For over two decades, Jim O’Ferrell was that soldier who always had a guitar.
“When I was in the Army I played open mics wherever I was stationed and in Iraq started giving
guitar lessons,” said the Virginia native who retired in 2008 after twenty-three years of active service. “The guitar was a great diversion from patrols every single day.”
O’Ferrell first learned to play the guitar when he was eight. He’d listen to Casey Kasem’s top 40 countdown every week, record the songs he liked with a cassette player held up to the radio and teach himself how to play the songs.
He’d also listen to the news.
“The drums of war were banging,” O’Ferrell recalled, of his teenage years. “There were hostages in Iran, an energy crisis…I went down to the recruiting office and said, ‘What do you have that’s going to challenge me?’”
In August 1980 he reported to boot camp and began a military journey that would ultimately take him to Iraq as 1SG of Charlie Company, third battalion, 116th infantry for several tours from 2006 to 2008.
“When I retired in 2008 and was literally in the theatre one day and the next day was home in Richmond,” O’Ferrell said. “There was zero transition. My ‘welcome home’ was my car getting towed because my home-owners association sticker had lapsed.”
He speaks openly about the challenges of his first few years as a civilian.
“My adjustment was tough and I self-medicated with alcohol for two years,” O’Ferrell said. “My best advice to vets coming out: you’re not alone; you’re not isolated; there are millions of other men and women who have gone through this. Reach out and talk to other vets. People do love you even though they don’t understand what’s going on in your head.”
Once he let go of that sense of purpose he had overseas and focused on the present O’Ferrell was able to move forward with the support of family and close friends. He threw his heart, soul and years of guitar playing into The J.O.B., a band he formed in 2007 with Jason Crawford.
The band, which currently includes O’Ferrell, Crawford, drummer Eric Bandy, and bassist Jared Merrill has become a powerhouse in the Richmond region and beyond. They play all self-written originals that have an alternative rock style that’s grounded in American and blues.
Their music portfolio includes 5 albums, 3 nationally charted songs and scores of live performances ranging from saloons to festivals. Their newest album, Highway of Shadows, will be released November 9, 2018.
“On every record, there’s also one or two more solid songs,” said O’Ferrell, who shared that one of the songs on Highway of Shadows – Glory Never Comes – is written and sung from the perspective of a homeless vet. “The song is a bridge between homeless vets and those who have
the means to help them.”
In addition to writing for and playing with The J.O.B, O’Ferrell dabbles in other creative outlets. He’s had a few acting jobs, including a bit part in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 drama Lincoln and enjoys painting folk art pieces of instruments.
“Painting is very therapeutic,” O’Ferrell said. “I recommend it to veterans. Anything you can do to channel your thoughts and focus on a finished product is good.”