Air Force Veteran Farrel Droke Revels in Making Music
Beautiful as it is, the lure of the Oregon coast wasn’t enough to keep veteran Farrel Droke from his Oklahoma roots. After two years away, this past August he and his wife, Julie, returned to their longtime hometown of Norman, settling happily into a post-retirement routine that includes lots of music.
A former mechanical engineer, Droke celebrates his creativity in a new way these days, composing and performing music around the Norman community. His songs, played on an acoustic guitar, are a unique blend of country, pop, folk and rock that he refers to simply as “Americana.”
After years working for several private employers and as a contractor for Tinker Air Force Base, Droke finally embraced his musical side at age 49 and has been honing his skills ever since. He draws upon his entire life’s experiences, including those that are service-related.
Droke’s most recent album, “Magnet in My Heart,” includes the plaintive track “Thank You for Your Time,” which pays tribute to America’s homeless veterans. Another song, “Needle and Thread,” earned him an honorable mention for lyrics from American Songwriter magazine.
Originally from Sulphur, Droke came to Norman in 1969, where he spent two years studying mechanical engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Lacking the funds to continue, and after receiving a very low draft number, he opted to join the Air Force rather than wait to be drafted.
He trained as an electronics technician and then served for five years, most of that in Germany. When asked about his time in the service, he’s quick to label himself a “Vietnam-era” veteran, rather than a Vietnam vet, saving the latter term for his fellow soldiers who served in in combat areas and were constantly in harm’s way.
“No one comes out of the military the same,” Droke observed. “I don’t care who you are or what job you have, it affects you for the rest of your life. It just does. I was lucky that I never had to carry a gun, and I never got shot at. But so many of my generation have been so profoundly impacted.”
Post-service, Droke returned to OU, finished his engineering degree and began a long, successful career. He made a career shift toward the end, purchasing and operating Norman’s Café Plaid for seven years.
After retirement, however, he finally felt emotionally ready to pursue his love of making music. A 2007 trip to Ireland, where he spent an amazing musical evening at a local pub with its inhabitants, left him “profoundly changed,” and inspired him to take the next step. His first two original songs were written in 2008, and he hasn’t stopped since.
“Music is kind of a whole-body experience for me,” Droke said. “I love to tell stories and I love to make them up. A lot of things patch together to make the songs come out. I don’t think that I could have written music at age 20; I didn’t have that depth of experience. People, especially men, have difficulty getting into the emotional side of songwriting, because there’s a risk,” he added. “I’ve had trouble with that myself, so you tend to write funny (songs). That’s where I was for a long time.”
Today, Droke not only calls upon his own experiences; he keeps a massive list on his cell phone, where he jots down quotes and seemingly everyday observations that can spark song ideas. In 2011, he even returned to the Irish pub that originally inspired him, where he performed his Celtic-influenced song “Kileigh by the Sea,” to great applause.
Droke performs at several area music festivals, and more information is available through farreldroke.com and normansongwriters.org. His work also is readily accessible on YouTube and available for sale through Amazon and other outlets.
“You’re never going to get rich doing it,” he said. “But it is a whole lot of fun!”