WARSOUL: The Sounds of Vietnam


Today (November 11, 2015) marks Veteran’s Day in the United States. RareSoul.com salutes the veterans by taking a glimpse at Soul music’s impact on the soldiers during the Vietnam War.
While America had been involved in the conflict in Vietnam as early as the 1950s, it was not until the mid-1960s that American involvement began to escalate, and soldiers started to be drafted.
By the time the last draftee was sent to Vietnam in 1973, over 1,700,000 men and women had been shipped off to the war.
According to “Writing The War: My 10 Months in the Jungles, Streets and Paddies of South Vietnam, 1968,” by Stephen E Atkins, PhD., the Vietnam War was the first “Rock & Roll” war.
“Almost every soldier in the field had a portable transistor radio by the summer of 1968,” Dr. Atkins said. “Armed Forces Radio played a steady diet of Rock ‘n Roll music. Soul music was particularly popular with James Brown the most popular soul singer. Consequently, my unit could be heard from a distance of several hundred meters as we walked along on patrol. It gave the Viet Cong warning we were coming, but we did not give a damn.”

Listen to legendary singer Martha Reeves discuss Soul music’s impact on the Vietnam war

James Brown had visited the troops as early as 1967 when he began working with the USO. James Brown, who was influential at calming racial tensions in the Black community in the mid-1960s, was called upon by Washington D.C. to visit the troops.
In the summer of 1968, James Brown canceled $100,000 worth of bookings and took his full orchestra on a two-week tour of duty of Vietnam. He performed the day after the Viet Cong had launched a rocket attack on Saigon.
The danger did not stop James Brown from playing at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was hit by 10 missiles in the morning.
Record labels in the United States catered to the servicemen and women, with a variety of tunes crafted for the soldiers hearts or for those protesting the war, as the situation in Vietnam escalated. Chicago Soul group, The Players, had a minor hit with “He’ll Be Back,” and Bill Wither’s dropped the poignant “I Can’t Write Left-Handed,” about a one-armed veteran.
Archie Bell and The Drell’s released “A Soldier’s Prayer 1967.” That was real because Archie was laid up in a hospital after being shot during the Tet Offensive when his song “Tighten Up” was #1 on the charts in America.
Joe Tex offered up some humor to the troops with “I Can’t See You No More (When Johnny Comes Marching Home)” while Soul Train pumped a message with performances by Freda Payne (“Bring the Boys Home“), Edwin Starr (“War”) and Curtis Mayfield (“Back to the World”).
“Soul Train not only offere political music, but a political stance,” wrote Christopher P. Lehman in the book “A Critical History of Soul Train on Television.”
“By the 1972-1973 season, each episode of the series promoted Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH before signing off,” Lehman said, noting the show’s founder Don Cornelius was cognizant not to stray too far away from the show’s themes, music and dancing.
Over in the battle zone, African-American soldiers would hit Trinh Minh Street in the Khan Hoi district of Ho Chi Minh City in Saigon.
“African-Americans nicknamed Trinh Minh “Soul Alley” because the establishments catered to a black clientele, playing Rhythm & Blues or so-called soul music,” revealed University of Cincinnati Professor James Westheider.”
Check out some Vietnam Soul songs below, curated by Grouchy Greg: