Joshua Strickland: From Bourbon Street to the battlefield to The Bayou Bandits

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski, The Entertainer!

New Orleans is where truth, fate and voodoo all intersect.

A native of Livingston Parish in southern Louisiana, Joshua Strickland is familiar with all three. By 14, he was living through the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina; eight years later, he began the first of 187 Army combat missions in southern Afghanistan in Kandahar City and the lower Arghandab River Valley.

“My daddy was in Vietnam,” says Strickland, who now lives in Phoenix with his family. “My brothers, one of them was in Desert Storm and the other was in Iraq. My brother-in-law was in Iraq. Then I was in Afghanistan. It was a family tradition.”

Particularly, though, the military took care of Strickland once he was honorably discharged as a sergeant after nine years in the Army. He took his benefits, studied at Chamberlain University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Strickland loves his career as a registered nurse, which calls him to the clinic three days a week. He spends the other four days with his true calling: music. The affectionately named The Bayou Bandits are set to release their new album in May or June.

“I wanted to play music because that’s my passion,” Strickland says. “I always tell everyone, ‘I’m not a nurse. I’m a singer, who just so happens to be a nurse.’”

Musical ambitions

Strickland got his musical start playing on Bourbon Street as a “bucket boy” when he was 13.

“I used to stand on the corner of Bourbon Street and Iberville, right in front of this place called the Old Absinthe House, right there in the French Quarter, or sit on the steps of Jackson Square,” Strickland says.

“I would set out a guitar case and sit on a little bucket. I only knew, like, three or four songs. I would just sit there and play all day trying to make money. That’s where I got my start.”

His repertoire was “Suzie Q” by Creedence Clearwater Revival because he believed they were from New Orleans. “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard, was another gem, and the third one was a gospel tune called “Peace in the Valley,” which was made popular by Elvis Presley.

“I didn’t know what the heck I was doing,” Strickland says. “I would just play and try to make a little bit of money.”

His father, Col. Joey Strickland, played a bit of guitar, but Strickland honed his singing skills in Southern Baptist churches.

“That’s where music started,” he says. “I mean, you’ve got Chicago. You’ve got New York. You’ve got Memphis. You’ve got Nashville. But if you can make it in New Orleans, you can make it anywhere.

“In my opinion, that’s where the greatest music came from. Then, they sent it on up the river to Chicago where they electrified it. That’s where you got Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and B.B. King. That all started down in New Orleans and the Mississippi River Delta.”

Arizona fell on his lap when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed Col. Strickland the director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services in July 2008. He served until April 2013.

Wanting to be close to him, Strickland made Phoenix his permanent home. It was only natural when he formed a band to share his Louisiana roots.

“I’m real proud to be from south Louisiana,” he says. “It’s the place that made me. I wanted to share that with everybody.

“I also pride myself on being an Army guy. I’ve never had a handout. Everything I have I’ve worked for. There are a lot of great bands that are in the same boat, who had to make their way, but that’s us too. We started from nothing and now we play all the major stages around the Valley.”

The first single from the new album is “Take Me Back,” a Southern rock testament to Strickland’s love of Louisiana. It was produced by Don Salter at The Saltmine Studio Oasis in Downtown Mesa. Salter is also turning the knobs for the quartet’s debut album.

“He’s a real artist,” Salter says about Strickland. “He’s the real deal. He’s got a very manly country-tinged rock band there. It’s a man’s man kind of music. It has that crossover between country and rock. It’s got blue-collar appeal. I’m really anxious to complete their album. It should give them a serious release in the world they’re trying to conquer.

“They’re a cool band. Again, it’s like man’s music—not to mean it’s not appealing to women, too. He’s a guy’s guy. He appeals to the blue jean-wearing, truck-driving, kick-ass person. A lot of us take for granted of blessings he’s gone out there and kicked some ass for America and he’s got that chutzpah. He’s not afraid to tell it like it is. He has honesty in his lyrics. He has emotion in his lyrics. It’s not pretty and it’s not sanctimonious or lightweight. The best word to describe it in my head is ‘gritty.’ He has a gritty edge to his songwriting. I think he’s got a bright future. He’s not going to take no for an answer.”

“Take Me Back” was cowritten primarily by lead guitarist Jeremy Magid and Strickland.

“Jeremy came up with the idea,” Strickland says. “I love it out here, I really do, but my heart’s really back home. Due to circumstances, I have to stay out here because I have to raise my son. My mom, my dad, my sisters and my brothers are all back home. I get these moments where I’m kind of sad and downtrodden. My guitar player, who’s like my best buddy, he recognizes these things.

“He came up with this idea one time about ‘take me back.’ The song’s about longing really to be home. That’s how it was written, and it just spiraled from there. Everybody seems to like it.”

Magid is nonchalant about “Take Me Back.” He simply says it was inspired by Strickland.

“We were in a cover band for a long time, so I’ve known him for a while,” Magid says, “I wrote the song about Josh and sent it to him. He could identify with it right away. He said it was like I was reading his mind. I know he misses home, and I know he’d like to move back there.”

Strickland says he frequently reflects on his life, which hasn’t been easy, he realizes.

“I reflect on the things I’ve done in my life at a pretty young age,” he says. “I’ve done a lot and so when he wrote a song about me, it was one of those reflection moments. I don’t know how to explain it.

“It was like I stepped outside of myself to look at myself. It was surreal because the song was so spot on. We both collaborated on it. I added things, he added things, but he put the general idea together. It was interesting because I didn’t expect somebody else to nail it so close to how I felt.”

He quickly dashes any stereotypes about people from Louisiana.

“People think we talk slow,” he says. “People think we’re dumb rednecks, which, you know, a lot of Louisiana folks are backwoods—don’t get me wrong. But we’re all hard-working people down there. I’m proud to be where I’m from, which led us to the next song we’re recording.”

That would be the tongue-in-cheek “Kiss My Dixie Ass.”

“We don’t have Southern rock here,” Strickland says. “You have bands like The Black Moods or the Gin Blossoms, whom we have respect for, but that’s not our sound. Our sound is Southern rock, in your face.

“A lot of people say Southern rock doesn’t have a place out here in Arizona. It just rubs me the wrong way. I’m a transplant, but I love Phoenix. I was born and raised in south Louisiana. We started writing a song called, ‘Kiss My Dixie Ass’ in response to the folks who said that.

“Everybody we’ve previewed it for is in love with it because that’s how I feel.”