The Rockabilly Connector
With Sid and Billy King,
The Horton Brothers, and Lost Country. 2pm Sun, Nov 16, at Southside Preservation Hall, 1519 Lipscomb St, FW. $15. 817-926-1331.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Legendary Mac Curtis got himself a new radio show and his first gig in the Fort since 1957.
By KEN SHIMAMOTO
For rockabilly legend Mac Curtis, 2003 has been a kind of homecoming year.
A DJ since 1957, Curtis has worked at radio stations in Nashville and Los Angeles. Earlier this month, he returned to the airwaves where he began his broadcasting career, in Weatherford. He’s the host of the “The Rockabilly Connection on KFWR 95.9 “The Ranch.” He’ll also headline the Panther City Stomp, a showcase for rockabilly originators and newer kids at Fort Worth’s Southside Preservation Hall next month. Incredibly, the show will be Cowtown native Curtis’ first hometown performance since 1957.
The radio show came about after a discussion between Curtis and Ranch program director Andy Meadows. Seeking a replacement for Bob Kingsley’s syndicated “American Country Countdown” show, Meadows decided to give Curtis the Sunday night time slot from 5 to 7 p.m., following Joe Bielinski’s “Classic Country Review.” Initially, Curtis focused on Texas artists like Ronnie Dawson, Johnny Carroll, Bob Luman, and Buddy Knox. Now he promises thematic sets with subjects like bad boys and cool threads, as well as phone interviews with rockabilly greats.
The idea for the Panther City Stomp came when ex-Juke Jumper Jim Colegrove saw the turnout for a Sunday-afternoon Ronnie Dawson tribute in Dallas and decided Fort Worth might be ripe for a rockabilly revival. After that, said Curtis, all that remained was to find a venue and “a weekend when the Cowboys weren’t playing.” Also on the bill will be Austin upstarts the Horton Brothers, Colegrove’s current band, Lost Country, and Sid and Billy King, who recorded the rockabilly classics “Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight” and “Sag, Drag and Fall.”
Born in Fort Worth in 1939, Curtis was raised by his grandparents in Olney, west of Fort Worth in Young County. Moving to Weatherford in 1954, he started a band with high school classmates Jim and Ken Galbraith. Curtis credits AM radio with shaping their musical tastes. Dallas’ KNOK offered the latest hits by Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry, while rival KCUL had “a couple of TCU guys” who’d play the R&B sounds of the Midnighters and Lloyd Price. When the local stations signed off, Curtis would tune into WLAC Nashville, “which played a mix of everything.”
Curtis liked to sing upbeat country and novelty tunes, but he started performing Arthur Crudup’s bluesy “That’s All Right Mama” after learning it from a cover by Marty Robbins. One day a friend called from the Dairy Queen in Weatherford. “There’s a record of that song on the jukebox,” he said. “Isn’t it you?” At the DQ, Curtis saw a record bearing the yellow Sun label with the singer’s name: Elvis Presley. “It was the first time I realized somebody else was playing this kind of music,” said Curtis. “It validated what we were doing, in a way.”
The rockabilly rebels got a riotous response at a Weatherford High School dance . “You could hear the floorboards creaking and see the dust rising up from the floor,” said Curtis. But a handful of students were offended by Curtis’ “lewd and lascivious” gyrations, and “a lady teacher, our Christian counselor” registered a complaint with the principal. There was a meeting in the office. The principal “kinda grinned and told me, ‘She really wants your head. Give her some time to cool down,’” Curtis recalled.
One weekend in 1955, Curtis’ band was playing outside a Ford dealership on West Seventh Street in Fort Worth while KNOK DJ Big Jim Randolph was broadcasting live from inside. Seeing the crowd’s response to the Weatherford teens, Randolph invited the band to play a couple of songs over the radio. Soon, said Curtis, “people were calling [the station] from everywhere,” and traffic on West Seventh had picked up dramatically. Impressed, Randolph promised to use his connections to help secure a record deal for Curtis.
A few weeks later, Mac was summoned to the principal’s office again — this time, to receive a long-distance call from Randolph. “You’ve got a contract with King Records,” said the DJ. “Come to Dallas tonight. [Producer] Ralph Bass is here to record you.” Curtis and his band drove to a motel on Harry Hines Boulevard and cut two songs that night . Bass produced a string of hits for Curtis that included “If I Had Me a Woman,” “Grandaddy’s Rockin’,” and “You Ain’t Treatin’ Me Right.” The records wowed legendary DJ Alan Freed, who booked Curtis’ band for the 1956 Christmas Jubilee extravaganza at the Brooklyn Paramount.
Curtis started spinning records for Weatherford station KZEE in 1957, but by year’s end he was in the Army, shipping out for Korea. His radio experience got him an assignment with the Armed Forces Radio Network in Seoul. Curtis’ schedule left him with enough free time to sing in a country band of off-duty GIs that played “every night and once on Sunday afternoon.”
While finishing up his Army hitch at Fort Hood, Curtis dee-jayed and ran record hops for a local station. Following his discharge in 1960, Curtis found that fans had abandoned rock in favor of sweeter sounds. Help came in the form of a call from a Killeen buddy who was working for a Grand Prairie station, and Curtis made the leap from music to a full-time radio career.
In 1971, Curtis was at station KLAC in Los Angeles when rockabilly enthusiast Ronny Weiser called, requesting an interview for his fanzine. He introduced Curtis to original Austin rockabilly Ray Campi, who’d had a hit with “Caterpillar” in 1956. Weiser released a living room recording of Curtis singing Rudy Grazzell’s “Ducktail” as a single on his fledgling Rollin’ Rock label and eventually released three Curtis LPs. Curtis toured Europe with Campi in 1977, as a rockabilly revival swept the Continent.
Since then, he’s been back to Europe more than 100 times, playing to enthusiastic fans, many of them too young to remember the first Rollin’ Rock tour, let alone the original rockabilly era. Still spry and in good voice at 64, granddaddy Mac Curtis is still rockin’.
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