Interview by Kit Burns
Banastre Tarleton is a chameleon. Like David Bowie, he can switch genres without suffering an identity crisis. Nevertheless, he is probably best known for his classic rock, and Tarleton has been part of the musical landscape since the mid-’70s so you can definitely say he’s legit.
Kit Burns: “Attack Iraq” is potentially explosively controversial. What was the inspiration behind it?
Tarleton: I originally wrote the song about the Israeli attack on Saddam’s nuclear facility in 1982. I had some live bootleg recordings of it, but nothing serious. When the Gulf War started some friends told me I should re-write it with current lyrics. So I sat down and watched CNN for a couple of hours and there it was. The music is the same as the original. The song provoked quite a bit of positive and negative feedback. I always thought of it as a sort of musical hard rock comic book rather than a political statement. Controversy or not – it has been my most successful download.
Burns: You have been in the music industry for three decades now. How has it changed since you began? Has it been for better or for worse?
Tarleton: When I started there weren’t as many bands. Now the industry is saturated. It amazes me that anybody ever gets noticed, but they do. The internet has been a godsend for musicians like me who have performed for years in front of literally hundreds of thousands of people. They run across you online somehow, order a CD or T-shirt and send an e-mail saying “Hey, we remember seeing you guys back in the ’80s in Dodge City, Kansas.” How the Hell are ya?”
Burns: You’re quite prolific. How many albums have you actually recorded and which ones are you most proud of and why?
Tarleton: I’ve had 28 releases (5 EPs, 7 singles, 16 albums) on my own label, Green Horse, and been included on many compilations. Bill Haley & The Comets keyboardist Joey Wells, who owns Caprice International Records, has put out several EP’s and albums for me over the years. I don’t have a favorite – I’m fond of all of them. Some are probably better than others, but you can’t fake an authentic ’70s or ’80s album. My first LP, Electric Women, sounds a lot better to me now than it did when it came out in November 1979.
Burns: You experiment with a number of different musical styles from hard rock to power pop. You don’t see too many acts today that have such variety in their menu. When you started in this business, did you always have that in mind, to be creatively versatile?
Tarleton: It’s been kinda weird that way. My songwriting has always been all over the map. I really love and get pleasure from all kinds of music – from Beethoven to Black Sabbath. My band has gone through many phases, but we always try to play something totally different from the main menu to get that surprise reaction from the audience.
Burns: You once opened up for Janis Joplin. I have to ask you: What was that experience like? Did you get to meet her?
Tarleton: To be honest, I was so young I didn’t think that much about it. She wasn’t a huge star yet. Her band was billed as Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin. We could tell there was some friction between them because she was obviously going places they were not. She came up to me off stage after our set and said something generic like “great show.” Then she guzzled a half-pint of Johnny Walker scotch, walked out on stage and blew everybody away with that voice of hers.
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