For years, Gary Sinise has been known as much for his efforts to help veterans as for his acting.
At 7 tonight in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Sinise, who starred in “Apollo 13” and “Forrest Gump,” brings his Lt. Dan Band to Tampa to kick off a concert series aimed at raising money to build “smart” homes for a dozen severely wounded warriors.
The band is named for the character he played in “Gump,” an Army platoon leader who loses his legs in an ambush.
The concert will raise money to build a new home for Mike Nicholson, a medically retired Marine sergeant who lost three limbs to an improvised explosive device in July 2011. The homes cost about a $500,000 each, says Sinise, who is donating all proceeds from the tour.
We caught up with Sinise to get his thoughts on making music, helping those who served and the massive problems with the Veterans Administration.
Q: Are you ready for Tampa and the tour?
A: We are very much looking forward to it. This is the first concert of our Building For America’s Bravest series. We brought the band to about 10 places last year for a bunch of different wounded warriors.
Q: Have you talked to Michael lately?
A: I haven’t talked to him lately, but I heard he threw out the first pitch at a Rays’ game. He probably did better than I did when I threw out the first pitch at a Rangers game. I love baseball. I am a devoted Cubs fan.
Q: The Lt. Dan Band is a big band. Are you bringing everyone?
A: We are bringing everyone. There are 12 people — me plus 11. Then we have about five or six support staff. We are a cover band and cover a lot of songs. The singers are great. We have great musicians in the band.
Q: When did you pick up the bass?
A: I played as a kid back in the 7th grade. Bass and guitar. I started a theater company in Chicago and once I got rocking and rolling with that, I didn’t play for a long time. I picked it up again in the late ’90s. Then I went on USO tours and what I would do initially is just go and shake hands and take pictures with troops around the world. Then in February of 2004 we went on our first tour and from that moment until now we have been playing all over the world.
Q: Who were your influences?
A: Jack Bruce. I am 58. Back then I was listening to The Who, [Jimi] Hendrix, Cream, Grand Funk, Chris Squire. I am also a big Yes fan. Chris Squire was a big influence.
Q: Which would you rather do, act or jam?
A: I am glad I can do both. The music is not what I do for a living. All charity and fun. There was a time, years ago, back in high school, when I was playing in bands and acting in plays, I wondered which one I would do. Acting came a little bit more naturally. I didn’t feel like I had the discipline to be a great bass player or guitar player that would have to practice all day long.
Q: Which helped get you more girls in high school, acting or playing music?
A: Both helped getting girls. My high school band was called Half Day Road, named after a road in my town where I grew up in Highland Park, Ill.
Q: Do you write any of your own songs?
A: We do all covers. I am not a songwriter. I am not someone looking for a recording contract. Some of the players in my band do that. But our overall mission is giving back to the men and women who serve.
Q: What’s your take on the backlog of benefits claims faced by veterans seeking compensation from the VA?
A: The pathetic question I would say is, has it ever not been a problem? The problem for our veterans is sad because the VA should be the first place a veteran should go to get immediate assistance and support. When a veteran feels like they have to go to the VA and fight over benefits or support or help or whatever, then the VA isn’t serving its function that it is there to serve. The fact is, there is still this always ongoing problem with veterans trying to get benefits they have been promised; that is sad. They served their country, go off to war, get shot, see their buddies get killed and come back and have to fight with the VA over what they are supposed to get. That shouldn’t happen.
The concert to benefit Nicholson is a combined effort of the Tunnels to Tower Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation.