The trombone is an interesting instrument. No, wait! Don’t click away! Seriously, we’re building to a point about the military.
Basically, playing music on the trombone requires two manipulations to produce different notes and patterns.
First, changing the position of the slide. The musician moves their arm closer or further from their body, lengthening or shortening the instrument and producing a different pitch.
Almost more important for producing the proper sounds, though, is how the musician changes the tightness of his or her lips.
Trombone players are actually buzzing into the instrument, not just blowing, and can change the note by tightening or loosening their lips while buzzing (so to speak…).
Neither method is a particularly quick way to change notes when compared to the quick fingerwork of a flute, trumpet, or violin.
That’s what made it so surprising to watch Army band member Sgt. 1st Class Carmen Russo absolutely slay “The Flight of the Bumblebee” three times in a row, each time faster than the last (and played on successively smaller trombones).
“The Flight of the Bumblebee” is a fast-paced, technically challenging song when played at normal speeds on an instrument like the trumpet or flute, making the staff sergeant’s success at high speeds on the trombone all the more impressive.
There are no GIFs or screengrabs that can properly demonstrate what is going on here, so you’ll just have to watch the video. You can jump ahead to 4:10 if you only want to watch the fastest rendition.
The bands were generally raised just before the units they would serve. Some were contracted by state legislatures and others by officers in units they had begun enlisting.
The initial purpose of the band was to help get attention of potential enlistees as a sort of marketing campaign.
When the units began training and later deploying, the bands would help keep morale up and sometimes assist with music for drills.
But when the units took to the field, there were generally few uses for a full brass band in the middle of combat. Some were ordered to play music in the middle of the fray, like when a Confederate band played during the Battle of Gettysburg and men on both sides heard the music.
Some musicians became runners, carrying messages as the bullets flew. But most were sent to remove the wounded.
I put some considerable value on the service of the band in the several affairs the regiment was engaged in as an Ambulance Corps. . . . The mere fact of one member of the band being twice required to cross the line of fire of both forces, undoubtedly saved the lives of several members of our own regiment from the fire of one of our own batteries, several members of our own regiment having already been killed by the unfortunately located battery. . . . The bandsmen had been well taught by the surgeon how to give first aid to the wounded, and how to use stretchers, bandages and tourniquets. We were to go with the regiment into battle, rescue the wounded, if possible, and carry them to the field hospital. We were liable to be sent as messengers on dangerous errands.
In 1862, Congress passed a bill to muster out nearly all regimental bands, leaving some at the corps and brigade levels as well as drummers, buglers, and fifers in the companies.
Unsurprisingly since many of the men had worked in battles like Whitcomb’s, they were happy to take their last paychecks and leave.
But music has been a part of war for a long time. Horns, buglers, and drummers sounded orders for entire armies from the Classical era until as late as the Korean War. Even in psychological operations, the use of music is not a novelty – Joshua is said to have used horns as a weapon when he captured Jericho.
So from biblical times to post-9/11, here are few contemporary examples of armies using music against the enemy.
1. Metallica, “Enter Sandman” – Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Among these were Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You” song, “Bodies” by the band Drowning Pool, and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
“Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica,” frontman James Hetfield said in an interview with 3SAT, a German media outlet. “And part of me is bummed that people worry about us being attached to some political statement because of that… politics and music for us don’t mix.”
2. 4Minute, “HUH (Hit Your Heart)” – Korean DMZ
The main feature of the Korean Demilitarized Zone are the thousands of North and South Korean (and U.S.) troops literally staring each other down, daring each other to try something cute. It’s an intense area and you can cut through the tension with a knife. Each has tried a number of “cute” things to irk the others, including fake cities, propaganda billboards, and ax murders. In 2010, the weapon of choice became Korean pop music.
When North Korea sunk the South Korean warship Cheonan that year, The South responded by blasting propaganda messages across the border using 11 enormous loudspeakers aligned in the DMZ. They also used the song “HUH (Hit Your Heart)” by the Kpop group 4Minute, over and over. It got to be so much that the North threatened to turn Seoul into a “Sea of Flame” if the music didn’t stop.
