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21 Jul

Drumming Back To Health

About three months after returning from a combat tour in Iraq, Paul DeLaCerda stepped into a Wal-Mart near Fort Bragg in North Carolina and suddenly realized he couldn't remember his own name. "I forgot where I was at, I forgot who I was, I forgot what I was doing there," he said. "I sat there for 10 minutes trying to figure it out."

The Army staff sergeant from Houston was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury from a bomb blast that had almost destroyed his Humvee in Iraq in 2005. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, back pain and nerve damage. "When somebody tells you you're disabled, it's almost like the end of the world," recalled DeLaCerda. "You feel like everything's over, like you can't be 100 percent anymore."

DeLaCerda, who drummed for several heavy metal bands before he enlisted, fell back on music to keep his spirits up. Now he's recruiting members for a new band, called Warrior Spirit, that will be made up of disabled Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. "It'll show other people that despite our disabilities, we're overcoming them," said DeLaCerda, who celebrated his 38th birthday on the Fourth of July.

DeLaCerda deployed to Iraq in 2005 with the 82nd Airborne Division. During deployment, "your music is your outlet and everybody shares," DeLaCerda said. "You've got your 'angry music,' and you got your 'I want to relax music,' you've got your 'chill music' and the 'music that reminds you of home.' " He had a hard time falling asleep in the bombed-out house where he and his fellow soldiers lived in Tal Afar, near the Syrian border. The distant sound of gunshots and explosions kept him on edge. The only way he could drift off was if he listened to music with one headphone in his ear. He left out the other headphone in case of emergency.

DeLaCerda medically retired from the military in June of last year, but chafed against doctors' warnings that the memory loss, back pain and numbness in his arms and legs that ended his Army career might limit his civilian life, too. "I was told I couldn't play drums, couldn't run, couldn't lift heavy things, like my kids, for instance," said DeLaCerda.

He got the idea for the Warrior Spirit band at a talent show during a retreat hosted by the non-profit Wounded Warrior Project in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. "They scrounged up a drum set for me, so I got up there and threw down a drum solo, and a guy with a prosthetic arm got up and played guitar," DeLaCerda remembers. "Afterward, we were sitting around talking, and I was like, 'We should put a wounded warrior band together.'"

"It's the greatest feeling in the world to play with other vets and know that these guys know where you came from and know that the music, when you play it, it's from the heart," DeLaCerda said.


Pearl Drums spoke with Paul about how he starting drumming and how it has affected his life.


Pearl: Paul, how long have you been drumming?

Paul: Well, I've been playing drums for about 25 years now. My father was a mariachi guitarist but when I heard my uncle playing drums, I knew that was the instrument for me. At the age of 15, I joined my first band using my uncle's drumkit that he had given me.  

Pearl: When did you start playing Pearl Drums?

Around 1985, my girlfriend's father sold me his black 6-piece Pearl Export Series kit and a Pearl ride cymbal for the great price of $50. I loved the sound of those drums and since I was playing Metal... I played them real hard! I toured on that kit with my band for the next four years. Soon after, someone broke into our place and the kit was stolen. I was devestated. It took me over a year but I replaced it with another Pearl Export kit. I just loved the sound and the durability of the hardware... it was a great feeling to be playing them again. Unfortunately, I was the victim of another break-in and I lost that kit as well. In 1995, I went into the US Army and it was three years before I bought a new Pearl kit. During my fifteen years of service including numerous deployments overseas, I knew I could always count on my drums to be a release when the circumstances were not the best. I currently own five Pearl kits and one beautiful EXR Special Edition Tiger Eye kit that I play the most. Pearl Drums have never failed me on or off stage.

Pearl: Since you've gone public with Warrior Spirit, have you heard from other drummers with a similar background as yours?

Through my band Warrior Spirit, I've found many others such as myself that have overcome personal obstacles. Most were recovering from combat injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan. I recently talked to a fellow wounded warrior that still plays drums after being shot three times in the arm. I feel that by having this band, I can show people that you can overcome anything if you believe in yourself and never quit. It's amazing to see soldiers come back after enduring so many things during their tour. War can have lasting and devastating effect on a person and some wounds are not visible to everyone. This band is about empowering our wounded warriors through music.

Pearl: And lastly, do you look at drumming in a different way than when you were younger?

After drumming for so long and having so many mentors, I've come to appreciate the art more now than ever before. When I was younger, I played just to be cool and say I was in a band. Now I play for therapy due to my injury and for all of my injured brothers and sisters. I try to learn as much as possible from everyone and pass that knowledge along to help others. I love music and I love being a drummer/percussionist.


The Warrior Spirit Band will have a Veterns Open Mic Jam at The House Of Blues on July 29th in Houston, TX. You can also find out more information at the WSB Facebook page.

(portions of the article courtesy of Lidnsey Wise/Houston Chronicle)