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When you think of your favorite rock and roll legends, you might think of rebels who didn’t quite fit in — misfits who marched to the beat of their own drummer. You probably don’t imagine them literally marching in unison and taking orders from drill sergeants. But the reality is, some of these famous musicians actually served in the U.S. military before, and even during, their ascent to rock hero status.

Here are 3 guitar legends who were also U.S. veterans, and the guitar styles that we’ll always remember them for: 

Jimi Hendrix 

Jimi Hendrix has always been a rebel, which played a pivotal role in his entrance into the military, as well as his exit. 

Hendrix enlisted in the Army in 1961, the start of the Vietnam War, but only because the options were limited. After running into some trouble with law enforcement, he was given a choice: “he could either spend two years in prison or join the Army,” says

So, that’s what he did, but the famously anti-war Hendrix wouldn’t last long. The Army could never bottle up the rebellious nature inside that made Hendrix the ground-breaking guitarist many still worship even decades after his 1970 death.

True to his nature, Hendrix would play guitar while off duty, which “didn’t endear him with the other men in the barracks,” according to He became such a nuance to his commanding officers that they decided to discharge him. Needing an excuse, they claimed he injured his ankle, and Hendrix received an honorable discharge. 

Join JamPlay to learn how to capture the truly unique and trailblazing style of one of rock music’s greatest artists. Experience how in our beginner series, In the Style of Jimi Hendrix.

Elvis Presley 

The so-called “King of Rock and Roll” had a much different experience than the aforementioned Jimi Hendrix, though both weren’t given much of an option.

Presley didn’t join the Army voluntarily, instead, falling victim to the draft in 1957, when he was one of the most famous people on the planet. According to the Chicago Tribune, his fame begged the question: “Could the most famous person in the United States be useful or would he just get in the way?” But it wouldn’t take long for Presley to prove his worth. He would go on to serve in two different armor battalions and he served overseas in Germany for 18 months. 

Presley’s time in the Army was a dark one though, according to the Chicago Tribune. It was a time where he lost his mother and he began his addiction to drugs, that likely ended his life. After his year and a half stint, he was discharged from active service in 1960, then from the reserves in 1964. His fans would no longer have to wait for new music from the King.

Honor Elvis as a veteran and a great musician. Join to learn Elvis’s classic “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was released just a year before he started service, and others.

Johnny Cash

Shifting away from Rock and Roll to Country, Johnny Cash is the only man on our list who voluntarily enlisted in the armed forces. Cash was an interesting person, who did a lot more than make country music to be enjoyed for decades. His military experience may be the most fascinating.

He enlisted in the Air Force in 1950, during the Korean War. Cash felt lonely during his service, leading him to learn the guitar and write songs, some of which would soon become famous. Star and Stripes said Cash’s time in the military “influenced the history of rock ’n’ roll and country music” more than any other.” 

Cash’s service didn’t just benefit the music community though, he also intercepted some very important information that highlighted his 3 years of service. Believe it or not, Johnny Cash decoded a morse code message from the Soviets and became the first American to learn of Joseph Stalin’s death. 

Join JamPlay to gain access to learning Johnny Cash’s hits as you celebrate Veteran’s Day honoring a great veteran and legendary guitarist. 

Want more? Rock legend, Jerry Garcia was also a veteran. What better way to celebrate all veterans than tapping into your inner Grateful Dead with a free lesson in the style of the Grateful Dead at

Veterans Day is a great time to learn something new on guitar and pay tribute to one of these legendary guitarists / veterans. 

Happy Veterans Day!

Join the more than 500,000 guitarists who have experienced JamPlay. Guitar lessons from world class instructor artists in every genre and for every interest to power up your guitar skill.  Become a member today at

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