B&E: Luke Stricklin

Breaking & Entering: A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Luke Stricklin.

Profiling acts breaking at radio and/or retail and entering Billboard's charts.

While serving in Iraq, National Guardsman Luke Stricklin wrote and recorded a song for his family and friends. He knew it would answer a lot of questions they had about what it was like to be in the war torn country, but what the 23-year-old soldier didn't know was that that it would lead him down a new career path.

The song, "American by God's Amazing Grace," released by the independent Pacific-Time label, entered Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart last week at No. 58.

Recorded in Iraq on a laptop computer in December 2004, Stricklin e-mailed the heartfelt song to his family and friends in Arkansas. His parents decided to bring it to a local radio station, and by the time he returned to the United States in March, it was already a regional hit.

"After that it just kinda started spreading around like wild fire," Stricklin says. "This song wasn't written to spark a career or ever reach mainstream radio, so I didn't expect [the success] at all."

A songwriter since his teens, he spent his free time in Iraq writing. "Every time I called home and talked to my wife or parents, they were worried to death and the first thing they'd ask me was, 'What's going on?' and 'What's it like?'," he says. "I didn't want to worry them any more by talking about that stuff every time I got on the phone, so I thought I'd write this song and kinda answer their questions indirectly and paint a picture of what the average day is like for a soldier in Iraq. I looked at the bottom of my boots one day and they were gettin' pretty worn, and I thought that was a pretty good line for a song."

And that's exactly how the song begins: "Bottom of my boots sure are gettin' worn/There's a lot of holes in this faded uniform/My hands are black with dirt and so is my face/I ain't never been to Hell but it couldn't be any worse than this place."

Once back on American soil, it wasn't long before Stricklin was in Nashville recording his full-length album, "American by God's Amazing Grace," which will be released Sept. 27.

As for what fans can expect from his debut album, he says, "It's definitely hardcore country. It's kinda Delbert McClinton meets Hank [Williams] Jr.; bluegrass mixed with some old country."

Although he only wrote three songs on the album, including the single "American by God's Amazing Grace," Stricklin learned a lot during the whirlwind studio process and hopes to perfect his songwriting skills in the near future.

"I love music and have such passion for it, but I'm not up to professional standards, I guess you could say, so I had a lot to learn," he says. "I wanted to go in [the studio] and learn as much as I could, and I did. It was a real good experience. Ever since I was three or four years old, I've loved music, and the thought of having a [music] career has always been there. I just didn't expect it to come out of this song at this time."

That said, Stricklin is not at a loss when it comes to understanding the reason for its resonance. "The song has drawn such a response because it touches so many people," he says. "In just about every family there's somebody that has served [in the military], and if they don't have a family member well then they know a family or friend who has somebody [in Iraq]. So many people can relate to this song."

Looking into the future, Stricklin's obligation on a six-year enlistment with the National Guard is nearly over. "I don't think there's a chance I'll be deployed in the next eight months…unless there's a state of emergency," he notes, adding that he doesn't plan to re-enlist if his music career takes off.

Artist site: www.lukestricklin.com