The Tracks in the Dust story & the artists who brought it to life to support our Wounded Warriors
Tracks In The Dust: Songs from Afghanistan How it all
It was a cold and smoggy winter night in Kabul as we walked back to our quarters after a long day of work at the International Headquarters Complex, and a long night of playing guitar and singing during our weekly jam sessions in a tent at the Kabul Airfield in Afghanistan, when Tim came up with a great idea. "Wouldn't it be cool if we could record a CD here and sell it to make money for our wounded troops?" Nodding in agreement and heading off to sleep we all agreed that it sounded like a great idea, but had no way to make it happen. We are all amateur musicians who have day jobs, (both military and civilians) here in Afghanistan, so how could we make this happen. Well it turns out, it is not that hard. All you have to do, is give up sleeping for a couple of months, use every bit of your laptops memory, and just do what comes naturally to musicians, and that is play music that you love. So we started working individually on our songs which we recorded in our rooms, in tents, and in any quiet space we could find on our base camps. After a few phone calls I was able to connect to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and explained how we were a group of amateur musicians all deployed to Afghanistan who would like to contribute to WWP in a unique way. I described to the WWP how we had independently put together and recorded songs while deployed to Afghanistan. The idea would be to sell this CD with 100% of the profits going to the Wounded Warrior Project. We had some-one (Our wonderful friend "Q") draw up a sales pitch for the 10 songs we had gathered, and it goes like this:
"Tracks in the dust isn't a polished studio album that was produced, mastered, and packaged for the public. It is a raw creation; the work of eleven servicemen and civilians in Afghanistan from five different nations, who relax and pass the little free time they have by making music. There are many styles on this album, it does not fit neatly into any cubby hole of classification. But please listen; listen to the voices and sounds of those who spend their lives in the service of others."
It truly is something that has never been done before, and we believed this CD would be a great way to make money for the WWP. These songs were all written and recorded, as well as mastered (to the best of our abilities) in Afghanistan. The artists are from five different countries and both military and civilians. The last song to be recorded for this CD, "Dusty Tracks", was completed in April 2011 and is the opening track. The music is all non-offensive, but it is also not over the top patriotic. By the same token it is not a protest. In fact it is really just regular music in the Jazz, Country, Indie, Folk and Rock genres.
Some of the songs are about life, some are about being away from home, and some even talk about the war (because we live it), but these songs all appeal to a wider audience, not just soldiers. There have been other soldier groups who have formed with big label backing after they got safely home, but in our case, we only had each other to depend on here. So give our samples a listen, and if for no other reason then you want to support those who have given so much to this tough fight against terror, buy the CD. But each of us involved in this crazy music project from Afghanistan hope you will find at least one or two favorite songs from among the ten we put together while serving our respective nations.
Best to all, Vince
Tracks In The Dust: Artist Bio's
Paul Baldwin: UK
A quintessential Englishman, I am from Derbyshire in the centre of a fine land called England. Working as an international civilian consultant for NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan, one would never imagine that there would be such a collection of great musicians from different countries and backgrounds. Therefore as a non-musical person (Drummer) I have had an amazing time being part of the "Tracks In The Dust" project and playing music to huge crowds in the Nordic Tent (N2 Bar) every Thursday!!
My fav musicians include Paul Weller, Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age, Eric Clapton, the list is endless!!
My job is awesome (sometimes) but I love mountaineering, kayaking, skiing and generally stuff that is likely to get me seriously injured or killed - life would be boring otherwise!!
Damon Betz left the civilized side of the world for Afghanistan in May of 2003. While on the civilized side of the world he worked hard at implementing the world of midi with the world of audio recording. Digital Audio Workstations were in their infancy in those days and simple recordings came to be rather difficult to wrap ones head around until technology caught up. Damon has a Sound Engineering Degree from the Trebas Institute of Recording Arts. In those days we used parrots to record all of the individual instruments and synchronized them to sing back and we would record the song on two track tape. Yes, tape, not the clear sticky kind but it was dark brown and shiny. You can't make this stuff up! Being in Afghanistan was fortuitous for Damon as he finally had people who wanted to play music available several times a week. Damon improved quite a bit as live playing was not something he was used to. The first couple of years in Afghanistan Damon learned how to record using Nuendo, and FL Studio and created a full album of electronica called Perfect Curves. He also recorded his band mates and the Christmas Choir, which earned him the Commandant's Award for outstanding service. The Choir was broadcasted on mainstream television in Canada at Christmas. After working at Camp Julien Damon went on to work at KAIA South and started a popular rock band called the Replacements on account that all of the members in the band were eventually replaced. Damon was the last member of the replacements playing solo gigs at the Hard Rock Cafe, which of course was not the REAL franchise. Damon went on to work at ISAF HQ and resumed the role of guitarist and bandleader in the Taliband. He played with many people and furthered his playing techniques by playing with several talented guitarists. Eventually Damon was moved to KAIA North and worked with more amazing people on the Acoustic Jam nights until his contract ended in March of 2011.
