Born Wesley Erwin Curtis, Jr., 16 January 1939, Fort Worth, Texas
Mac Curtis is one of those artists who cut some rockabilly records as youngsters, then went back to the real world before being rediscovered two decades later. His rockabilly credentials were established with his seven singles on the King label, from 1956 to 1958, but he made many other fine records in the 1970s.
Born in Fort Worth, Curtis grew up in the small town of Onley, Texas, where he was raised by his grandparents. (A 1974 single paired “Grandaddy’s Rockin’” with ”You Oughta See Grandma Rock”.) A bass-playing uncle and the radio exposed him to western swing, honky-tonk and gospel. Mac bought a cheap guitar in his early teens and taught himself to play some of the country songs he heard on the radio. In 1954 he moved to Weatherford, just outside Fort Worth, where he formed a hillbilly band with the Galbraith brothers, Jimmy (guitar) and Kenneth (bass). The trio played local parties and social functions.
The following year Curtis recorded two demos at the Cliff Herring studio in Fort Worth, of which “What’ll I Do” was eventually released on Rollin’ Rock in 1975. By this time Elvis Presley’s Sun records had reached the local jukebox and Mac’s band dropped the Eddy Arnold numbers in favour of the Sun sound. Things started to happen : they were invited to play on KNOK radio and on the Big D Jamboree. Curtis was signed to the King label in early 1956. Four songs were cut on April 1, 1956, at the famous Jim Beck studio in Dallas, with Ralph Bass as producer. The trio was augmented by Bill Simmons on piano and Bill Peck on drums. All four tracks were released, on two singles, first “If I Had Me A Woman”/“Just So You Call Me”, succeeded by “Grandaddy’s Rockin’”/ “Half Hearted Love”. Two top quality records in the rockabilly Sun style, with plenty of Presley mannerisms in Mac’s hiccupy vocals. A July date resulted in two more singles, followed by a prestigious spot on Alan Freed’s Christmas Shower of Stars at the Brooklyn Paramount.
In November 1957 Curtis entered the U.S. Armed Forces where he remained for three years, working in Korea as broadcaster and deejay. His final session for King was held on December 29, 1957, during Christmas leave. Upon his return in 1960, Mac returned to Texas, noticed that rockabilly had gone out of style and began to build a reputation as a country disc jockey. During the 1960s he recorded on and off for Major Bill Smith who issued a stream of Curtis records (mainly country) on Felsted, LeCam, Shah, Limelight, Dot, Brownfield, Shalimar, Maridene and Tower. These were all one-offs, but during the 1967-1969 period Curtis had seven consecutive releases on Epic, including a revival of Carl Perkins’s “Honey Don’t”, which gave him the first of six entries on the country charts (# 43, 1970). "Early in the Morning” on GRT (late 1970, the Bobby Darin / Buddy Holly number) was his only Top 40 hit (# 35).
In 1971 Curtis moved to Los Angeles where Ronny Weiser soon tracked him down and began to record him on his Rollin’ Rock label, in Ronny’s living room. Weiser introduced Mac to Ray Campi, who plays on almost all Rollin’ Rock recordings. Three albums and six singles resulted from this collaboration. These releases coincided with a rockabilly resurgence in Europe. In 1974 UK Polydor issued the LP “Rockabilly Kings”, featuring the best of the King recordings by Mac Curtis and Charlie Feathers and this release can be considered as the beginning of the British rockabilly revival. In December 1977 Mac, together with Ray Campi, undertook the now legendary “Rollin’ Rock Roadshow” tour of England. Not knowing what to expect, Curtis was overwhelmed by the reception of adoring British fans. His friendly demeanour and classic catalogue ensured that he became a regular visitor to Europe. In 1992 he also did a tour of Japan where he was very popular.
In the USA he continued to work in radio, managing a radio station and recording radio jingles. He made his last recordings in 1998, in Cardiff, Wales, which were released on a Japanese album.
Mac Curtis died on September 16, 2013 at age 74, following injuries received in a car accident a month earlier, after which he had undergone rehabilitation at a nursing home.
More info :
Discography : http://www.pcuf.fi/~tapiov/discographies/maccurtis.htm
Recommend listening :
Acknowledgements : Bill Millar, Dave Penny, Craig Morrison, Shaun Mather.
Dik, February 2017
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