Lt. Ed Bankston Talks About the Obscure Album Released in 1983 By His Band The Red Rippers
"It's all a big surprise to me," says Ed Bankston, 60, talking on the phone from his home in Phoenix, Arizona. "It's like the ghost of Christmas past has shown up." In 1983, the songwriter and guitarist Bankston started a label called Oracle Records to self-release Over There... and Over Here, the first and last album by his band the Red Rippers. Thirty years later, on January 29, the Paradise of Bachelors label reissued this long-forgotten, but gritty and vital, collection of rock and roll, boogie, country and psych tunes that tell the story of the Vietnam War from a veteran's perspective.
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Bankston wrote some of the songs about his own experiences serving on an aircraft carrier during the war, and others were inspired by stories told to him by fellow veterans. The complex feelings of those who went overseas certain but returned home to a popular anti-war movement, and to the harrowing truth that their political leaders had betrayed them, are vividly conveyed in Bankston's voice. Not to mention his electric guitar, which explodes on brawling, chunky tunes like "Firefight" and "Vietnam Blues."
The Red Rippers played shows long enough for Bankston to sell the few thousand LP and cassette versions he had made of Over There... and Over Here. But after unsuccessfully shopping the album around to record labels, Bankston abandoned his dreams of being a professional musician. He became a family man, or as he says, "a square." He was happy, but he tried his best to forget about the Red Rippers.
In 2010, the two founders of Paradise of Bachelors, an independent label that focuses on old and new American music, heard Over There...and Over Here for the first time. They were blown away, and decided to find Bankston. They succeeded, and the first reissue of the album is born. This is very good news, 'cause the record really rips. We called Bankston to talk about it all.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
My mother's side of the family was very musical, but not my father's. I guess it all came from my mother. My grandfather was a big fiddle player, and my brother was a bluegrass musician. He played the five string banjo.
When did you start playing?
I was 11. I got a guitar from Montgomery Ward and I was off. That would've been '62 or '63. It was an acoustic guitar. I still remember it cost me $14 because it took a long time to save up the money. I have no idea where it is now.
Did you teach yourself how to play?
I lived way out in the sticks. The only way to get around was to walk, so I didn't have anything better to do than play guitar. I learned how to play by listening to my mother's Johnny Cash records. All the Luther Perkins riffs were pretty easy to pick out. I also played with my brother. He was a couple of years younger than me, so we both kinda started playing together. We played together a lot. A few years later, I got a crown electric guitar. I taught him how to play bass so we could have a band.
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Were you writing your own songs at this time?
No, we were just playing other people's songs. But when I was about 15, I started playing for money at bars. I lived in a rural county, and there were a lot of little redneck bars. I played Friday and Saturday night for $5 a night. I don't remember the name of my first band. Most times I played under my own name. I found a bass man and a drummer and just played under the name Ed Bankston.
What songs were you playing live?
We played a lot of country songs. Johnny Cash and Ray Price, stuff like that. I found out while playing those bars that after a certain time everyone would be pretty snockered, and they liked to hear a lot of Chuck Berry and 1950s rock and roll. I'd start off early playing the country songs while everyone was sober, and then when everyone was snockered, we'd transition to the rock and roll and rockabilly.
Those must've been real wild scenes.
Oh, yeah. A lot of them were rough bars. There were a lot of fights and people throwing stuff. It wasn't as bad as that scene in The Blues Brothers, but it was along those lines. I was still in high school at this time, so I was just playing for pocket money. When you're 15 or 16, you'll feel like big stuff if you're out playing the bars. I met a lot of older drunk gals. You know how it is when you're a youngster. I thought I was really something back then. Girls would say, "Hey Ed, are you going to the school dance?" And I'd say, "No, I'm going to play a gig at the Night Owl Tavern."
Were you hoping to turn the band into a full-time job?
I assumed I would. I always assumed that I'd be a musician, and that's what I'd do for a living. When I was about 17, my buddy and I came up to Phoenix. Waylon Jennings led the house band at a bar called JD's. This was back before he was a big star. We snuck into the bar and listened to him play all night. He was the main bar musician in Phoenix, but he'd had no success outside the state at this point. That was a big inspiration for me. I said to myself, "Man, this is what I wanna do." He had his hair all greased back and he was a natural. No matter how big the room, he'd get it going. He was a great inspiration for a young musician like myself.
Was this the beginning of his band the Waylors, or even earlier?
Yeah, I think that's what he was calling it. He was a local DJ off and on, but I'm not sure if he was doing it at that time. He made JD's into the hot place in Phoenix for country music. Actually, JD's was over in Scottsdale. Back then, Scottsdale was just a little town outside of Phoenix. I think their town motto was: "The most Western town." People would ride their horses into town on the weekends. It's a lot different now. Now it's a resort community, but back then it was a little hick town.
You had these musical ambitions, but when you turned 18, you enlisted in the Navy, right?
That's right. That's the kind of family I was brought up in. There was a war going on, so it seemed like a natural thing to do. And it was a great opportunity to get out of Pinal County. I was anxious to get away. There were only cotton fields there and nothing was going on. You know, when you're 18, you just wanna see the bright lights and move around. There had to be something better than those cotton fields.