Band Practice

Our buddy Jake Sanino volunteered the company's supply tent for practice.  We ran an extension cord out to the generator that Leadbetter'd "appropriated" for Dodge City and we had plenty of juice for all of the amps, plus my jerry-rigged PA system.  When Sugden, Ioli, Jessen, and I weren't out on patrol, sleeping, or in the mess hall for chow, we were back at the supply tent, practicing.  

That's Jessen, keyboards, with his tongue hanging out – point a camera his way and you'd always get a reaction.  Sug's behind him on bass.

After a few minutes of limbering up, all faces turned to me.

Band practice.  In Vietnam.  

For a split-second, I felt like I was going to cry.  Then the bandleader in me took charge.

“All right, let’s go!” I called out. “’Last Train To Clarksville'.”

Sugden and Ioli nodded, positioned themselves, waited for my cue.

Jessen’s eyes looked like question marks.

“The Monkees?” I prodded.

Jessen’s cheeks were flushed, his face blank.  He shook his head.  “Don’t know it.”

I wondered again if Jessen really knew how to play.  I stifled a sigh.

“It’s easy,” I said.  “Starts in G7, moves to C, back to G7.  C again, then D. Then back to G7.”

Jessen looked bewildered.  

Now I was sure he didn’t know how to play.  Sugden looked down, pretending to tune his bass.  Ioli fiddled with his snare.  Leach shoved his hands in his pockets.

After a few moments, Jessen spoke. “You mean there are only three chords in the song?” 

“Yes,” I answered. 

“Only three chords?” He scratched his head.


I’d never had to kick anyone out of a band before the first practice.

Jessen gave me a long, empty stare.  He blinked. “You’re kidding, right?” 

I tried to hide my irritation.  “No, let me show you,” I said, strumming a G7 as I walked over to the organ.  I demonstrated the chord changes.

Jessen smiled when I was through.  

“Man,” he said, sounding hugely relieved. “I’m used to having thirteen or fourteen chords in the first four measures.  All right, let’s play!”

So I counted it off.  

I knew I'd never have to worry about Jessen’s musicianship again...

Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2023