3. Britney Spears, “Oops! I Did It Again” – Horn of Africa
By 2013, the Somali pirate fleet operating in the Horn of Africa was such a problem, the UK’s Royal Navy had 14 warships on alert in the area. Attacks have decreased since then, thanks to increased attention by international naval patrols. But there are a few merchant mariners who think Britney Spears might have had a hand in it as well.
“They’re so effective the ship’s security rarely needs to resort to firing guns,” one merchant told the Mirror. “As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney they move on as quickly as they can.”
4. Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run” – Operation Just Cause
In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama after its leader Gen. Manuel Noriega discarded the results of a national election and Panamanian troops killed a U.S. Marine and wounded another. American troops were sent to safeguard its citizens lives, enforce the election results, and capture and extradite Noriega to the United States.
It’s important for veterans to follow their dreams after they leave the service. Uncle Sam instilled in us veterans the drive we need to stand on top in this dog-eat-dog world, and it’d be a damned shame to skip out on putting that drive to work. After all, we weren’t told to knock politely on opportunity’s door — we were taught to breach it.
If you want a prime example of what hard work, talent, and dedication gets you, look no further than Gethen Jenkins, a Marine Corps veteran and one of the best damn musicians to break into the outlaw country music scene.
Born to a military family in West Virginia and raised in a rural Indian village in Alaska, Jenkins enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served honorably for eight years, including a 2003 deployment to Iraq. When he finally left the service, he stayed around Twentynine Palms, California, and began pursuing his dream of playing country music.
Jenkins grew up around country. Ever since he was a kid, he’s been playing the guitar and writing his own music. So, becoming a professional musician was the natural next step for him. And so, he set to be like the great outlaw country stars of the past.
He met the guys that would later join in him becoming The Freightshakers at a bar in Long Beach. As coincidence would have it, they were looking for a singer to complete their outfit. Jenkins got the gig the very next day. Where the Honkytonk Belongs, a song from the album of the same name, was their first hit.
Take a listen.
His style is a unique blend of his inspirations, from bluegrass to honkytonk to outlaw. Since their formation, Jenkins and the Freightshakers have played over 1,000 gigs and have earned a number of accolades, including the 2015 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Outlaw Group, the 2017 California Country Awards for Best Male Vocalist and Best Album, and LA Weekly even named Jenkins “2018’s Best Outlaw Country Artist.”
And they’re just getting started. Their next album, produced by the legendary Vance Powell, will be called Western Gold. Jenkins wrote or co-wrote every song on the album. It is set to drop sometime next year.
The song, Bottle In My Hand, was released last summer and is the first single off the upcoming album.
And, while we’re at it, go ahead and listen to this cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man because it’s just too good not to.
The cover works so well because it’s a natural fit. Longtime drummer and songwriter for Skynyrd, Artimus Pyle, also served in the Marines in the late 60s before entering the world of professional musicianship.
That same foundation is what’s going to propels Jenkins’ career, we’re sure of it.
In 1987, singer David Bowie played a concert in West Berlin, near the Reichstag. The performance was so loud, a massive crowd gathered on the East side of the nearby Berlin Wall to better hear his performance. He could hear the East Germans behind the Iron Curtain, singing along.
At the time, he didn’t know it would be the catalyst for the beginning of the end the city’s crushing divide.
The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to keep East Berliners (and all East Germans) inside East Germany. It certainly wasn’t needed to keep Western citizens out. It quickly became a symbol of the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe, the barrier between East and West that kept one side subject to the oppression of forced Communism and the other a burgeoning society of freedom and self-governance.
It was in Berlin where Bowie recorded his 1977 album, “Heroes,” a song about two lovers, one from East Berlin and one from the West. Living with punk legend Iggy Pop in the city’s Schöneberg neighborhood, Bowie could walk outside his door and see the tyranny and death that came with living in the heart of the Cold War. The song’s lyrics were so descriptive of the city’s plight, it became one of Berlin’s anthems:
I, I can remember (I remember) Standing, by the wall (by the wall) And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads) And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall) And the shame, was on the other side Oh we can beat them, forever and ever Then we could be heroes, just for one day
70,000 Germans attended the 1987 Concert for Berlin.
The artists spent years in Berlin recording his albums “Low” and “Lodger,” along with “Heroes.” Today, they’re referred to as Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy.” A decade after recording “Heroes,” Bowie returned to Berlin as part of the Concert for Berlin, a three-day festival held near the Reichstag, the seat of West Germany’s parliament. Nearby was the Brandenburg Gate and, running through it, the notorious Berlin Wall. The music, forbidden in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) rang out loudly in the West, and wafted over the wall.
