Heavy Metal Rockers Talk USO Tours and Troops
By Derek Turner
Not everything about the show was strange.
Stevie Benton is used to clutching the neck of his bass guitar and looking out into a mass of raging youth, some with fists raised and heads bobbing, others leaping and crashing into each other for the sheer release of it.
It was the loaded weapons that threw him off. Hundreds of them filled the few feet of space between the front of the stage and the first rows of the crowd.
They weren’t in Texas anymore. Drowning Pool was in Iraq.
“They’d have everyone pass up all their weapons and they’d drop them right in front of the stage so that no one accidentally got headbutted with the back of a rifle or something,” Benton said. “So we’re playing the show and there’s just this moat of huge guns and then the crowd. I remember looking down at that and thinking this is really surreal.”
That was 2006. It was Drowning Pool’s second USO tour but the band’s first time in an active combat zone. They stayed on the bases, toured the facilities and swapped stories with troops. And when the sirens wailed, they did what everyone else did. They took cover.
“They’d have to rush us all into bunkers,” he said. “Of course, we were like a bunch of frightened little girls, because we hadn’t ever experienced anything like that, so I’ll never forget it. It’s not that we ever felt unsafe. It was just like, ‘Whoa, this is the way it is? This is crazy.’”
Equally memorable were the times when the troops would thank them for coming and tell them that the band’s music helped pump them full of adrenaline for missions outside the wire.
Drowning Pool has been blaring from the troops’ earbuds ever since the Dallas-based band’s signature hit “Bodies” broke out in 2001, with its shouting, repetitive chorus: “Let the bodies hit the floor!”
At the shows, troops in their desert camouflage or PT uniforms and reflective belts went wild when the first, whispered words of the song gave way to a seismic scream. It became an anthem for young men sent to a violent place. But here’s the thing: That song isn’t at all about troops or war, or even serious violence.
“We’d written ‘Bodies’ so long ago, and it was really just a song about kids in a mosh pit,” said Benton, the son of a Vietnam veteran. “We wanted to make a song that was more directly connected to and about the troops.”
Inspired by the things they’d seen and the people they’d met, Benton and his bandmates left Iraq, went home and wrote a song called “Soldiers.” They released it in 2007 and the video featured footage of their Middle East tour. But nearly seven years passed before Drowning Pool’s next USO show. This spring, schedules and opportunity aligned. With a European tour already planned to promote their new album, “Resilience,” they worked with the USO to arrange shows for U.S. troops at bases in England and Germany.
Benton and the other longtime members of the band regaled new lead singer Jasen Moreno with stories of their earlier tour stops in Iraq and Kuwait. They told of the rifle moat and the dripping intensity.
And then they got to see the other side of the military.
“The bases we played in Germany and the U.K., a lot of families are stationed there, so there were a lot of kids at the shows. We didn’t know, we weren’t expecting that,” Benton said. “But you always like to see kids at the show. They love rock music. There was nothing bad about it. It was just a completely different vibe than what we expected. You try not to throw as many F-bombs in there.”
In September, the band embarked on its fourth USO tour, playing shows for service members at Air Force bases in Missouri, Wyoming and Montana.
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.
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