Before they rocked the arenas or performed for swooning fans, these artists sang a different tune – as members of the United States Armed Forces. Here are 10 musicians who spent some time serving in the military. You might be surprised at who’s on the list!
George Strait – Not only was country music singer George Strait enlisted in the U.S. Army from 1971 – 1975, but the launch of his career can be attributed in part to his time in the military. He played with an Army-sponsored country music band called Rambling Country and by the time he left the Army, he was an accomplished artist. He continues to give back to his country as a spokesperson for the Wrangler National Patriot program which supports wounded and fallen military veterans and their families.
Jerry Garcia – After getting into trouble, The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia joined the Army, smuggling his guitar into basic training. He went AWOL several times and was discharged on December 14, 1960 after only serving for nine months.
Ice-T – Hip-hop / rap artist and actor, Ice-T, (birth name Tracy Marrow), served in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division for four years after graduating high school. He joined the military because he had a girlfriend and daughter to support and needed the money.
Willie Nelson – After graduating high school in 1950, the iconic country music singer-songwriter Willie Nelson joined the United States Air Force. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas but had back problems that led to an early discharge.
Johnny Cash – Just like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, another iconic country music star, enlisted in the Air Force and was trained at Lackland Air Force base and Brooks Air Force Base. He served during the Korean War and spent three years stationed in Landsberg, Germany where he was a Morse Code Intercept Operator and used his paycheck to purchase his first guitar. Legend has it that he was one of the first Americans to learn that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had died – even before President Eisenhower! Cash was honorably discharged after four years.
Elvis Presley – In 1958, at the height of his career, The King of Rock ‘n Roll was drafted into the United States Army. His fans were devastated. While Presley was offered special treatment and opportunities, he declined them and was enlisted and trained as a regular soldier. He trained at Fort Hood and was eventually assigned to the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany. He was promoted to acting sergeant earning three stripes and was honorably discharged in March 1960.
Jimi Hendrix – The legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix got into legal trouble as a young adult and was given a choice of joining the Army or serving two years in prison. He chose the military and enlisted on May 31, 1961. He was stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky but after serving just one year, he started to draw criticism about his personal conduct and was given an honorable discharge.
MC Hammer – Before it was Hammer time, it was Navy time for rapper Stanley Kirk Burrell, a.k.a. MC Hammer. He served as a Petty Officer Third Class Aviation Store Keeper in California for three years.
Shaggy – Reggae / pop artist Shaggy, born Orville Richard Burrell, came to the United States from Jamaica to pursue a music career. Discouraged with his prospects, he decided to join the Marines in 1988, eventually serving in the Gulf War as a Marine Corps Field Artillery Cannon Crewman.
Maynard James Keenan – The lead singer of the rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle was a Forward Observer in the Army and studied at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School. He was accepted to West Point, but decided to complete his active duty term of enlistment to study art.