Along with Bowie came Eurythmics, Genesis, and Bruce Hornsby. Thousands of East Berliners began to crowd the area near the gate, trying to get an earful as East German guards fought them back, dragging them away from the area and arresting the unruly. If they couldn’t listen near the wall, they could listen over the airwaves. The radio station Radio in the American Sector broadcast the concert in its entirety throughout the city, with the blessings of the artists and recording labels.
“It was like a double concert where the wall was the division,” Bowie told The Atlantic. “And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did ‘Heroes’ it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer.”
Eventually, the crowd broke into a full-on chant of, “the wall must fall!” and “Gorby, get us out!” When the concert ended on the third night, the East German police beat back the crowd with billy clubs. Even though Bowie headlined the second night, it’s believed his performance attracted more East Berliners to the wall the next night. It was the overreaction from the East Berlin police that turned so many residents against the regime. It completely changed the mood of the city, which would only be divided for two years longer before frustrations overwhelmed the wall.
“The title song of the ‘Heroes’ album is one of Bowie’s best-known works and became the hymn of our then-divided city and its yearning for freedom,” said Berlin Mayor Michael Müller. “With this song, Bowie has not only set musical standards, but also unmistakably expressed his attachment to our city.”
Bowie played Berlin again in 1989, after the wall fell and the city was united. His last show in Berlin was in 2004. When Bowie died in 2016, the German government officially thanked him for bringing the wall down and unifying a divided Germany.
Ronald McNair was an accomplished guy. NASA’s second-ever African-American astronaut was a physicist, a world-renowned expert in lasers, 5th-degree black belt in Karate, and jazz saxophonist. Amazingly, he was also dedicated to making sure most of those accomplishments lined up — in space.
The multi-talented astronaut was then working with French composer Jean-Michel Jarre, whose work in the electronic music and synthpop was unparalleled. The two were collaborating on a piece for one of the composer’s upcoming albums that would include a saxophone solo recorded in orbit above the Earth.
McNair was also set to perform a live concert with Jarre’s band — a specially-written solo just for him — during one of their performances through a live feed from his second mission aboard the Challenger space shuttle. Of course, none of this happened. On this mission, Challenger never made it to orbit, disintegrating 73 seconds into its launch from Cape Canaveral on January 28, 1986.
The accomplished astronaut’s musical solo would have been the first piece of live music ever recorded in space.
When Jarre’s album, called Rendez-Vous, was released, it included a track called “Ron’s Piece,” using McNair’s actual heartbeat as the beat of the piece.
The concert also went on as scheduled. Jarre took to the stage in Houston on Apr. 5 of that same year to a cacaphony of synth sounds, lasers, and fireworks. Though McNair wasn’t giving his solo from space, 1.3 million people still checked in to see the concert in McNair’s honor.
The Houston, Texas skyline lights up for Jarre’s tribute to McNair.
At the request of McNair’s wife, Grammy-winning jazz musician Kirk Whalum performed McNair’s saxophone solo.
“Going on stage took on a new meaning that day,” he told CNN. “Because not to mention this horde, this mass of humanity, and all the security just to get to this spot, but then they had to hoist my instrument up, and then I was climbing up this crazy ladder to get to the top of this scaffold.”
It was the largest-ever public performance of its kind up to that point.
Songs have a way of telling the story of someone’s life. I feel like these songs describe what I’ve been through in one way or another, from childhood until now. I grew up listening to different genres. As A young kid, I would sing ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia” with my twin brother. In college, I remember listening to a lot of Ice Cube. Later on, I returned to hard rock, jocking up to AC/DC and Metallica with the SEAL teams. And now, I’m singing along to Justin Timberlake with my kids on the way to drop them off at school. —Marcus Luttrell, retired Navy SEAL.
We listened to all 25 songs on his list and picked out the 13 we feel capture his badassery.
Troops make overly-hardcore videos during their deployments to showcase the badassery of military life. Absolutely nothing wrong with that — we all do it. The thing is, whenever we push the footage over to combat camera to make it into a video for YouTube, we always choose the same songs, over and over again.
