BY BRIANA MEADE
Musician John Preston has very specific memories of his father playing music.
As a five-year-old, Preston remembers darting into the living room to pull out his dad’s blue record player. Flipping through records, he’d touch the vinyl grooves of The Beatles before he’d listen to them play.
Music was a family affair – Preston’s father played the guitar, and his father’s voice was the soundtrack of his American boyhood. His father often sang, “put the lime in the coconut,” in a soft baritone while strumming chords.
Preston’s southern boyhood in Kentucky was marked by his father’s car accident when he was eleven. After being hit by a drunk driver, his father’s arm was shattered to pieces. It would be decades before his father would play the guitar again.
His father was the first to encourage him to come home to the states from Iraq and pursue his life as an artist and musician in Los Angeles. Growing up in poverty, Preston's dad sometimes working three jobs to make ends meet.
One of three brothers – all of whom would become Marines – struggle was an automatic expectation for Preston, but the message in his music is one of survival and strength, rather than brokenness.
“I never wanted the audience to see me as tattered and broken,” he says. “I wanted them to see the strength it takes to get through it.”
Success would come almost immediately, with a viral video upon his return from Iraq, “Good Good America,” was an overnight success. The result was a record deal and national attention. The 2004 song and video reflected the Iraqi school children and became a sensation with thousands of views.
But the journey wasn’t over. Bolstered by the need to describe his experiences in the Marines, Preston continued to record music and support the veteran community through laboring to prevent veteran suicide.
In January of 2016, the unexpected suicide of his brother Michael would send John’s world reeling. At the time, Preston was in Sacramento, preparing to go on stage. Following the news, he told his band that this would be their last time together.
It was a devastating loss. “I was a public advocate for suicide,” John says, “and I lost my own brother.” The only thing John could think at the time was what he had done wrong – he felt his brother’s loss acutely. Preston talked with many others about the pressures of PTSD and integration in life after the war.
Passing through a gauntlet of emotions in a matter of days, he drove home that night in a blur. On the plane later that week, he was listening to music on shuffle play when a song he had written as his own suicide note came on.
“Before I’m Gone,” was a self-written suicide note, but now it had turned into a song about strength and the willpower to get through life’s difficulties. It was a turning point for John. He went from a determination to quit to a desire to continue pursuing music. In many ways, it was a push in the direction of bringing his message into the world.
Combining with the loss of his brother and John’s father shortly before, “The two most prominent male figures in my life were gone within a 6-month period,” Preston says.
As a full-time firefighter, Preston commands a demanding schedule fighting fires – in addition to writing music, playing shows, and the promotion of his music.
As a kid, Preston remembers listening to Tupac and The Beatles – not because they were popular, but because they were revolutionaries as well as musicians. “Tupac was a person for the people. He had the opportunity to change communities. My thought process was, ‘If I get a chance to use my talent --if God blesses me enough to use what he gave me,” he says, "I'll do it."
“My goal is to be the next revolutionary, and I won’t take my foot off the gas until I’m there.”
For a short time, when Preston had stopped playing music, he realized that his son was getting old enough and had never heard him play beyond the bedtime songs he would strum on his guitar. Music became something he had to do for his son, just as his own father had formed music into a bond between father and son.
“That was part of me doing something for him. I originally wanted to put down a ten-song LP. It’s kind of this father-son thing, my dad has never left me, he’s always with me. My son is the person I want to set that impression for now.”
“What drives me is the music, and being who I am supposed to be, doing what I was meant to do. It’s bigger than me,” Preston says.
His new release will be out with Concore Entertainment October 17, 2017.
You can buy "Before I Am Gone" on iTunes. Proceeds from the song go to suicide prevention.
AUTHOR INFO: Briana Meade currently works as a recruiter with Hire Served. She previously worked for Hire Heroes USA as a corporate partnership coordinator linking companies with veterans. Briana has written for Forbes, DailyWorth, and Headspace among others.