Many musicians can say they had their brush with fame, but few can say their music made it into outer space. Tulsa musician George Barton can claim both.
As acoustic duo Barton and Sweeney, Barton and bandmate Mark Sweeney shared the stage with acts like the Chicks and REO Speedwagon. In 1999, their music literally catapulted to new heights when NASA’s Janice Voss and Steve Robinson took their CDs into space.
According to Barton, the astronauts became fans after hearing them perform in Houston.
“They actually took two CDs,” Barton’s wife, Linda, recalls with a smile. “They have pictures of them floating.”
Space missions are just one story from a lifetime of music. Barton first picked up the guitar at age 12, inspired by the opening riff of the Beatles’ song “Day Tripper.”
His one and only guitar lesson left him frustrated. The teacher was intent on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and the teenage Barton was ready to rock. He turned to his growing vinyl collection, relying on his well-tuned ear and endless hours of practice.
“I had a record player with a speed of 16, so you could slow the music down. That’s half of 33,” he laughs. “Learning at half speed was the trick.”
Over the years, Barton has played in multiple bands, covering everything from blues to ’80s punk. Along the way, he began to write his own songs.
“The first time I heard Harry Chapin, it totally changed my outlook,” Barton says of the folk rock singer-songwriter. “I discovered you could tell a story in a song.”
As half of Barton and Sweeney, Barton spent a number of years in the mid-’90s pursuing music full time, performing at festivals and opening for some major acts. There was even a gig at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. Eventually life as a touring musician became too much to juggle with family life, but Barton never gave up on his music.
Pre-pandemic, Barton performed regularly with Tulsa all-star band Bradio, as well as Barton and Long, an acoustic band that includes his wife, son and brother-in-law. He’s also spent the past year writing and recording in his garage studio. Fortunately for his fans, a new release on Horton Records is on the horizon.
“I call them protest songs, but they’re just songs of observation about things that are happening in the country and with the 24-hour news cycle,” Barton says. “It’s been a weird, weird time, and I’ve put some of those thoughts into songs.”