We get it, you stacked bodies, so you want to make the song about how grunt you and your boys were to the tune of “Bodies” by Drowning Pool. Great song! It’s just way too overused considering the millions of other songs there are to chose from.
Choosing a great song for an awesome video requires a few things: A high-octane feel, a decent length (preferably over four minutes), a meaning behind the song, and it has to be something that hasn’t been used in every other deployment video.
Did you and your platoon not get the chance to step outside the wire, but you still want to pretend like you’re hard as f*ck? As if you guys needed to watch the whole world die from a good, safe distance? We’ve got the perfect for the POGs who want to pretend they’re badasses.
Plus, the song is too good for anyone to realize you sat on the FOB the entire deployment.
5. Johnny Cash – “The Man Comes Around”
Having a fellow veteran’s song play over your footage is kind of a no-brainer.
The song is about the end of the world told from the perspective of the pale horseman, Death. Very apt for every platoon who nicknames themselves “The Reapers.”
There aren’t hardcore Air Force or Aviation songs to chose from? Bullsh*t.
You probably weren’t experimenting on aliens, but the song can also be applied to badass airmen or MI troops. You know, just without foreign life forms in inventory.
3. Metallica – “Seek and Destroy”
Everyone always opts for a song off of “Ride the Lightning” or the “Black Album.” People tend to sleep on the album that kicked off Metallica’s career.
“Seek and Destroy” makes for one hell of a “hooah” video because it’s literally what grunts do.
2. The Animals – “The House of the Rising Sun”
Let’s be real: this song is basically singing about the struggles every troop faces. A sh*tty upbringing, plenty of alcohol, and thriving in a life of “sin and misery.”
There’re a few versions, so take your pick. The Five Finger Death Punch version may be hardcore, but The Animals’ version is, well, a masterpiece.
1. Pantera – “Cemetery Gates”
Tonally, a lot of the deployment videos are all over the place. It starts off with something high-octane, like “Click, Click, Boom” by Saliva for the convoy helmet videos, then settles into something slow and sweet, like “Crossroad” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, for the memorial piece for our fallen brothers.
“Cemetery Gates” has you covered if you want to go for something awesome for combat footage and somber for the fallen. It’s over seven minutes long, so can fit everything in.
*Bonus* Alice in Chains – “Rooster”
This song is literally about the 101st Airborne Division. And it gets a soft-pass for the number of times it’s been used in some 101st “hooah” videos. But the song is about them, so the real question is… why hasn’t this become over-used yet?
The rock band Foo Fighters didn’t just put some gibberish out there and call it a band name. Frontman Dave Grohl was actually reading a book about UFOs and he picked a name that, at the time, seemed to fit.
“Around the time that I recorded the first FF tape (that became the first record), I was reading a lot of books on UFOs, he told Clash. “Since I had recorded the first record by myself, playing all the instruments…I wanted people to think that it was a group, I figured that Foo Fighters might lead people to believe that it was more than just one guy. Silly, huh?”
Grohl is referring to the World War II slang term among fighter and bomber crews who believed they saw UFOs: “foo fighters.”
They never showed up on radar and appeared to multiple aircrews of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron. They outmaneuvered all the aircraft and flew as fast or faster than 200 miles per hour.
Reports from the era say the pilots reported feeling “scared shitless” though the lights never caused damage to the airframes.
The Air Corps sent investigators to the 415th after journalist Robert Wilson published a front-page story in newspapers across America, but the investigation never saw the light of day. Even a CIA-funded panel of physicists failed to offer an explanation.
As for the band name, Grohl believes the name hasn’t really stood the test of time.
“Had I actually considered this to be a career, I probably would have called it something else, because it’s the stupidest f*cking band name in the world,” Grohl said.
Thirty-five years ago today John Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman — an avid Beatles fan — in the entryway of the Dakota apartments located in New York City’s Upper Westside. In tribute social media is lighting up with interpretations of Lennon’s message of peace that came in various forms during his artistic career, most famously in his songs “Imagine” and “War is Over (if You Want It).”
