New Orleans is where truth, fate and voodoo all intersect.
A native of Parish Livingston 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, about his father, Col. Joey Strickland, the former director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services. "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.'"
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 included "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 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 band is working on a new EP, which will lead to a tour.
"We plan on releasing one of our singles within the next month and a half," Strickland says. "It's going to be an ode to Arizona. Obviously, being from Louisiana, there is a lot of southern stuff. I love Arizona and all the fans really took to me out here."
Strickland quickly nixes 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 backward—don't get me wrong. But we're all hard-working people down there."