Struggling soldier turned acoustic rocker becomes Bricktown staple 

Derek Paul left a battle to fight a war. 

But this isn't a story of a lonely barfly troubadour with designs of Top 40 hits and headlining tours alongside Coldplay or John Mayer. The Americana musician's story is that of a soldier, of a veteran, of war, violence, booze.


Following in the footsteps of an older, enlisted cousin, Paul joined the National Guard in 2001, right out of high school. He then spent two years traipsing around Oklahoma, playing with buddies in a small-time band called Albany Road, boozing it up and popping pills.  

"I was experimenting," he said. "All of my friends were experimenting "¦ except they were achieving something: a degree. I was going downhill."   

Two years later, Paul was shipped to the Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas, and in May 2004, he began training for his tenure in Iraq. He served faithfully for almost all of 2005 in military intelligence. While in Iraq, Paul bought a guitar, taught himself to play and started writing music. He said his service ended his recklessness and saved his life. 

"I got called to a mission," he said. "I had to stop."

Returning home that year, he went to surprise his then-girlfriend at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve, at a local bar. She wasn't expecting to see him until the new year.

"Life was a dream. I was in love," he said. "There was a Land Rover, my dream car, sitting in the driveway for me."

 In June 2006, Paul moved to Oklahoma City, where he began working as a military recruiter in Bricktown. 

 "At that point, I was mentally done with the military," he said. "The military is a great thing for certain people. But I couldn't bring people in my office and convince them to join when I didn't even want to do it anymore."  

It was at this time he began a regular evening gig playing at D's Pub, then known as Bricktown Coney and Pub. Tucked beside a parking garage, in an area that was once an alley, sits the small, eclectically decorated spot, which lives among the most unknown bars in OKC. In many ways, the tiny pub is Paul's home.

 By late last summer, his girlfriend had become his fiancée, and they moved to Texas, where he took a salaried job as a manager of a Brookstone store with the intent of "working during the day and playing at night" " a tough lifestyle made more difficult by the expectations of his soon-to-be wife.

"She wanted nice things," he said, "so we broke it off in October."

He remained in Texas until February of this year, returning to live with his father, whom Paul first met when he was 11 years old.

"I found him through some friends of mine who were going to watch Toby Keith play," he said. "My dad was playing bass for him. He has for 22 years now."

Their meeting was sparked after writing his father a note on a napkin, which read simply: "Hey, dad, it's your son, just saying hi." Paul gave his friend's address to one of Keith's T-shirt salesmen, and his dad started mailing him.

Eventually, Paul moved out of his dad's house and started "bumming" around Bricktown, crashing at D's Pub or at friend's places.

"People always said it must have been awful. But (D's) has a flat-screen TV, a full bar and potato chips on the wall," he said, jokingly.

Sometimes, Paul feels selfish with his newfound freedom.

"Life is so different now," he said. "When I was in the military, you just believe and fight for a cause. You don't ask " you just do. And now I just kind of do what I want."

For now, Paul plays four to five shows a week at different locations throughout Bricktown. He will perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, at D's Pub, 212 E. Sheridan.

Paul performs original material along with covers of artists like Ray LaMontagne and Brett Dennen. Influenced by singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams, Paul said his song preferences aren't always in harmony with Bricktown bar patrons.

"I wish there was a better singer/songwriter scene down here," he said. "But I have to stay appealing. My dad helps with that. He's gives the advice that is aggravating, but I know he's right."    

While serving in Iraq, Paul recorded several songs in a tent, including "Wait Here" and "To Struggle," a number he described as his "personal jihad."

The songs have been uploaded to his MySpace page and serve to remind the singer of how his writing has changed.

"Before I went, I wrote fun songs about getting drunk and getting laid," he said. "Now my music has a message; there's a purpose."

He continues to write and is currently working on a song called "Oklahoma," a piece he described as retrospective of his prewar time in Texarkana and a falling out he had with a friend in Iraq.

A recent round of psychiatric testing revealed that Paul is plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder " an issue he internally recognized, but didn't realize others noticed. He's started counseling, "a necessity" his family has encouraged him to undergo.

In many ways, Paul is still a soldier. He shoulders his problems and marches forward with his guitar " a smoky barroom character who sings a survivor's tune.

"Music helps me cope," he said. "If I didn't have music, I would have lost my mind a long time ago. I fall into music and stay there.""Dan Davis

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Dan Davis

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