In 1966, Dean Kohler’s dreams were about to come true; his uncle had just signed Kohler and his band to a record deal with New York-based Tower Records.
But before Kohler had even heard the good news, he received his draft notice in the mail and found out he was headed to the Vietnam War.
Kohler had enrolled himself in a local business college to try to avoid being drafted, but the government said that he had done so too late to be granted a deferment.
“At that time everybody was getting drafted. When you hit 19 you got a draft notice almost automatically,” Kohler said. “There [weren’t] a lot of choices, back then you just did it. You just went and endured it, made the best of it and came back.”
Kohler then attended military police school and upon graduation was sent Fort Bragg in North Carolina to form the brand new 127th military police company, which was formed specifically for duty in Vietnam.
However, it was before Kohler left for Southeast Asia, that he made a name for himself within his company as “that guy that plays guitar.”
“A couple of guys had an acoustic guitar that they kept in their locker in North Carolina and I would just walk over and pick it up and jump up on my bunk and entertain the whole barracks, whether they wanted it or not,” Kohler said.
When the army threw a going-away party a few days before Kohler and his company were to be deployed, he landed his first gig for the army.
“We were having our turkey dinner and it was winding down when someone came up to me and said ‘the captain wants to see you,'” Kohler said. “He said ‘I understand you play guitar,’ and he pointed at another guy and said ‘Do you play guitar?’ and another guy and said ‘do you play drums?’ and we all said ‘yeah’ so he told us to get up there and entertain the company.”
The company was sent to Vietnam and was assigned to patrol a town called Qui Nhon.
“When we pulled into the harbor ready to unload off the ship, the company commander got everybody together and told us what our duty assignment would be,” Kohler said. “And when he said we were on town patrol, it couldn’t have been better news.”
While Kohler had all but forgotten about the going-away party performance, his captain hadn’t and asked Kohler if he would start up a band and perform for the troops in Vietnam. Thus the Electrical Banana was born.
It didn’t take long for the Electrical Banana to become a popular escape for the soldiers and the band began to travel around Vietnam to perform for other companies, even recording a single, all while performing their daily duties for the army.
Kohler has written a book “Rock ‘N’ Roll Soldier” about his journey and about the band that sparked camaraderie and joy during one of America’s most controversial wars. It is published by HarperCollins and is available for retail at $16.99.