But John Lennon was born in England in 1940, the early part of World War II. His father was a merchant seaman, always gone on convoy runs, and — like the rest of his fellow countrymen, Lennon learned to hate the Luffewaffe and love the RAF as he watched airplanes fly overhead and heeded the wail of air raid sirens. He may have preached peace, but there’s no denying he understood the value of a strong national defense. His success was a product of it. Ironically enough, The Beatles honed their musical presentation — the one they would use to wow America on the Ed Sullivan Show a few years later — in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, which had been a major industrial hub of the Third Reich a mere 17 years or so earlier.
There are several pieces of evidence of Lennon’s military inclinations. When we was a teenager he was a member of the Air Training Corps (sort of a British version of the Civil Air Patrol) according to a report by NME.
In 1966 Lennon played the role of Private Gripweed in “How I Won the War,” directed by Lennon’s good friend Richard Lester:
The Beatles movie “Help” (also directed by Richard Lester) had a few references to warfare including an all out war scene in an open field involving British infantry and armored units.
And don’t forget the Lennon-penned Beatles’ song “Revolution,” that included the lyrics “when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out . . . in.”
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.
You let us tag along on your convoy. You let us raid a house in the stack. You watched our ass while our head was in a camera viewfinder. You even let us eat your food. So when you ask us for some of the footage of the unit in action we’re happy to oblige.
When you want us to make a music video of it, no problem, even though we know using copyrighted music is illegal. We want you to keep letting us roll with you…and for you to keep saving our asses.
But then one of your officers tells us to use one of these eight songs and it makes us die inside.
1. Drowning Pool — “Bodies”
This is by far the most overused song ever paired with combat camera footage (with “Soldiers” a close second). And it’s not just commanders asking combat camera to do this. Civilians do this ad nauseam.
That video has more than a million views. A MILLION. I don’t understand the enduring popularity of this song, but if there’s a better or more obvious song about killing a lot of people, I haven’t heard it.
2. Saliva — “Click Click Boom”
A full 20 percent of YouTube is probably the same video footage of the military with this Saliva song — this Saliva song about how great the lead singer’s childhood was and how totally awesome it is that he’s on the radio now.
I wish Beavis and Butthead were around to rip on this band. Still, it does make it pretty easy to edit a video fast, even if I feel like a complete hack afterward.
The only lyric the casual listener probably understands for most of the song is “Bombs Over Baghdad,” so when you send it to your mom, she gets the point of the video, and can’t really hear about the struggles of Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s pre-stardom struggle.
4. Chad Kroeger ft. Josey Scott — “Hero”
The singers from Nickelback AND Saliva. Enough said. Good lord this song was so big in 2002-2003. You’ll be just as proud of a video featuring you clearing houses to this song as you are your trucker hat collection and your flip phone.
This song was supposed to be an uplifting anthem for the first Spider-Man movie but it’s the most depressing song I’ve ever been asked to use in any video ever. I bet if you asked Kirsten Dunst what the low point of her career was, it would be that she didn’t have the choice to be excluded from this music video.
5. P.O.D. — “Boom”
Another band who sings about how they’re a band now. If you haven’t noticed the trend, guitar riffs and shouting “boom” were super popular in the early 2000s.
P.O.D. is the MySpace of metal. They’re still around but no one knows why.
6. Toby Keith — “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”
This song is so cheesy, I’m actually surprised Chad Kroeger didn’t write it, but maybe there are some things even Pop Rock Jesus won’t do. Some of you might think this song is awesome but I doubt you’d play it at a party in front of all your friends.
Also Toby Keith got more awards and plaques from military units just for singing this song than some people got for actually enlisting after 9/11.
7. Godsmack — “I Stand Alone”
Forget for a moment that the frontman sounds like Adam Sandler’s impression of Eddie Vedder. This song’s lyrics read like they were translated from Nepali by Google Translate. Also, unless your unit is the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae (it isn’t), you definitely don’t stand alone.
8. AC/DC — “Thunderstruck”
Ok, this isn’t an awful song. I mean, I get why you might want six minutes of your squadron or platoon blowing things up to AC/DC. But, aside from the opening minute and a half or so, this is could be any AC/DC song. All AC/DC songs sound like this. That’s why we love them.
Nazareth — Hair of the Dog
To be honest, this request only happened once, but do you really think any young Marine is going to love watching themselves on a dismounted patrol to this song?
Why not just have me choose something from Chicago’s greatest hits? If I gave any grunt a music video of themselves with this song, they’d beat my Air Force ass so hard.