Music Features

The Bayou Bandits' Joshua Strickland Is Rocking Arizona — Southern Style

The Bayou Bandits bring their southern-style rock to Phoenix
The Bayou Bandits bring their southern-style rock to Phoenix Blushing Cactus

When you first hear Joshua Strickland speak, you wouldn’t suspect him of being the frontman of a hugely popular Phoenix Southern rock band. On the phone, he’s a bit soft-spoken, extremely humble, and patient with his kids. In fact, during our interview, we were interrupted a few times by his children, who were having a great time in the background. Strickland muted his mic for a few seconds, then came back on. The cajoling was less audible; it hadn’t stopped completely, but a compromise must have been made.

It was actually his oldest son who inspired the singer to say bye-bye to the Louisiana bayou and settle in Arizona.

“I was in the Army, and I initially met my oldest son’s mother, and we didn’t end up working out," Strickland says. "So, I moved out here to raise my son, who I share 50-50 custody of.”

On the outside, Strickland is a pure Southern rock star. He’s got curly brown hair down to the top of his shoulders, a full mustache and beard, and a perfect Cupid’s bow which doesn’t disappear when he smiles. He often wears a brimmed hat and a large pair of transparent square brown sunglasses that cover half of his face. The vibe is smooth with bayou rock edginess.

That edginess is felt throughout the atmosphere whenever The Bayou Bandits take the stage. It’s been about three years since Strickland assembled the group in between his day job as a registered nurse, a career he carried over after almost a decade in the Army. Military service is a family affair; his father and two brothers both served during wartime conflicts. Strickland served in Afghanistan, where creating music helped keep him sane.

Their next gig is this Wednesday, March 23, when they'll be opening for The Wild Feathers at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

Moving to Phoenix and creating The Bayou Bandits is almost like another tour of duty. This time, cheers are the battleground cries and the instruments are the weapons; the crowds love him. Southern rock might be just the kind of thing that pulls people away from their problems even if only for an hour or two. But how does he define it?

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The Bayou Bandits' Joshua Strickland.
Blushing Cactus
“That’s a great question that you ask because a lot of folks think Southern rock is a dying genre of music, and some places that we’ve played don’t even really recognize Southern rock as being a genre,” Strickland says, impassioned by the question.

“They would classify it as Americana. But it’s not Americana because you listen to an Americana band and it’s really poppy — you know like jingle-pop, and we’re not jingle pop. The closest thing I call it is Southern rock but really, it’s its own genre.”

The Bayou Bandits have been, as Strickland calls it, direct support for both A-list country artists and rock bands. He says Southern rock is versatile. There's a joke among the band members: “We call it ‘swamp metal.’ It’s swamp metal, but, you know ... there’s vocals and not growling,” he laughs.

Speaking of metal, before the Bandits could assemble, there was one casualty: Strickland’s Harley Davidson Softail. When he got back from Afghanistan, one of the first things the singer wanted was a motorcycle, so he bought one. It was a tool for his mental health. He calls it wind therapy.

"I mean, there's nothing like being on the open road, you know. You're just free."

However, the price of making a band comes at a cost, and he had to make a difficult decision.

"I said, well, I ain't getting any younger and if I'm gonna do it, I want to do it now, while I'm still young and, and marketable and able to."

He sold the bike to help the band to live on. "I had to dig deep and say, 'Hey, you know, you can, at some point, hopefully — Lord willing — buy 10 Harleys."

That prayer will probably be answered in a couple of years. Strickland has already released a hit song called "Take Me Back," and the band's popularity in Arizona is on the rise. He's also dedicated a short album to the state.

“Arizona’s been great. We actually have an EP that we are planning to release by the end of summer that we have titled Arizona Stepson," he says. "We named it after a song we recorded. The song is actually coming out on a show on Amazon Prime like next month. You know, showing us making the song, like a docu-series thing. We wrote and labeled the record Arizona Stepson, paying homage to all the wonderful people in Arizona who really adopted us, took us in."

The band's latest single, "Gasoline," can be heard below:

Perhaps, Strickland's love for his adopted state is outweighed by his love for the people living in it. He's quick to recognize their hospitality.

"We’re not Arizona natives, but they really brought us in like their own and so we wanted to pay tribute and respect to the people."

And although The Bayou Bandits are a band on the rise, Strickland knows how to stay humble.

"Everything we’ve done, we’ve done it old-school. You know, knockin’ on doors, you know; grindin’, hustlin’. It’s been awesome. With the rise in popularity, I mean everywhere I go: I was at the Renaissance Festival, ‘Oh! You’re Joshua Strickland!’ I was at The Marquee yesterday, ‘Oh! You’re Joshua Strickland!’ Wherever I go, music fans, they recognize me. Then, you know, when I get home, my daughter and my son, they remind me that I’m just Dad. They’re too cool to talk to me," he says.

"While I do love having fans like that, you know I love playin’ music for what it does for me. It’s where I’m at peace from the world. All the emotions I have from being in the war, all the emotions I have from, you know, dealin’ with COVID, Katrina — everything happy, sad, good in my life, that’s my chance to escape and just let it all out. Some people go into a room and they scream for five minutes to get it all out. Whereas, with me, playing music and being able to sing is my therapy. There ain’t no songs that I’ve ever written that I’ve never lived.

The Bayou Bandits. In support of The Wild Feathers. 6:30 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show, at Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill Avenue, Tempe. Tickets are $20 plus fees.
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Timothy Rawles

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