to the skies in Top Gun.
“Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man” by Public Enemy in ‘Three Kings’
Nothing starts a party like the hip-hop group with attitude by the name of Public Enemy. When the music starts bumping and the whiskey starts flowing, the soldiers in this film show that the military can party just as hard as anyone.
Jarhead is a rendition of the Anthony Swafford’s 2003 memoir about the Gulf War that gives viewers a (slightly exaggerated) glimpse at the lesser-known elements of the Marine Corps.
The truth is, there are no better orders then the ones that get you home, which is why Public Enemy makes this list again. As “Fight the Power” blares on screen and the ground pounders fire rounds into the night air, the audience gets a taste of that sweet, sweet freedom.
Topping off the list is the true story of the Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrel, the sole survivor of Operation Red Wings. Lone Survivor revisits the unfortunate events of that day and reminds us of a grim reality: we are never truly out of the fight.
At the end of the film, as the credits role and the audience is shown a series of photographs of the real troops who gave their lives for the mission, “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel plays — and nothing else could’ve fit better.
Nothing makes a war movie pop like its soundtrack. Films that are scored by famous composers stay with us forever. Hans Zimmer did “Black Hawk Down,” “Saving Private Ryan,” was scored by John Williams, and of course, the most famous war film score ever, Maurice Jarre’s work for the WWI epic “Lawrence of Arabia.”
But not every war movie needs to be scored. There are a few movies where a well-placed pop song is an epic use of screen time. When a director uses a “needle drop,” it can push the scene into something unforgettable.
1. “What A Wonderful World” from “Good Morning Vietnam”
In a movie full of great music and memorable scenes, how do you even choose the most poignant? Barry Levinson’s 1987 film juxtaposes Louis Armstrong’s classic song with imagery of the men fighting the war, the civilians caught in the middle, and the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime.
2. “Danger Zone” from “Top Gun”
No opening sequence starts a movie better than the song that keeps Kenny Loggins in the money to this day. The Navy even used this movie as recruiting tool, with a full 90 percent of applicants reporting that they’d seen “Top Gun” the year it came out.
3. “The End” from “Apocalypse Now”
Did I say “Top Gun” has the best opening scene song? It has to compete with the first shots of “Apocalypse Now,” featuring the Doors’ “The End”.
4. “Tracks of My Tears” from “Platoon”
Charlie Sheen gives us a stark vision of his future, jamming with his friends to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ 1965 hit, smoking all manner of things while knocking back a few beers. This scene is just as iconic as the Sgt. Elias death scene or the end of the movie, where Sheen’s character looks back on his tour.
The Trashmen’s 1963 song “Surfin’ Bird” dominates as the Americans push the NVA back from Hué City.
6. “Do Wah Diddy” from “Stripes”
I think the YouTube commenter Brian Buchanan said it best about this scene from the Bill Murray and Harold Ramis comedy “Stripes” — “Funny scene, but these two morons would be doing push up ’til they died.”
7. “Dream Lover” from “Hot Shots”
Yeah, “Hot Shots” isn’t a real war movie in the sense that anything really happened but you can say that about “The Hurt Locker” too. Even so, I’ll never forget when Topper Harley sees Ramada Rodham Hayman for the first time.
“I was really impressed with the way you handled that stallion. You know, when I saw you dig your heels into his sides, tighten up the reigns, and break his spirit, I never wanted to be a horse so much in my life.”
8. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” from “Top Gun”
If this movie and Kenny Loggins prompted a bunch of people to join the Navy, I wonder how many late-80s women had to put up with guys singing to them in bars until the fall of Communism.
9. “Sgt. Mackenzie” from “We Were Soldiers”
While not technically a pop song, this song was written about the singer’s grandfather’s service in WWI and is undeniably awesome. Awesome. Awesome.
Jericho Hill is a band created by Army veteran Steve Schneider and Navy corpsman McClain Potter. They began writing music together in 2012 while attending college, bonding over their military experiences.
True to form, they’ve just released a new EP that touches on themes of anger, mental health, and losing comrades and loved ones.
Loss comes up a lot for Jericho Hill — as it does for many veterans. One of their traditions during their shows is to dedicate a song to the fallen.
The EP, named Dvda@ the BB, contains three songs that demonstrate their diversity within the hard rock genre:
Devil in Disguise shows a bit of attitude with a taunting tempo and lyrics like “I’m from the land of the wicked ones, and I’ve come out to play.”
The second track, Fuel to the Fire, amps up the intensity both in instrumentals and tone: “You’re only adding fuel to the fire. Tonight we light the funeral pyre.”
Finally, there’s Sins of the Son, a mellow piece that starts with a confession and continues with questions: “What do you get out of running away? I don’t know.”
