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July 22, 2005

Local musician to perform for troops overseas

By: Heather Crain, Hammond Star

Chris Gray is reaching beyond local venues and audiences with his music.

The local entertainer, who just signed with Mirrome Records in Nashville, Tenn., along with the GrayWolf Band, will take their country-inspired tunes to military troops serving overseas. The band will leave Tuesday for the 28-day "Red, White and Blue" tour of Hawaii, Kwajalein, an Air Force base, Guam, Japan and Okinawa, according to Gray's Web site.

"Our job is just to have fun with those guys and entertain them," Gray said Wednesday from his Hammond home. "We're bringing tambourines and cow bells to just get them up on stage with us."

After signing with the California-based record company in June, Gray said his new booking agent, Liz Gregory, spearheaded the tour to the Pacific after another band canceled. "All these guys that are there rotate in and out of Iraq constantly," he said. "They'll send them to Hawaii for a while just to be stationed somewhere safe for a little while, but then they gotta go right back to Iraq in a cycle."

The tour was arranged through Armed Forces Entertainment, an organization that allows professional bands to perform for the military overseas up to 45 days in a fiscal year, the musician said. "We jumped at the opportunity," he said. "And it's tough. There's a lot of red tape for this. I mean you have to do all kinds of steps and all kinds of paperwork, and they have to approve your passports. "Every piece of equipment that's going over there -- every serial number, ounce, weight -- everything has to be weighed because they're going to fly us commercial to most of these places," he added.

Gray, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Gulf War, and the band will entertain all but nine days of the tour. Those days will be devoted to traveling from base to base. While on location, they will stay at the military base hotels and dine with the troops in the mess halls. In addition to entertaining, the band will give out free CDs donated by the record company and tour T-shirts made by a local printing company, Gray said.

"We're all taking cameras and laptops, and we're going to update my Web site as often as possible either daily or weekly with new pictures of the troops and our shows and everything," he said.

Before his departure, Gray has spent quality time with his family, which includes his wife, Tami, also a Navy veteran, and three children, Courtney, 12, Christian, 11, and Tucker, 2. " It's tough," he said of being away from his family. "We've been spending a lot of time together. We've gone out a lot together. We're both prior military, so we're used to being away from each other for a little while. Twenty-eight days isn't too bad."

The local musician hopes this tour will open the door to perform in Iraq, which is where he and the band really want to go, he said. After touring the Pacific, the band will have 17 days left with the Armed Forces Entertainment organization. Family and friends will be sending them off during a going-away party at 9 p.m. Saturday at Jackie's of Hammond Sportsbar & Nightclub. "We're all excited to go, especially with everything that's going on in the world," he said. "We all feel like it's the least we can do to support our troops."

Gray and the band can be heard locally at Jackie's, the Stampede, Bear Creek Saloon and the Treasure Chest Casino. His latest single, "I Keep it Under my Hat," from the album, "From Where I Am," is climbing Confederate radio charts locally and nationwide, according to a press release from Mirrome. During George Strait's "Straitland Festival at the Superdome," Gray opened for Strait, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Mark Wills, The Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride. He also recently opened for Andy Griggs.

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