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I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2007 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com
(Attention Christmas shoppers! This story from last summer is re-posted today with you in mind. The Mudvile Gazette gets no - none - zip - nada - proceeds from sale of these items. Buy a few for stocking stuffers, and enjoy.)
One day in Baghdad, Arkansas National Guardsmen Luke Striklin, Nick Brown, and JR Shultz found themselves with some time on their hands. They hooked a cheap microphone up to a laptop computer and recorded themselves playing guitars and signing songs they wrote while "over there". Some of those tunes have ended up floating around the internet, and onto radio stations in the US. One of them resulted in a record contract for Stricklin.
That song is called American by God's Amazing Grace, and if you haven't heard it yet you will. Here's one of the lines from the song:
You want to talk about it, you better keep it short
cause I got a lot of lost time I gotta make up for.
I've been there, come back, and I know that feeling. But I'm proud to note that JR Shultz, co-writer of that song, has decided to "talk about it" with us right here.
Despite being in Baghdad at the same time, I never met these guys. We've been fans of these guys for a while now, and have added a permanent link to their site from our sidebar. I first "met" JR when he emailed and thanked me for the link. That email led to this interview, and I thank him for his time.
He and Shultz have compiled their work onto a self-produced CD called Iraq Unplugged and are making them to order via their web site. Ten bucks and 2.95 s&h will get you your piece of history in the form of some fine music made under incredible circumstances. Don't expect Woodstock - these guys would be booed off the stage at any "support the troops - bring them home!" rally. Likewise these aren't multi-million dollar studio recordings by other folks "supporting the troops" - these are songs by the troops, live from Iraq. So besides being "real good" these guys are "real" the way most singers only wish they could be.
Without further ado...
GH: Greetings JR, welcome to Mudville. Where are you from originally? Where's home?
JR: I am from Arkansas, outside of Hot Springs.
GH: How did you end up in the National Guard?
JR: I joined mainly for the college money, I graduated in 2002 with a BS in Biology and currently work for the Fisheries Division of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
GH: How long have you been in the Guard?
JR: I was at the end of my 6 years when we were activated, I was placed on stop-loss, but was happy to go with my unit instead of take my chances in IRR.
GH: Did the three of you know each other before going to Iraq?
JR: Luke and I met when he joined the guard about 5 yrs ago. We were in the same platoon until I was pulled to join a team of cadre training Iraqi National Guard Soldiers. We met Nick in Baghdad.
GH: What was your mission in Iraq?
JR: I was pulled from my squad to join a team of cadre who were responsible for training an Iraqi National Guard unit. At the beginning of our deployment, we were conducting training drills inside the perimeter of our FOB, and by the end we were accompanying elements from the ING unit on operations in the Haifa St. area of Baghdad. I can't speak for any other unit, but these guys made a lot of progress in the year that we worked with them.
Greyhawk notes: He's being modest. But I know about Haifa street. Here's a recent report:
An American-Iraqi military campaign, begun last year to retake the street, seemed to bear fruit as insurgents were captured, killed or driven out of the area. On Feb. 6, the American command handed over a cut of north-central Baghdad, including Haifa Street, to the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, of the Iraqi army.You can contrast that with this well-publicized story of some Pulitzer prize-winning photos from December of last year.
This transfer made the 1st Brigade the first and only Iraqi army unit to control its own battle space, putting it on the leading edge of the Bush administration's plan to have Iraqi forces take responsibility for the country's security.
The good news for American officials is that the Iraqi troops have not lost ground on Haifa Street. Since the 1st Brigade took control, there have been only three insurgent attacks along the street, and those came in the first three weeks, commanders say.
Pro-Iraqi army graffiti has begun to appear on walls that for months had been adorned exclusively with anti-American slogans. Residents now socialize outside their buildings and say they feel safer walking along the street. People who fled their apartments have started to trickle back, and pedestrian and vehicular traffic, while still thin compared with other major thoroughfares, is slowly returning.
