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Staff Sgt. Joe Thompson, AFN Hessen noncommissioned officer in charge, jams out on his guitar in the radio studio Thursday in Wiesbaden, Germany. GI Joe, as he's known on the air, has been playing guitar for over ten years and is regular entertainment at a German pub near Frankfurt.

Staff Sgt. Joe Thompson, AFN Hessen noncommissioned officer in charge, jams out on his guitar in the radio studio Thursday in Wiesbaden, Germany. GI Joe, as he's known on the air, has been playing guitar for over ten years and is regular entertainment at a German pub near Frankfurt. (Jessica Inigo / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Joe Thompson, AFN Hessen noncommissioned officer in charge, jams out on his guitar in the radio studio Thursday in Wiesbaden, Germany. GI Joe, as he's known on the air, has been playing guitar for over ten years and is regular entertainment at a German pub near Frankfurt.

Staff Sgt. Joe Thompson, AFN Hessen noncommissioned officer in charge, jams out on his guitar in the radio studio Thursday in Wiesbaden, Germany. GI Joe, as he's known on the air, has been playing guitar for over ten years and is regular entertainment at a German pub near Frankfurt. (Jessica Inigo / S&S)

As the station NCOIC, Thompson manages all aspects of AFN radio and television in the six-man shop at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield.

As the station NCOIC, Thompson manages all aspects of AFN radio and television in the six-man shop at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield. (Jessica Inigo / S&S)

WIESBADEN, Germany — Staff Sgt. Joe Thompson, or “GI Joe” as he’s known on the radio airwaves of AFN Hessen, doesn’t want to be the next American Idol. Heck, he doesn’t even want to get paid for his sore vocal cords and callused fingers. He just wants to rock.

This is because to Thompson it’s not work — otherwise it wouldn’t be called “playing” the guitar.

As a regular player at the Klamotte pub in Dreieich, near Frankfurt, Thompson said he jams just for fun and to get the crowd into a better rhythm.

He’s been playing in public for only about five months, but has been playing the guitar since he was 14 years old.

Now, at 27, Thompson said he has finally built up enough confidence to break out of his shell and take his music to the masses.

Thompson made his public debut during the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course at Fort Meade, Md. He said he was itching for something to do after class and on the weekends, so he bought a guitar and was given the opportunity to show off his talent.

In a dark corner of Hard Times Cafe, a bar and chili dive in Laurel, Md., Thompson brought out his guitar and saw for the first time an atmosphere change because of his music.

In a sing-along type show, Thompson made strangers friends and the shy confident with his songs.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Thompson said with a New England-tinted voice and disarming smile. “I just want everyone to have fun. I love when everyone gets into it and has a good time.”

When he got back to Germany from the six-week course with his newfound confidence, Thompson took an offer from some friends at a barbecue to start playing at the German pub every couple of weeks.

Thompson looks like the typical cigarette-smoking, laid-back, guitar-playing frontman found in many of his favorite bands, but he’s as comfortable holding an M16 as he is his acoustic guitar.

In fact, he’s not called “GI Joe” for nothing. Thompson said without hesitation that he’s planning to do 20 years in the Army.

With his battle dress uniform on, Thompson morphs into as much a soldier as he does a rock star while on stage.

In both aspects Thompson could be called a natural, since soldiering comes just as easy.

Thompson, who never took guitar lessons and doesn’t read music, usually plays songs by ear. He admits, though, that sometimes it takes a little more work to get his songs down.

Songs such as Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” is something he worked hard to master, while easier tunes, such as Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight” are nothing but fun.

Thompson was drawn to the guitar because his father, David, used to play. His father also played by ear, though never broke out into playing for a public audience as Thompson did.

However, Thompson said playing at the Klamotte feels as if he’s just playing for friends because of the “Cheers” type atmosphere there.

“The angle Joe plays up is humor,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tom Clementson, AFN Heidelberg station commander.

“Obviously, he’s not Jimi Hendrix, but he’s good and he works hard. He’s the type of guy that makes a little mistake now and then and can laugh at himself. He makes it a lot of fun and he’s really good,” said Clementson, who hosted the barbecue that got Thompson the Klamotte gig.

The fairly regular audience puts the soldier at ease while playing, he said.

“I get a good reaction from the crowd, but I don’t think of myself as a good guitar player and singer,” the performer said during a live show of Thursday’s “Long Drive Home” on the AFN Hessen radio station. “I don’t suck, but I’m not anything special. I just enjoy what I do and making people happy through the universal language of music.”


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