We’re just coming off the Memorial Day holiday weekend. This is the time when we pause, reflect and give thanks to all the great men and women in uniform who sacrifice their own lives for the rest of us to live the peaceful and fruitful lives we do. These heroes are truly the protectors of our freedoms and they deserve so much of our respect and praise. In honor of these great military heroes, here is a piece dedicated to musicians who served in the army before trying their luck in the music industry.
In the late 80s and early 90s, MC Hammer was one of the biggest acts in the burgeoning mainstream invasion of rap music. His secret s to success included a flashy sense of fashion, amazing choreographed dance moves and songs that were catchy club favorites. Some of his biggest hits were the ubiquitous “Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit.” But before all the slick moves and sold out tours, he was a Petty Officer Third Class Aviation in Mountain View, CA. Perhaps all the strict discipline for his excellent dance choreography was a product of his strict army training.
Maynard James Keenan:
Maynard James Keenan aka MJK is the lead singer and visionary behind the progressive and much-loved prog-rock band, Tool. Most you probably know that Tool’s fans are some of the most loyal around; if you say anything bad about MJK in the midst of Tool fans, be prepared to have a quick exit strategy or it might not turn out so well. It might surprise you to know that before Keenan chose music as his vocation, he attended West Point Military Prep school from 1983 to 1984. He reportedly excelled in both basic and advanced training, but declined to enroll in West Point academy in favor of pursuing a music career. He is a man of many talents – in addition to his music career, he also excels at winemaking and owns two wineries: Merkin Vineyard and Caduceus cellars.
Dancehall/reggae star Shaggy has enjoyed a ton of success in the music industry with mainstream hits like “Mampie”, “Oh Carolina,” “Boombastic,’ “It Wasn’t Me” and “Angel.” Did you know that before the huge success in his career, he joined the marines in 1988? In 1990, he actually was sent to fight in the Gulf War. Thankfully, he made it back safe and sound, and the experience inspired him to dedicate himself even more to make the most use of his innate musical talent.
Johnny Cash is an undeniable icon of American country/folk music. Only a handful of musicians have created such a huge impact on American popular and music culture. One fact about him that people may not be aware of is that he served in the military from 1950-1954. He was part of the highly selective cryptographic intelligence unit and was an apparent wiz at cracking Soviet Morse code. Apparently, he was so good at his military assignment that he was the first to report the news of the death of Soviet dictator John Stalin.
The rapper Canibus came on the scene in the late 90’s as an affiliate of Wyclef Jean and the popular Fugees movement. He was instantly recognized as a rhyming wizard for his complex delivery and fierce battle-like rhymes. But in 2002, well into his career, he decided to enlist in the army and try something totally different. According to him, he wanted to experience what it would feel like to immerse himself in a totally unique experience. However his service only lasted two years and he was dishonorably discharged in 2004 after getting caught smoking marijuana.
At this point, we’ve seen Ice-T in his second career as an actor for so many years on the popular crime drama, Law & Order: SVU. Most people know that his first career was as a gangsta rapper – he was actually one of the original gangster rappers with hits like “Colors” and “I’m Your Pusher.” But did you know that right after he graduated from high school, he enrolled into the army and served four years in the 25th Infantry division? He joined because he was young and broke with a girlfriend and daughter – the military helped stabilize his life. The discipline he gained from the military has undoubtedly aided him in his largely successful career.
He was known as The King of Rock & Roll, but most of us don’t know that he also served in the United States Army between 1958 and 1960. By the time he enrolled in the army, he was already a household name. Even though he was offered the cushy position of entertaining the troops and living in priority housing, he chose instead to be a regular soldier. There may be certain aspects of his career and lifestyle that you may not condone, but one fact exists; The King was a true patriot.
Arguably one of the greatest rock guitarists that ever lived, Hendrix left an indelible stamp on the face of rock & roll. However, in 1961, a young Hendrix had a run-in with the law over stolen cars. He was given a choice: he could either spend two years in jail for his crimes or enlist in the army. He chose the latter. He ended up only doing one year of his army service (his assignment was 101st Airborne division) before being discharged. Just a short time after that, he emerged as a star on the London music scene, and as they say, the rest is history.
British singer James Blunt is the last person you’d think would have a military past. He’s a multi-platinum singer/songwriter with soft and romantic songs like “Goodbye My Love” and “You’re Beautiful,” – one wouldn’t really think that he had any fighter DNA in him. But because the British Army sponsored his college education, he was obligated to serve four years in the military. During his military career, he was stationed in Alberta, Canada and he was even deployed to Kosovo in 1999. But his uniformed days are behind him and his latest album titled “Moon Landing” is out now.
Coltrane is one of the greatest jazz musicians that ever played the tenor sax. His biography states that even though he started playing the instrument as early as age 13, he wasn’t an instant prodigy. However he was one of those musicians focused and driven to constantly improve. Coltrane was a Navy man too. He enlisted in the Navy on the same day that US Forces dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima, August 6th, 1945. However by the time he finished his year of basic training, World War II was already over, and he was free to come back to the music that would make him a star and unforgettable jazz icon.