A brazen daylight attack in the heart of Baghdad with rebels executing election workers in cold blood served as a chilling reminder Sunday of the deteriorating security situation in the Iraqi capital with just more than a month before crucial parliamentary elections.But even while helping transform Haifa Street, J.R, Nick and Luke found time for other pursuits too.
A series pictures taken by an AP photographer show three pistol-wielding gunmen, who had earlier stopped a car carrying the election officials and dragged them into the middle of Haifa Street in the midst of morning traffic.
GH: What's your musical background?
JR: I've played guitar for about 8 years, but only as a hobby. I only began writing songs in Iraq as a way to pass the time and vent a little.
GH: Did you plan to take guitars over there? How did you get them there? And how did you establish a recording studio in Baghdad?
JR: I packed my box on a shipping container at Ft. Hood that was sent by boat. I recovered it in Baghdad a few months later, surprised to find it still in tune!! So the three of us spent many hours playing guitar together. Nick and I had written a few songs and were urged by other soldiers to find a way to record them so I downloaded a program off of the internet. With my laptop, a plastic mic designed for internet chat, and an acoustic guitar, we began recording and passing out our music to soldiers in our battalion and it has spread from there. "Mortaritaville" and "I am a Patriot" have been widely shared over the internet, but we are equally excited about the other 11 tracks on our album, titled "Iraq Unplugged". Luke and I wrote "American by God's Amazing Grace" which was sent home and picked up by radio stations after we recorded it in Baghdad.
GH: Are you all involved in Luke Striklin's album project?
JR: No, Luke was picked up by an independent label out of Nashville, the only association I have with his album is being co-writer of "American...." However, he has been keeping in touch and Nick and I are hoping the best for him. Hopefully we can write together again sometime. Luke recorded several more songs with us but unfortunately they will not be available on this CD. We did not begin this project with the goal of someday selling a CD. We were merely writing songs dealing with our experiences and sometimes drawing off of the experiences of soldiers around us. However, once we recorded this music, the response from family and friends, as well as fellow soldiers, was overwhelming and they urged us to find a way to spread our music. Many soldiers serving in Iraq have heard about our music either through word of mouth or on the internet but virtually no one knows about our CD or our website.
GH: Well, the finished project is awesome, and it should be heard. Anything else you want to say to America or the world about your time over there?
JR: We are excited about sharing our music with America and hope that they not only enjoy what we have to offer, but we hope it can give them a sense of what is encountered by the American soldier in Iraq. When I wrote "I am a Patriot" I was expressing how it felt to be a soldier in a combat zone, where you could greet death any day. I hope that this song will serve as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that so many Americans have made. Others, such as "Mortaritaville" could be interpreted as Anti-war. However, it is not. Many times when things got rough, I'd wonder how I ended up in Iraq. This song is about a soldier going through the possibilities (blaming Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush) before finally deciding it was his own fault for enlisting in the first place. The song was meant to be comical and not a political statement of any kind, contrary to what I've read on many online discussions about it. Our country's leadership was merely a target of opportunity that fit to well with the scheme of the song. We are currently working on a page for our website complete with Lyrics and the inspirations behind each of our songs.
GH: You've got nothing to apologize for, your songs capture the reality, and they speak for a lot of GIs. So what's in the future?
JR: I will be leaving the guard in September, done with my 8 year obligation. I plan on working and raising my family, trying to spread the word about this CD in my spare time. If I have a future in music, it would be as a songwriter. Nick on the other hand has a lot of talent and hopefully this music from will launch a career for him as it did for Luke.
You can listen to samples from Iraq Unplugged at their site. (Click on the name tapes on the front page. Mrs Greyhawk's favorite is I am a Patriot - but we haven't heard them all yet.) A bit of advice from me, act fast on this one. I think once the big labels find these guys the originals might become rare...
Hey JR, thanks, and best of luck to you!
