When Tallan Latz aka "T-Man" was 5, he saw Joe Satriani playing guitar on TV. He turned to his dad and said, "That's exactly what I want to do."
Three years and countless hours of practicing have paid off – Tallan is now a blues guitar prodigy, having played at 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. He has two bands — one with veterans called T-Man's Blues Project and another with 16-and-younger bandmates called Tallan "The T-Man" Latz and the Young Guns. He also sings and plays drums, harmonica, bass and piano.
But the state of Wisconsin, and maybe some envious older musicians, are trying to rain on his parade.
An anonymous e-mail sent to state officials complained that the boy, who says he likes to play guitar to “put smiles on people’s faces,” is 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.
The state responded by sending Tallan's father a letter informing him that his son couldn't play clubs anymore (he can still play festivals) and faces stiff penalties if he disobeys: Each day he performs, the employer can be fined $25 to $1,000 and the parent from $10 to $250.
Jennifer Ortiz of the state Equal Rights Division said her agency has a responsibility to enforce the law once it becomes aware of a violation.
Latz 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.
Brad Tolinski, editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine, said kid 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 said.
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 knows 30 to 40 songs and someday hopes to write his own. It was his idea to start playing in public.