- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

ELKHORN, Wis. — When Tallan “T-Man” Latz was 5, he saw Joe Satriani playing guitar on TV. “I turned around to my dad and said, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do.’”

Three years and countless hours of practicing later, 8-year-old Tallan is a blues guitar prodigy. He has played in bars and clubs, including the House of Blues in Chicago, and even jammed with Les Paul and Jackson Browne. He has a summer of festivals scheduled and has drawn interest from venues worldwide.

What, you might ask, would a boy not even in the third grade have the blues about? The state of Wisconsin, for one, and some possibly jealous older musicians for another.

An anonymous e-mail sent to state officials complained that Tallan was too young to perform in taverns and nightclubs because of state child labor laws. His booking agent even got an anonymous letter threatening her with death if she keeps booking him.

When Tallan’s father read him the state’s letter saying Tallan couldn’t play clubs anymore (he can still play festivals) the boy’s response - like his music - seemed beyond his years.

“He goes, ‘It’s not how many times you get knocked down but it’s how many times you get back up and go forward,’ Carl Latz said his son told him. “And I told him that’s exactly what this is all about, and if nothing else, this letter just taught you a life lesson.”

The lesson can be stiff: Each day he performs, his employer can be fined $25 to $1,000 and the parent $10 to $250.

Jennifer Ortiz of the state Equal Rights Division says her agency has a responsibility to enforce the law once it becomes aware of a violation. “Well, the law prohibits it, and the Legislature enacted the laws to protect the health, safety and welfare of all children,” she says.

Carl Latz, who also is Tallan’s manager, has asked a legislator for help changing the law, but it’s not clear whether any action will be taken. He received the letter a few days before Tallan was to perform at Lil Downtown Lounge in suburban Milwaukee, where club co-owner Michelle Boche said the boy always packed the place when he sat in with other musicians.

Mr. Latz claims that two weeks before getting the letter, he overheard local blues guitarist Jammin’ Jimmy, whose real name is James Kemeny, say Tallan shouldn’t be in a bar and he was going to turn the boy in.

However, Mr. Kemeny, who’s been playing for 44 years, denied badmouthing Tallan.

“It seems totally unbelievable that somebody would even go to that extreme to send a letter to somebody, let alone looking to find something about child labor laws,” Mr. Kemeny says.

Miss Boche says she has received backlash from musicians and area bar owners because she supports Tallan. Some have tried to take patrons away, she said. Some even called in fake incidents to police, causing them to look for guns or underage drinkers, she said.

“If my doors close and I never open again and this boy becomes successful, then I will be the happiest person in the world,” she says.

Tallan’s agent, Sharon Pomaville, said she received a threatening letter June 2 warning her to stop booking the boy. She thinks the letter writer is a local musician and believes he’s harmless. Deputies came to her house, but she didn’t want to pursue the case.

Greg Koch, 42, an internationally known guitarist and clinician for Fender Musical Instruments, calls the backlash despicable. He says most 8-year-olds don’t have the strength or attention span to pursue guitar or can’t endure the calluses.

“It’s strange that a kid at this age would glean onto this particular kind of music and show the intensity and kind of the ability to function as kind of an 8-year-old blues guy,” Mr. Koch says.

Brad Tolinski, editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine, says child guitar prodigies are rare, with one emerging perhaps every four or five years.

“It would be unusual to find an 8-year-old who can play Joe Satriani licks,” he says.

Carl Latz says there’s no explanation for Tallan’s blues connection other than that he seems to have an old soul.

“I’ve had more people tell me, they say, ‘It’s a kid’s body, but it has a 70-year-old dude inside,’” Carl Latz says.

Tallan, whose heroes are Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, has 13 guitars and endorsements from at least nine companies to use their equipment. He can read music but plays mostly from memory.

He has two bands - one with veterans called T-Man’s Blues Project and another with 16-and-younger band mates called Tallan “The T-Man” Latz and the Young Guns. He also sings and plays drums, harmonica, bass and piano.

Tallan says he likes to play guitar to “put smiles on people’s faces” when they are having a bad day. He knows 30 to 40 songs and someday hopes to write his own. It was his idea to start playing in public.

Tallan says the problems he’s faced have done nothing to dampen his ambition to be a blues rock star when he grows up. Just the opposite, in fact.

“Because I got more inspiration, I got more sadness in me,” Tallan says. “I’m just feelin’ it.”

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