And if anyone wants to leave a comment here for him, I think he'll probably get the message.
Thanks for the write-up..I just ordered the CD!Posted by Karen at August 23, 2005 08:36 PM
I ordered the CD the other day and can't wait to get it! You guys sound so great. I also put up your CD on my blog with a link.
Good Luck and God bless you!Posted by Rightwingsparkle at August 23, 2005 09:50 PM
That is timing. Just got the CD today in the mail and I came downstairs to put it in the computer and listen.
I purchased it mainly because I downloaded the "I am a Patriot" video and was very stuck by the family images and the words. But the video cuts out before the end and I had to listen to the rest of the song.
(I'm on "The Ballad of Ahmed Razooki" right now)
Quick review: This CD is beyond great. The words of every song carry so much more meaning then anything else you could buy.
Sorry, but it is hard to put into words the emotions I am feeling while I listen to this CD. If you are a Dad (I have 3 kids) "The Day Your Were Born" will tear you up. You will see, feel, hear the young man's life, and will know that Satan is in the car's back seat in "All You've Gotta Do".
"When Daddies Don't Come Home" is playing now.
Man ... I'm crying again.
All I can do is pray.
Yes. I am greatful for your sacrifice.
Just buy this CD. Listen to it.
...Posted by arrasmith at August 24, 2005 01:21 AM
Excellent story. My dad was a career USAF pilot (WW II, Korea, Viet Nam) so that I can have the freedom to be a musician. You guys over there are working to continue to make my dream a reality. Just got home from a gig. Glad to know I have some musical brothers in uniform watching my six. Godspeed and God bless. You rock. So, rock on. We love you guys and are thankful every minute for your service.Posted by Hucbald at August 24, 2005 05:22 AM
I would like to thank everyone for their support both in Iraq and with this music. We hope you enjoy listening to our CD and look forward to hearing your comments about it. Sincerely, JR Schultz and Nick Brown.Posted by JR at August 24, 2005 10:02 AM
I would also like to say thanks for all the support you guys have given. We know that without the support of fellow Americans things would be alot harder on the troops overseas. Thank you so much and we hope you enjoy the cd.
NickPosted by Nick at August 26, 2005 01:37 AM
As luck would have it, my CD arrived Friday afternoon. I popped it in the player in my car as I drove downtown to Walter Reed to join the DC Freepers in support of the wounded troops. I cried and laughed for an hour and a half and cannot imagine a more perfect way to get psyched up for such an event.
THANK YOU JR and Nick for this wonderful music! You guys rock!!!!Posted by GunnNutt at August 28, 2005 01:46 AM
I love it this is great! I am smiling so big and so proud of our troops!
You guys are awesome!!!!
Thank for the write up about this Grayhawk.
I want to thank all of you and Grayhawk too for your serving our country. I can never thank you enough!!!!Posted by Wild Thing at November 25, 2005 06:10 PM
I love the CD, got it last Sept. Ahmed Razooki is an amazing song. What is so special about these songs are the words and heartfelt emotion behind them. I'm afraid though this will only appeal to the military community and those that ardently support them. I've tried to urge people outside of this blogging community and have not had much luck.Posted by Toni at November 25, 2005 11:26 PM
Thanks for the earlier tip, I've already received my copies. These CD's make a great "stocking stuffer" for the hard to please person on your list!
I just want to say how very proud I am of our men & women fighting for the Freedom of the Iraqi people!!! Their in my prayers and their all hero's to me!! God Bless our Troops and God Bless America!!!!!Posted by Carrie Fontana at December 2, 2005 09:36 PM
When I was in Iraq, several of us got together and recorded some songs. I'd love to get CD's pressed and get them out to friends and families (or anyone interested). How did the other Soldiers get this done? We don't have many songs (maybe 10), but we'd like to get some promotion on them. Any ideas? Please email me at this address, if you can help:
DanPosted by Dan at December 17, 2005 03:44 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(12) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)