War Hippies Talk The Star-Spangled Banner, Their Organic Sound, and Getting the Blessing of Randy Travis

Scott “Scooter” Brown and Donnie Reis are War Hippies, Iraq War veterans who had successful music careers before meeting and teaming up in Nashville to create a unique country sound. Brown and Reis have either worked with, or opened for, acts as diverse as Chris Janson and Foreigner, and recently recorded a video for their cover of Randy Travis’ 1987 single, “Promises.”

“I’ve been a Randy Travis fan since I was a kid,” Reis said. “I fell asleep listening to the Old 8×10 album, which had ‘Promises’ on it. I think it was just the simplicity of that song, and that lyric, that I loved, and that made me fall in love with country music in general. It didn’t need a lot, it just told an amazing story and it made you feel something. We had some ideas for the song but then we just did it, no click track, just a live performance basically. We got Randy’s blessing on it, and he said that when he heard it for the first time he believed it.”

Reis is trained in violin and piano, while Brown is more of an ear guitarist, and it’s this combination of backgrounds that has helped create the War Hippies sound. “I’ve played with a handful of people who are really great musicians and are really trained,” Brown said, “and I made up my mind along a long time ago that I do it the way that I do it and I have no problem with that. But I love what Donnie brings to the table because it brings a little bit of two worlds together. If you listen to the War Hippies album there’s more classical style violin than there is country fiddle or Appalachian fiddle, which is what makes our sound unique.”

“I think the only people I really communicate with in musical language is studio musicians,” Reis said. “Scott and I just have a really organic connection, and he comes up with really brilliant chord progressions and ideas we work in.”

Given their military backgrounds, it’s no surprise that Reis performs “The Star-Spangled Banner” on violin at their live gigs. “We open the set with ‘American Son’ and then go into the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’” Reis said, “we do it at every show. It’s a special moment. We get a great response, especially when we’re out doing shows with Travis Tritt.”

The two men had been kicking around Nashville for quite a while, but weren’t aware of each other until a few years ago. “We actually met just in passing,” Reis recalled, “at a video shoot for a buddy of ours, Tim Montana. He and (ZZ Top’s) Billy Gibbons were doing a video here in town and Scott and I were asked to join in, I rode a motorcycle, I think Scott did, too. So we just kind of met in passing. We followed each other on socials, and I saw a post he made about supporting veteran-owned businesses. And I wrote to him and told him that I’m a combat veteran and I’ve got a studio over in East Nashville, he should come visit. We were like-minded and on the same page, and the rest is history.”

Reis said the plan is to just keep doing what they’re doing, building that fan base in the studio and on the road. “It’s a huge blessing that we were able to find each other and organically create this sound,” Reis said. “People have really responded to it, and hopefully it will find that mainstream airplay. We’ve just really been grass roots from the ground up from the start of this whole thing.”

Keep up with them at warhippies.com.

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