When you picture sailors in their pressed, dress-white uniforms, electric guitars and Led Zeppelin probably don’t come to mind.
But that’s because you haven’t met The Destroyers, a U.S. Navy Band Southwest contingent that can seriously rock the house — and get everyone dancing and swaying along.
When the six-member band, all in Navy dress white uniforms, took to the outdoor stage Saturday, May 27, at the second day of LA Fleet Week, parents, kids and a U.S. Marine break dancer were among those who caught the spirit. The energetic, hourlong set spanned hits from the 1970s to today’s teen favorites — with a little bit of country and jazz thrown in.
“We wear our white uniforms and look like sailors,” said singer Taylor Johns, “but we play like a rock band.”
That they do.
With Konrad Malinowski on guitar, Drew Williams on piano, Pete Mattice on bass, Tommie Auger on drums and Jason Stark handling sound, the band has even gained the admiration, Johns said, of at least one member of the U.S. Marine Band, also playing at Fleet Week, who praised them for how they “rock out.”
The Destroyers is the “popular music group” contingent within the overall Navy Band Southwest, performing in high school auditoriums as well as formal military receptions.
The Navy Band isn’t easy to get into, Johns said, adding it took her three tries to be accepted.
Only 600 get accepted into the larger band, which includes jazz and other smaller break-out groups, including The Destroyers. Only nine singers overall are taken into the group as a whole.
Folks actually try out for the band first, then enlist in the Navy when accepted. And that’s their only job.
Most are not only talented but also hold impressive advanced education degrees and play several instruments.
In Johns’s case, she came from a Navy family and, while performing singing gigs here and there as a teen and young adult, the Navy band seemed like a perfect fit.
“I was playing the guitar and singing songs in coffee houses since I was 12 years old,” the Ohio native said.
She first tried out when she was still in high school but didn’t make it.
“It was my dream job,” she said.
So Johns kept trying.
She was 23 years old when she was accepted five years ago and said the wait provided her with needed life experience. Ideally, Johns said, she’d like to retire still playing for the Navy band in 20 years.
Their keyboard player picks all of the songs, she said, but the band won’t play a song that even one of them may not like.
The goal, she said, is to go for “thrillers, no fillers.” And songs need to be danceable.
The band is billed as a Top 40 ensemble with material focusing on the classics from the 1970s to present day.
The Destroyers will be on stage at LA Fleet Week again from 1 to 2 p.m. Sunday, May 28. Future bookings include an appearance at the San Francisco Fleet Week in October. The band, based in San Diego, typically plays more than 50 concerts throughout the Southwest district a year, Johns said.
Rocking out for the Navy, Johns said, is still her dream job.
On a personal note, she said her favorite solo singing appearance for the Navy was singing the national anthem at the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda for a Vietnam Remembrance Day that drew hundreds of veterans from that era.
“They all started singing along and I couldn’t help myself; I was just smiling all the way through it,” Johns said. “They kept thanking me for my service but I was thanking them for their service.”
For the LA Fleet Week appearances, the band is staying at the same hotel as the U.S. Marine Band, Johns said.
“We really do have so much fun,” she said.
- Public ship tours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
- Aircraft demonstrations over the Main Channel (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
- Expo open alongside the Battleship Iowa, 250 S. Harbor Blvd. (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
- Military Has Talent (10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Main Stage).
- Galley Wars (noon to 2 p.m., fantail, Battleship Iowa).
- Navy Band Southwest (1-2 p.m., Main Stage).
- Sean Oliu and the Coastline Cowboys (2:30 to 4 p.m., Main Stage).
- Lauren Monroe (5 to 6 p.m., Main Stage).