Escaping a criminal, saving a gang and helping a family: Famous musicians in the army


Pavel Kučera


You might think that music and warfare don’t quite go together. Nevertheless, a number of famous musicians temporarily found themselves (as they say in our country) in green, i.e. they spent some of their time in the military. Which is quite topical at a time when the subject of the return of compulsory military service is being brought up again.

Read the stories of musicians who wore a military uniform.

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Huey Morgan (Fun Lovin’ Criminals)

Today, the former frontman of the legendary New York party Huey Morgan did not choose the name for his group by chance. Although he was not a big gangster, he did get into trouble with the law a few times, mainly because of selling cocaine. Once he even went to jail for a short time because the police caught him with a package and in a stolen car. And since he was facing a pretty hefty sentence, Huey preferred to join the Marines in exchange for a shorter sentence, which seemed like a better option. He himself later said: “Before I had no brothers and sisters, and suddenly I had two thousand brothers. It was a big change in the way I saw life. I’ve never been a loner, I’ve had a lot of friends, but in the Marines it’s even more important. I went through the whole military fraternity thing and I’m still in touch with those guys. In the Marines, I learned how to cope. Even if it is a big problem, you just need to break it down into small pieces and tackle them gradually, and then you will succeed. It also makes me very clean and pedantic about order, although my wife might say otherwise. At the same time, the army opened me up to other music. I was there with people from Iowa and Texas and all over the world, listening to their lives and listening to what they were listening to. I formed Fun Lovin’ Criminals after I got out of the military and a lot of that comes through in my music.”

Bill Withers

You might not say it at all, but one of the greatest soul bards of the 70s and early 80s and the author of songs like Lovely Day or Ain’t No Sunshine dedicated a large part of his life to the military. Bill did not have an easy life at all. As a child, he stuttered, for which he suffered from his peers. The father died when Bill was thirteen, and the family, which was already living in rather weak social conditions, sank even lower. At the age of seventeen, he therefore saw nothing else to do and enlisted in the American army, in which he served for nine long years. And it was during his service in the army that Withers underwent therapy, thanks to which he got rid of his stutter. During that time he also became interested in music and wrote his first songs while in the army. He was discharged from the army in 1965, and five years later he received a recording contract. And in 1973, he released a song that he wanted to pay tribute to all war veterans. It was I Can’t Write Left-Handed, which Withers composed while he was serving in Vietnam. “It’s a song written from the point of view of a wounded soldier. It wasn’t a political statement, it wasn’t rebellious and outrageous. It was simply about what the veterans went through. It was one of the first songs to touch on the mental anguish and post-traumatic stress that many Vietnam veterans experienced in the years after the war,” Withers himself said.

Ice T

Today, you may know this guy mainly from the series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, where he plays the character of Detective Odafin Tutuola. The older ones of us remember well that Ice T, whose real name is Tracy Lauren Marrow, was a famous rapper in the 80s and 90s. And it is somewhat paradoxical that one of the most famous songs he recorded is the song Cop Killer (he recorded it together with the American metal group Bodycount), in which he de facto openly encouraged the killing of policemen. Although Ice T never killed anyone himself, he did not avoid a criminal career in his youth either. As an elementary school student, he lost both parents (in both cases to a heart attack) and then grew up in the environment of the Los Angeles Crips gang. Because he didn’t know what to do with himself after high school, he volunteered to join the army. Ice T, a nickname he acquired as a teenager, served in the 25th Infantry Division and lasted four straight years. However, the service was said to be very hard on him the whole time and he stated several times that obeying orders was not for him. He was therefore released from the army early at his own request and began to devote himself fully to his music career and rap. In 1987 he released his debut album Rhyme Pays and became one of the first big stars of West Coast rap.


The owner of a characteristic deep voice, the singer Shaggy was born in 1968 in Jamaica as Orville Richard Burell. He grew up in the Jamaican capital of Kingston and joined the US Navy in his twenties for lack of other opportunities. Specifically, he joined the United States Marine Corps and became a Marine in MOS 0811, which was Field Artillery Crew. He even got into the thick of battle, serving with a field artillery battery in the 10th Marine Regiment during the Persian Gulf War. The highest rank he attained was that of corporal, but he was demoted twice for various acts of indiscipline. However, Shaggy already started to train his voice during his service in the army and mastered the speech with which he conquered a number of world charts. After four years of service, Shaggy got out of the army and went on a solo career, thus the American army lost one slightly unruly soldier, but the music world found its big star. In 1993, Shaggy released his first hit, Oh Carolina, which made him famous. It is interesting that Shaggy does not speak in a guttural voice at all and certainly not in the so-called “broken English” that he presents in his music. It’s all part of his artistic stylization, overheard while growing up in Jamaica.

Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)

Not only rappers have a military past. Also, the singer of one of the most famous British heavy metal groups ever, Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, served briefly in the army. And he followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a mechanic in the British Army. Bruce was always a gifted child and very smart as well, graduating with honors from elementary and high school. After high school, however, he did not know what to do with himself, so he joined the volunteer United Kingdom Territorial Army for six months, in which he served for six months. According to him, he enjoyed and enjoyed serving in the army, but ultimately decided that it was not the career he wanted. And even though his parents convinced him to stay in the army, he enrolled in college to study history and immediately started playing with various bands. Although he never returned to the army, he is also known for his great love of aviation, which is actually not that far from the army. He even acquired a pilot’s license, thanks to which he can fly even the largest airliners, he himself flies the band plane named Ed Force One. In addition, he filmed several programs about aviation for various televisions, with which he popularizes this area to this day.

Elvis Presley

Between 1958 and 1960, the US Army certainly did not have a more famous soldier than Elvis Presley. He released his debut album two years earlier and became the biggest music star on the planet and the uncrowned king of rock’n’roll. At the same time he released this record, however, he had reached the age of twenty-one, so he could have been drafted into the US Army. His manager Tom Parker was aware of this risk to his career and himself wrote to the Pentagon to have Elvis join the “Special Forces”. This was a de facto entertainment orchestra that toured the crews. In addition, Presley would only serve in it for half a year without having to complete more than basic training. During this service he would have to perform completely free of charge and all performances could be recorded and all profits from their sales would go purely to the army. Which, however, Parker did not want to admit in any case. For some time he therefore tried to agree with the army that Presley would not be drafted at all, but no agreement was reached. Elvis was called up and enlisted in 1958, serving most of this time without much benefit in West Germany. And in the end, it turned out to be a beneficial thing for his music career. The parents of his fans until then perceived rock’n’roll as pure debauchery and rebellion, but Elvis won them over by serving his country. And at the same time, he gained recognition and respect even among the soldiers themselves, thanks to which nothing stood in the way of him becoming the perfect and true American hero that he is to his fans to this day.

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Opening photo: Profimedia

The article is in Czech

Tags: Escaping criminal saving gang helping family Famous musicians army

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