Jericho Hill is currently hustling, playing gigs in the Pacific Northwest, and planning their full album. Check them out on Facebook and let them know what you think of their new tracks.
Speaking of which, the EP is on Spotify (or other streaming services like iTunes, YouTube, and Pandora). We’ve also embedded it right here for you, because we’re cool like that:
Army Special Forces veteran Tyler Grey is definitely what you would call an “operator.”
A Ranger, a sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and a combat veteran, Grey has served his country well.
He knows the meaning of sacrifice, perhaps more than most. In 2005, he was blown up in a raid in Sadr City, Iraq, which nearly cost him his arm. But the experience gave Grey an evolved sense of perspective.
We Are The Mighty sat down to talk with him about how music had an impact on his career and his life, and what he had to say was pretty insightful.
“The journey isn’t that you never have a problem. The journey is overcoming problems. The music I like is about people who are honest and open enough to share a problem, to share a weakness, to share an experience that affected them, and then how they overcome it.”
We also asked Grey to make a Battle Mix — a playlist of power anthems — with songs that held significant meaning throughout his life. He didn’t disappoint.
No one seems to know who wrote the lyrics to the hymn, but they have shifted slightly over time to reflect the evolution of the Corps. In 1942, the final changes were made to reflect the addition of aviation to the Marine Corps mission. The first verse’s fourth line, “On the land as on the sea” became “In the air, on land, and sea.”
3. It specifically mentions battles from the 1800s
The opening line “From the Halls of Montezuma” refers to the capture of Mexico City and the Castle of Chapultepec in 1847 during the Mexican-American War.
4. The American flag was first flown in an overseas victory at Tripoli
“To the Shores of Tripoli” pays homage to the First Barbary War, when U.S Marines helped capture the Tripolitan city of Derna in modern day Libya in 1805. It was the first time Old Glory was raised in victory on foreign soil.
5. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Marines
The lyrics aptly reflect the spirit of the Corps, mentioning the “fight for right and freedom,” the importance of honor, and even a bit of branch rivalry: “If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven’s scenes; they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.”
We’ve all seen the famous painting, Spirit of ’76. In it, a young Revolutionary War drummer boy is marching alongside two other musicians. The boy is in his Continental Army uniform, looking up to an older drummer who is not in uniform. Another uniformed musician is wounded, but marching and playing the fife.
(Painting by Archibald Willard)
Today, Civil War veteran Archibald Willard’s 1875 painting still evokes patriotism in many Americans. It was, after all, painted on the eve of the United States’ centennial. Willard was the grandson of one of the Green Mountain Boys who, led by legendary patriot Ethan Allen, invaded Canada and captured Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolution. But there are a few errors in the painting: The scene it depicts never happened, the flag in the background wasn’t approved by Congress until much later, and the musicians are not wearing the right uniforms.
None of that really matters, it’s still a painting that resonates with Americans 100 years later. However, questions remain. What did the musicians wear in the Revolution? And why was it a different uniform from their fellow colonials?
In those days, musicians in an army existed to expedite communications on the battlefield. Music was loud enough to be heard over the din of combat and varied enough so that American troops would be able to respond to orders given from battlefield commanders without confusing them for other orders. They could even tell the enemy that the rival commanders wanted a parley. Incredibly (and accurately depicted in the painting), these communications were done by old men and boys who were either too old or too young to fight.
Boys that were younger than age 16 and men older than age 50 were enlisted as musicians. At the time, the average life expectancy for an American colonist was around 36 years, so a man older than 50 was both honored for his longevity and hard to find. Finding them on a dirty, smokey battlefield was just as difficult, so the uniforms they wore needed to be slightly more visible. There was also an economic component involved with the decision.
The regular Continental soldier wore a blue coat with red cuffs. Musicians, on the other hand, wore a red coat with blue cuffs. The red made them stand out on a battlefield where visibility was limited. It also made them stand out to the enemy, so if they were discovered, it was immediately clear that the small figure ahead was a musician — unarmed and not a threat (drummers were considered noncombatants). As an added bonus, the inverted uniforms were made from leftover materials in creating soldiers’ garb.
By the time Ohioan Archibald Willard was serving in the Civil War, musicians were wearing the same uniforms as their armed, regular battle buddies. Their purpose on the battlefields and in camp were the same — and Civil War armies still, by and large, used young boys (some as young as age 9) as drummers and buglers, but many also included full bands, with as many as 68 members in some units.
As battlefield communication methods improved, drums soon gave way to the bugle and, eventually, musicians disappeared from the battlefield altogether. Their role has since been replaced by radio and satellite communications, but for the time that musicians served in their battlefield communications role, the boys and men that filled those ranks were some of the bravest who ever marched with an army.