Tim Bristow: USA
I am a civilian Defense Department employee on deployment to Kabul International Airport (KAIA) for six months. I have been playing guitar for around 22 years and play in a band in Washington DC called Glasgow Tunnel. When I mentioned this crazy idea to Vince, I thought he would trash it and tell me we did not have the ability to put it together. Since that day I have watched 'Tracks in the Dust' form into not just 10 great songs but also a collaborative effort between nations in a warzone with limited technology and resources. This project has really been a great source of comfort and solace for those of us out here together and I am extremely proud to be a part of it and proud of those great men and women, from every nation that are out here serving alongside me. May they all make dusty tracks back home safely. Side note: Tim was born and raised in the UK.
Jamieson DuRette: USA
Instruments: Vocals Rhythm Guitar, Bass
Style: Influenced by Indigo Girls, Simon&Garfunkel, Kingston Trio,
Smashing Pumpkins, and my mother.
I learned to play guitar very early in my life as my mother, who played folk guitar while in college, inspired and taught my brothers and myself the basic chords, but left us to develop our own method for learning and playing. I play mostly by ear and enjoy learning new songs and techniques (but as my memory is getting worse, I have to write things down a lot more). I learned to play bass guitar briefly with my brother's band (never performed, but practiced a lot), and can muddle along when necessary. I am an occasional musician and have no regular gig in my civilian life that provides me much opportunity to play with a group. It took getting deployed to Afghanistan to actually allow me to pick up the guitar more frequently, and have been incredibly fortunate to fall in with such an amazingly talented group of musicians here in
Kabul (they have a lot more talent than I).
I am currently stationed in Afghanistan as a network operations specialist. I am a Sergeant First Class in the US Army, Signal Corps.
In the 6th grade I was selected to perform in the All City Chorus and Band in Norfolk, VA. As I progressed to middle and high school I mainly focused my musical efforts to playing in the band where I became very versatile in playing just about every brass instrument that was available. I purchased a used Trombone and later a new Trumpet from money I earned while having a paper route. From 12 yrs old on I also managed to play guitar and piano without formal training Through my young adult years I got together with friends and have had jam sessions or played in a couple of garage bands. It was during of these times in 2002 while deployed to Kuwait I met some other Soldiers and Contractors jamming and was asked to join in. This jamming session turned into an opportunity to play at the American Embassy in Kuwait and also in front of 1,000 soldiers at Camp Doha. It was not until my most recent tour here in Afghanistan that I started playing the guitar and singing at the same time in front of an audience. The musicians I have met are here have been some of the awesome people I have had the pleasure of meeting and playing with on our jam nights. They have inspired me to keep playing and singing and creating music of my own. The result of my first attempt at writing and performing a song is the song "In Your Eyes" which I contributed to the CD: Tracks in the Dust for the Wounded Warrior Project. This year has really rekindled my passion for music and I am really excited to see how things will develop in the near future.
