i‘ve been involved in music in some form or fashion for quite a while in my life, from being in my high school band as well as trying to form my very own garage band, to shooting musicians for publications and producing a few music videos along the way. I’ve watched my son develop into a professional musician, ultimately winning the Texas UIL competition and securing a scholarship to the new England Conservatory in Boston. I’ve seen first-hand the tribulations an aspiring artist goes through trying to get the recognition and acceptance as a professional in one the most difficult professions that one would choose to enter. or so I had thought…
Then I heard about a young lady named Deanna Wheeler. A transplanted Texan from the west coast who has pursued her dreams battling one demon after another. One set-back after another. Remember the old adage, “two steps forward, one step back”? Par for course for this young lady. Deanna had always wanted to join the military ever since she was a young girl. She enlisted in as soon as she turned 18, but her dreams of a military career ended when she became wounded in combat during Operation Enduring Freedom, and was medically retired in 2012.
But the turmoil doesn’t end there. Throw into the mix, she had contracted Guillain-Barré Syndrome, lost a 7 month old child in utero because of injuries sustained by abuse, sustained a serious motor vehicle accident and is suffering from PTSD. And yet…and yet, she still pushes forward with her dreams.
She’s a key-note speaker now for veteran events with a goal to help Veteran musicians find their passion in music, whether its as a songwriter, production or a guitarist. Wheeler said,” I want to give veterans a chance to explore their talents and get ahead of their game like I was able to. I want them to find their ‘why’ like I’ve been able to.”
I sat down with Deanna last week and asked her a few questions…I’m glad I brought my tissues.
When did you first become enthralled with music, what were your inspirations?
“Music has been a part of my life from a very young age. My sister always said that when I sang I didn’t use my real voice. It was always funny to me. I guess that meant I was using my ‘arena voice’ very early on. I had my path mapped out from the get go. I grew up listening to 80’s and 90’s country in the car at the top of my lungs. Reba, Martina and Wynonna helped carve my path you could say.”
What inspired you to enlist in the Air Force?
“I had wanted to join the military for many years. I was 11 years old when I saw my Aunt Julie in her ‘dress blues’ and she stood taller then I’d ever seen her. She knew who she was and what her purpose was. (She’s a Colonel now, and Chief Judiciary of the entire Air Force). Seeing her confidence skyrocket and having my fair share of body image issues and lacking in self confidence; I knew I wanted that. So I went and enlisted through the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) when I was 17 but had a bit of life happen that stalled me a bit. I didn’t actually join until my 18th birthday, and shipped out in February, 2005. it was the best decision I’d ever made to this day. Even tho they deployed me to Afghanistan when my son had just turned 5 months old, and was premature and still on oxygen.”
“Unfortunately I was medically retired from the Air Force in 2012 due to injuries that I sustained while abroad serving our country. Since then, I had also contracted Guillain-Barré Syndrome which left me paralyzed for 5 months in 2018. Ironically, I had just written a song for my mother paying homage to her sacrifices over the years, and I was ‘gifting’ it to her by releasing it on Mother’s Day.”
“But on that Mother’s Day, I began experiencing a lot of pain in my legs and went to the ER. Within six hours I was paralyzed from my neck down. I woke up on life support with my beautiful amazing mother standing over me. The day I show my gratitude for her selflessness she proves it again, by hopping on a plane leaving her life to be with my babies…talk about incredible. She ended staying with me until the end of last (2019) year. I feel so blessed that she’s in my life. I still see her often”.
When it rains, it pours. I understand that you’ve endured even more traumatic events in your life.
“I had lost my child at 7 1/2 months pregnant in Dec 2015 because my ex had assaulted me and stress is the leading cause of birth defects. He passed away from an actual case of “Lymphangioma” (incredibly rare) His Father was a Marine with PTSD that began self-medicating and became very abusive. I had become hospitalized after I lost a ton of blood. I hemorrhaged after the miscarriage and woke up with a pulmonary embolism and aspirated pneumonia. That was the last straw and then I left him and moved out and we sold the house. After a brief stent living with my mom I decided to pack up my family and move to Texas in October 2016.”
“In September of this year, I was commuting from rehearsal in Austin back home to Dallas and I found myself in a freak storm. A truck had swerved into my lane and I could barely see out my windshield. I was about to pull over but I caught his tail-wind and I felt my tires lose traction under me and I went flying like a slingshot into the cement center median. I sustained light injuries. I had a dislocation relocation injury where my tendon fell behind my kneecap and was very painful and needed a small procedure to relocate back. I had a dislocated shoulder some burns and chipped teeth but luckily my Physician, Dr Marshall Brown, helped me through that. I’m just lucky and so very blessed to be alive. It totaled my vehicle though. I bought my car during bankruptcy so there was no chance of getting approved for another car loan again, so that was quite a pain.”
