This is a guest post by Brad Bailey. Brad plays guitar and writes songs in Las Vegas, NV.
For the past nine years, the United States Army paid me to play guitar. Read that again. Didn’t know they did that, did you? Don’t feel bad; no one ever believed me when I told them, either.
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you like to play guitar. Maybe you’ve thought about trying to make a career of it. At the very least, you want to get better at what you do. I’m not famous. I’m not a virtuoso, an underground hero the cool kids know about. So why should you care what I have to say about it? That’s what we’re going to talk about, as well as a little bit about how I got here.
The Army Paid My Way, and More!
I, guitarist of average ability, got someone to pay me to play guitar, provide housing for myself and my family, give me full medical and dental coverage for all of us, and send me around the world. While I did this, I learned some stuff, mostly from outstanding musicians who I’m honored to call friends. Since I left the Army, other people like what I do enough to want me to play with them. Maybe that’s worth something.
Yet More Army Perks…
OK, awesomely awesometastic buildup of epic awesomeness. Now what?
Other stuff the Army paid me to do: Shoot M-16 and M-4 rifles. (I was just kidding in the title when I said “guns.” We don’t call them that. My drill sergeant would have gone all Full Metal Jacket on me if I called a weapon a gun.) Ride in combat helicopters. Climb on stuff. Go to college.
As an Army Bandsperson, I was still a “real” soldier. (Infantry guys would probably disagree. I’d probably agree on most days, but General “Black Jack” Pershing thought my gig was pretty important, so what do I know?) I went through Basic Combat Training (BCT) just like everybody else. I ran miles and miles, learned to shoot, was trained in basic unarmed combat (they’re into the UFC stuff big time), learned all the Army rules about who to call “Sir” and “Ma’am,” and who not to. (See the Full Metal Jacket thing earlier.) I deployed to combat zones, where I had to be on guard against bad guys shooting me. That stuff was fun for me. Mostly.
But Really, How’d I End up Playing Guitar While Wearing Camouflage and Getting Yelled at?
I started playing guitar when I was eleven. I had started drums the year before, but wanted to try something a little more melodic. Learned a bunch of songs out of guitar magazines. I played in the Jazz Bands in Jr high and high school. This whole time, I played in a few bands off and on. Mostly weird experimental things that no one would like. Then, as I was starting college, I had three bands break up in front of me, or otherwise screw me over. I was fed up. At my chosen school, they offered either classical guitar or jazz guitar programs. I figured if I took classical guitar, I wouldn’t have to play with other people. Incidentally, this is not the best basis on which to make major life decisions.
So I studied, improved my music reading abilities, and learned lots of music theory and ear training. I also got married, and shortly thereafter had a baby girl. So, I felt it was time to get a “real job.” Playing guitar is fun and all, but it was time to be a grown-up. So I did, and was pretty happy. I still played, but as a hobby.
How I Turned Playing Guitar Into a Real Job in the Army, with the Help of 9/11 and My Wife…
Then came 9/11. My “real job” was drastically effected by this event. I surrounded several rounds of lay-offs, but felt like I wasn’t going to last much longer, due to major technological changes in my industry. At the same time, my wife had suggested I check into the Army Reserves, with the intention of making some extra money.
I went down to the nearest recruiter’s office. The first door was the Army, so that’s the one I went in. (Again, not the best method of making life decisions, but it worked out for me.) The recruiter handed me a job list for both Reserve and Active Duty occupational specialties. I flipped through the Active one, and saw “trombone player.” Weird, right? So I thought to myself, “I wonder if they have ‘guitar player’?” Turns out they did. I went home, and told my wife, “Hey, if I go Active Duty, I could be a guitar player in an Army Band.” To which she responded, “Well turn your butt around and go sign up!” So, I turned my butt around and went to sign up. Which turns out to be a pretty good way to make life decisions.
(Editor’s Note from Michael Jae: Isn’t it amazing how often listening to your wife can turn a situation around for the better?)
How I Adapted to Life as an Army Guitarist
My years studying classical guitar had turned me into a bit of a musical snob; I had stopped listening to popular music almost entirely. Well, the Army wanted me to melt their faces off with my blazing awesome metal riffs of awesomeness. And to also be fairly handy with jazz… And rock. And Latin styles. And country. And Dixieland. The woodshed was calling me. So I relearned a bunch of my favorite rock tunes, got myself some Aebersolds, took some lessons with a jazzer, and devoured anything guitar related I could.
Through many epic, legendary battles, your faithful warrior hero was accepted into the brotherhood of Army dudes, where he proceeded to learn lots of awesome stuff that made him a much better player, and importantly, an asset to the different groups he played in.
Do you want to know some of these ancient skills that were passed on? Let me know below in the comments…