Johann Madec: France
Johann Madec is a member of the French Army and he worked as a Nurse in the Kabul Airfield hospital from 15 January 2011 till he returned to Paris France in April 2011. Johann has been playing guitar since he was 15 years old and plays in a band in France called ZAARB (their first CD is coming soon). He first learned to play the Sitar while stationed in Kabul these past few months. He is a talented singer in both English and French and it was a pleasure to listen to him live
CW3 Richard Montoya:USA
Richard Montoya was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, moved (at the age of 7) and was raised in Miami (Hialeah), Florida. He is currently on his third deployment in support of the War on Terror as a Helocopter Pilot, (twice to Iraq and currently in Afghanistan)
He had one year of piano lessons at the age of 7, then violin for two years at the age of 11. When he was 13 he picked up the guitar and as you can hear found his true love. Backed up by a year of Music Theory (College Level) - at the age of 16 and a voice that he claims to have developed through years of Karaoke (although we think he is a natural) he is currently working with a band called Rise and Fall. This talented musician contributed one of my personal favorites (Love That I Seek) to the project and did all his recording on his base in the North of Afghanistan, at Camp Marmal. Like Damon Betz, he is gifted not only as a musician and writer, but also in the art of producing. Rich has been married for 15 years to Janet Montoya, and they have three children. They currently reside in Killeen, Texas where he will return after deployment.
Sean O'Brien: USA
Sean O'Brien was born and raised in Northern California. He started playing guitar and writing songs in the mid 90's at a school in Sonoma County. It was the influences at the school where he lived that gave birth to the indie rock singer/songwriter. Sean is currently a crew chief/gunner on the Russian Mi-17 helicopters in Afghanistan. Sean is a natural performer with an incredible stage presense. He has several recordings of his other original songs and is hoping to record more in the future. He was recently touched by the tragedy of the killing of 9 mentors to the Afghan Air Force during an attack in late April 2011. He lost a close friend as well as several people he knew well. He wrote a song about this tragedy and we have featured it on this webpage. This song titled "Cruel World (9 Souls) is a fitting tribute to the fallen as well as a testiment to the healing power of music.
LTC PIER LUIGI "PG" VERDECCHIA: Italy
"PROFESSION": ........guitarist !
"HOBBIES" : Helicopter Instructor Pilot in the Italian Army Aviation,
deployed in Afghanistan as ISAF Joint Command SYP Staff Officer with
I started playing as a kid. My dad thought me the basics and I then went on my own. I have studied piano but it wasn't for me. Today I wish I had continued as I am now going back to study all the music theory that I don't know. You cannot do without it if you want to take your playing up a notch....
I like classic rock. I grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Guns & Roses, The Cult, Dire Straits, Eagles, The Police and lots of Italian music of which my favorite is Vasco Rossi. His songs have been part of my life and have inspired me to pick up my guitar again after letting it rest for years next to the couch. My other favorite player are Leonardo and Vittoria, my children with whom I really like to jam , even if just end up making lots and lots
of very loud noise in our house ...and that makes my wife Sabrina go nuts...!
I brought my guitar with me in Afghanistan, thinking that I might need something to do in my spare time. It turned out the there is no spare time... But I found a bunch of great guys that even if everything else is telling us that it's time to get some rest, are still willing to hang out for a few hours just to play music. We look out for one another and we are happy to bring some joy and a good time to our fans every Thursday night playing in a tent in Kabul.
Thanks guys, you are just too cool !!
Joe Vautour: Canada
Instruments: Vocals Lead Guitar, BassAge: Older then Bryan Adams but Younger then BB KingStyle: Influenced by Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Santana (Love African & Latin rhythms) I am a weekend musician but have played for different styles of bands as a lead guitar player. I double on bass and have developed chops in Gospel.I started playing music when I was young accompanying my father with guitar who played Acadian music on the fiddle. I played for many bands over the years and love to perform. I work in NATO and volunteered to come to Afghanistan. I am surprised what a great music community there is here, with some very talented musicians.
Vincent Yznaga: USA
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. After many years of letting my guitar gather dust, I have returned to music with a passion. I was really inspired by the many artists who bravely place their songs on youtube and myspace music. Some of these artists are full time musicians, while others are simply enjoying music as a hobby, and a chance to express them-selves. I have been playing guitar and singing since I was 12 years old, and by the time I was in College, I was playing guitar around San Antonio as a solo act. Currently I am serving in Afghanistan, as a member of the US Army. Upon returning from Afghanistan, I hope to be able to perform in San Antonio, Texas and the surrounding area, as I am being assigned back to my hometown in South Texas. Thanks to my wife Veronica for 21 years of love and fun and my 8 year old son Louis who keeps me young.
The amazing black and white photos below are compliments of Pierre Emmanuel Carrez. A French Soldier and wonderful Photgrapher. For more of his photos click here.