Were you working additional jobs while pursuing your music career?
“I actually wasn’t working a 9-5 when music fell into my lap. I had moved to Texas and wasn’t in super great spirits… about 2 weeks before music became my path I had hit my knees and threw up my hands and said “God, if you don’t give me something to hold on to I’m gonna let go.” And I gave my path to God. I envisioned throwing up a ton of papers and just pretended to fling them as a gesture that I’m no longer taking control. And I literally gave my whole path to God and the universe.”
“So, I decided that day that I was going to find a job or go back to school. (I had my disability and a small nest egg from selling my house) so I took a week to go out and see some live music not knowing how to get on that stage. I was on a date at the Pour House in New Braunfels I was bored so I walked up to the band and asked if I could sing with them. One of the band-members (Mark Monaco from the Strayhearts band) said nope, that’s not how this works, and I walked away.”
“And later, I found out there were some veterans in his backing band. So I started chatting with them and then we jammed a bit and they gave me some songs and invited me to sit in for their 4th of July show. I thought my performance was awful, but apparently wasn’t as awful as I thought because someone took a video and it went semi-viral throughout Austin and then promoters and producers started calling me asking to work with me and promote me.
I replied back, “promote what?” I’m just a single parent, basically a glorified karaoke singer but they insisted, so I went throughout Austin picking some musicians and started rocking out. Several weeks later, on August 7th at the San Jac Saloon in Austin, I released my first single “never be the same”, and that’s where it all began! And to fund it, I actually ran my house as an Airbnb staying with friends and family to support my dream.
When I was first welcomed in to the music industry (unofficially) I was in a music class at Diablo Valley College that literally just taught me how to be on stage and I fell in love with having a live band. But I had never tried the solo ‘leading lady’ bit until I moved to Texas in 2016″.
Are you now pursuing your music career full-time now?
“I’m very blessed that I can pursue my dream as a full-time career musician. I can’t do things half-effort. I’m either all-in, or all-out! I know what it takes and it cannot be a ‘hobby’ if you want to actually make it and become someone in this industry. I did lose my house though so no more Airbnb. Caliber Home Loans had put me in foreclosure while impatient and paralyzed.”
What are your favorite things to do?
“Aside from singing and writing and fiddling with the guitar, I love the water. I need to be on a boat or jet ski or tube as often as I can. It’s the sun and water combo… I’m just in heaven. But nothing trumps my love of horses. I am in love with the loyalty and acceptance that horses offer. They are beautiful creatures inside and out and nothing beats having my hair in the wind and my feet in the stirrups. It’s a way of becoming one with your environment.”
What are some of your favorite TV shows?
“Oh man, I’ve been watching Yellowstone, okay full disclosure, I binged Yellowstone and I’m pissed I have to wait now. Ugh and now I’m watching The Queens Gambit which has me on the edge of my seat for many different reasons than most thrillers would, it’s intellectually intriguing. And I’m a huge, HUGE Star Wars nerd and I’m watching Mandalorian to satisfy my Star Wars craving”. And baby yoga has my heart. OMG, cutest thing ever!
So…what’s going on now in your life?
“Lava Cantina is celebrating NFR (National Finals Rodeo) week and I have a show there on December 9th at 7:00pm, and so many other wonderful things are going on right now! My music has taken a different turn, I have also began emceeing for events with Rockin Concepts and Lava Cantina and writing script for the stream show, ‘Dallas Music Network’. I’m working on an auto-biography currently, and am often a key-note speaker at many veteran events. I began co-hosting a podcast called ‘Backstage Pass’ with Brandon Morrell which has the best radio personality ever! It’s been so much fun to interview some of my major hero’s in this industry! I’m also going to be the brand ambassador and partner with one of the most innovative companies I’ve ever seen; Akyumen. They’re going to be the very first manufacturer of smart phones in the United States on US soil, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that endeavor. I think you’re going to be seeing a whole new side of Deanna Wheeler soon. As well as a series for holistic healing for veterans. It’s going to be an exciting year!”.
“Music is the universal connector. You don’t have to speak the same language, be the same color, live in the same country, it connects us all! And as a musician I have one job, to invoke whatever emotion I need the listener to feel to fit the moment. Once I learned to do that my path was written. Music is the universal connector and connection is the cure. So be part of the solution”.
Deanna definitely has a solution and a clear plan for her life, and the scars to prove it. This chapter of her life is just one of many which demonstrates the resolve and determination a woman possesses, and the faith and strength to overcome adversities, pain, loss of life and still grabs those boot-straps and pulls herself up every day. Ohhh yeah…and this girl has one HELLUVA voice. Check out some of her videos below!