CAMP RIPPER, Iraq --
Some popular country music artists have made their appreciation for the military known by playing USO shows in the Middle East.
Despite their support, however, not many of the musicians can say they’ve actually served in the military. There is one rising Southern California country singer, though, who can say he’s not only an active-duty Marine, but he’s also currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Staff Sgt. Chris Lozano, platoon commander for “Grizzly Mobile,” Regimental Combat Team 5’s mobile assault platoon, is in the midst of a deployment to Iraq, so his band, the aptly named Chris Lozano Band, is temporarily left without a vocalist.
“My band knew it was going to happen sometime or another,” said Lozano, 29, who is from Paonia, Colo. “I was really happy when I found out I was going to deploy, but I plan on going back, getting back in the band (mindset) and having fun.”
The Chris Lozano Band plays mostly country covers and originals, but has fun with the set list by adding some Southern rock. The band can deftly switch gears from boot-gazing ballads to rollicking honky-tonk rockers or from classic outlaw country to contemporary western pop.
“I’m very fortunate that the musicians in the band are some of the best in Southern California,” Lozano said. “A lot of the musical talent I’ve learned I have to give credit to these guys I play with.”
Lozano and his band have played hundreds of gigs at Southern California venues, from the Swallows Inn in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., to as far north as the Cadillac Ranch in Apple Valley, Calif. The band has steadily cultivated a strong following, and at the band’s final pre-deployment show in Long Beach, Calif., fans came from as far away as Arizona and Las Vegas.
All the performances may have never happened, though, if Lozano hadn’t picked up a pawn shop guitar and taught himself to play chords and rhythm at his first duty station with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in 1998.
A natural singer, Lozano sang in the show choir at Paonia High School, but he really didn’t expect to go anywhere with music. A young, newly married Marine in the late ‘90s, Lozano and his wife, Tiffany, would go to karaoke bars, where he would win the $100 nightly prize, which often helped with the groceries. Beyond providing food for the table, though, this modest success planted the seeds of inspiration, leading Lozano to realize he could be successful pursuing music as a serious hobby.
“That’s when I first thought that doing more with music could be good,” Lozano said.
After changing duty stations and serving as an instructor at the School of Infantry at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Lozano joined what he called a garage band for an outlet for his singing.
He then joined 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, and deployed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The battalion returned and came up on deployment time again, but Lozano was not able to go for medical reasons.
“It brought me down, bad,” Lozano said. “My wife said, ‘Why don’t you get a band together again and get your head straight?’”
After meeting with different musicians and playing with different lineups, the Chris Lozano Band took hold with Sean Brass on keyboards, Steve Adams on bass, Danny Ciarfalia on lead guitar and Phil Roach playing the drums while Lozano plays rhythm acoustic guitar and sings. Lozano’s band has an experienced resume, playing in the past with such acts as Keith Urban, Toby Keith and Gary Allan, to name a few.
“We just started playing little shows,” Lozano said, “but we got rolling, and before I deployed, we were averaging about 15 to 20 shows a month.”
The band likes the response they get from the crowds, but the hard work and long nights really pay off for them when the crowd requests one of their originals.
“Chris’ unique sound and stage presence rounds out a group of stellar musicians who together have people clamoring to hear his music,” said Brass, 42, a Covina, Calif., resident who has played at the famous Gilley’s nightclub in Las Vegas. “(Fans) always ask me to tell him that they miss his singing.”
Lozano got word that he’d deploy with RCT-5 and, though he was enjoying the success of the band, it was a great opportunity for him to fulfill his other passion of being a Marine.
“Something always appealed to me about the Marines and about the infantry,” said Lozano. “I love the Marine Corps, and I can see myself going the master gunnery sergeant route.
“They put me with a bunch of guys who are phenomenal at their job,” Lozano said of the Marines with Grizzly Mobile. “I couldn’t ask for a better job or a better position. I’ve learned a lot from the younger Marines and have been given the chance to lead them.”
In the meantime, the band members have been playing shows with other musicians to pass the time while Lozano is deployed, but they have been supportive of his military commitments and are patiently awaiting his return from serving in western al-Anbar province.
“Although we’d love to be performing right now with Chris, the band is extremely proud to have him serving his country in the Marine Corps,” said Brass, who’s got family ties with Marines, and Adams, who has played numerous USO shows overseas. “We all believe in the importance of (service members) serving our country and think that there is nothing more honorable.”
In the meantime, the band has been lining up performance dates for Lozano’s return.
“It wasn’t my goal at all to get this big with music,” Lozano said. “It’s something I just started as a hobby, but it’s been a real fun ride and I plan to keep performing. I feel at home on the stage; it’s very relaxing for me. When you have four guys like these talented, phenomenal musicians playing music with you, it’s awesome.”