Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Looking at the Music for Awhile

The first time I ever sat down and listened to a live music show was in Lake City, Washington (now part of Seattle) as part of their Pioneer Days celebration, which was not really unlike one of the many Folk Festivals and Street Fairs I’ve put together. This was back in 1949; it ran a week and had a parade as part of it as well as a beard-growing contest. The sit-down concert was my Dad’s all-time favorite group: the Sons of the Pioneers (Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, LLoyd Perryman, Hugh and Karl Farr, and Pat Brady at that time) with an opening set by Jack Guthrie (Woody’s cousin and co-author of “Oklahoma Hills”). Bob Nolan (who my Dad was somewhat acquainted with) dedicated the Pioneer’s song “One More Ride” to my Dad and that impressed this 11-year-old boy a whole lot when Bob told the story of meeting my Dad on the Great Northern railroad in a boxcar they were sharing in 1933 when they were coming out to the West. It was my Dad who came up with the title of the song, which Bob would go on to write.

In 1952 the Curtiss Clan came to California and then we started to go to concerts on a regular basis. From Hank Williams at the Bostonia Ballroom (along with so many others: Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith, Ray Price, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Wilma Lee and Stony Cooper, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Elton Britt, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, T. Texas Tyler, and so many others) to trips up to LA to see shows at the “Town Hall Party,” the “Riverside Rancho,” and the “Hometown Jamboree (the best of the West Coast guys like Merle Travis, Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, Gene Autry, Skeets MacDonald, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, Gene O’Quin, Buck Owens, Tex Williams, Tex Ritter, Larry and Lorrie Collins, and a whole lot more). Most of these shows (especially the “Town Hall Party” as the ’50s rolled along) started to feature the rock boogie and rockabilly performers like Gene Vincent, Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, Bob Luman, Wanda Jackson, Eddie Cochran, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Merrill Moore, Billy Lee Riley, and Carl Perkins.

About that time I was also going to some of the Johnny Otis shows at the El Monte Legion Stadium and seeing some live R&B acts like Marie Adams and the Three Tons of Joy, Big Mama Thornton, the Penguins, Don Julian and the Meadowlarks, Big Joe Turner, Amos Milburn, Camille Howard, Little Richard, and Roy Milton. I had a deal with my Dad – if I’d go to a country show with him on Saturday, I could go see rhythm and blues on Friday. If we didn’t go live to a show on a weekend (We’d stay with my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Gunboats in San Pedro) we’d stay at home and catch Cliffie Stone’s “Hometown Jamboree” and then the “Town Hall Party” on the TV. In between those two shows we’d watch “Peter Potter’s Jukebox Jury”. During the week Dad and I would watch shows like “Midwestern Hayride” on the network out of Cincinnati, “Ozark Jubilee” out of Springfield, Missouri and various West Coast shows like Spade Cooley, Doye O’Dell’s “Western Varieties,” “The Dude Martin Show,” “Melody Ranch,” “TV Ranch Party,” Dinner Bell Round Up Time, “Bobby Troups Jazz Scene,” “The Johnny Otis Show, and a whole lot more. Looking back on it, it seems like in the ’50s I was looking at music more than not.

With the 1960s (actually the late ’50s, I graduated from High School in 1957) I was a lot more likely to be on my own or with friends in my music looking. It was the age of the Great Folk Scare and I was picking a little in some of the coffeehouses and going to some of the big events of that era, like the 1959 and 1960 Newport Folk Festivals (where I saw Pete Seeger, the Clancy Bros. and Tommy Makem, Rev. Gary Davis, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Barbara Dane, the New Lost City Ramblers, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Oscar Brand, Jean Ritchie, Willie Thomas and Butch Cage, and so many more) and Big Folk Clubs like the Ash Grove in LA where I began to see some crossover between some of the country and R&B I’d seen and the more traditional kinds of folk music. By the mid 1960s I was ready to start doing music festivals in San Diego. The first one came along in the Spring of 1967 at San Diego State. I did 20 folk festivals and three blues festivals over the next 20 years at SDSU. I took awhile off and then started up the Adams Avenue Roots Festivals and also worked on the Adams Avenue Street Fair and oh, yes, one more blues festival. Those started it 1994 and went on for the next 15 years. Also along the way I did a Sea Chanty Festival, and I’m starting to help with Adams Ave Unplugged. That’s 57 festivals in all. Add to that 15 Balboa Park Old Time Banjo and Fiddle Contests and about 300 plus concerts with various Folk at Folk Arts Rare Records, Orangos, the Normal Heights United Methodist Church, SDSU, UCSD, USD, the Heritage Coffeehouse, In the Alley Coffee House, various house concerts, and rented halls. This last wee

k I met with a first committee meeting for another Adams Ave. Unplugged. At nearly 75 years old, I’ve had a chance to do a hell of a lot of looking at music; I’ve also done a hell of a lot of putting on music events. I don’t regret a minute of any of it. I think going to see and supporting the local music scene in this city of San Diego makes it a better place and I know damn well the music I’ve brought here has left a lasting impression on the folks who heard it.

Lou Curtiss

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