Las Vegas! Still sunny on a September afternoon yet not as hot as the 117 degree summer days that can melt your shoes. Stoney Curtis, Chicago born and raised now calls Vegas his home.
Spending his formative childhood and teens in Chicago, Home of the Blues, Curtis grew up not only listening to the greatest blues music in America; he was also influenced by the 70’s rock music scene. “Yes I grew up on the South side of Chicago so I was naturally surrounded by blues music. Yet I grew up in a generation of where we listened to 70’s hard rock. It was KISS, UFO, Robin Trower, Zeppelin, Cream and Pink Floyd. So I definitely have a great mixture of blues that was naturally in me, but I was also the rocker kid. I always had the long blonde hair; always wore jeans and a t-shirt. I never faked the funk. I was what I was,” he says with a laugh. “I think when you’re playing music and then you get into playing what all music was originally, blues based, it’s hard to develop your own vibe, sound and tone. I think I was able to fuse and blend the Chicago blues with the 70’s guitar rock and create and develop my style of presenting my version of what I feel blues music is. BB King was my first introduction to the blues and then there’s Peter Frampton who is that blues based British rock. Put those two together, that’s how I see it. That’s my music.”
Starting his band as most young bands do, he and a couple of friends began playing gigs by doing covers of their favorites. “I started the Stoney Curtis Band as a blues band with a couple of my buddies. We were doing blues covers; you know, the basic, Sweet Home Chicago, The Thrill Is Gone, so on and so forth. It just kind of evolved naturally. When you play in bands, you have guys come and go while you wait to try to find what works and what doesn’t; try to find that chemistry. We were doing up to 200 gigs a year playing blues stuff as I slowly started putting my music in the shows. I kept losing my singers so I was put into a position to ask myself, do I want to keep finding singers or do I want to do this myself. I told myself I wanted to be a power trio and I want to do it right. I decided to get more into it; I began writing more of my music and the band did become a power trio and it evolved into what it is today. I was going for the power of Zeppelin, the psychedelia of Cream and the Experience and the flow of Robin Trower Band,” explains Curtis. America has some amazing cities that are devoted to Curtis’ genre of music. “Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis have some really great scenes. Austin, Texas and a lot of places throughout the South have almost an allegiance to the blues. There are a lot of places out there but I wish there were more venues that would cater to these types of acts because the blues has such a wide range of styles that still fit under the blues banner. You know, Zeppelin and Cream, they were blues bands that put a little more heat behind it. They were still blues based in the beginning.”
America is not the only country that appreciates the blues roots. Curtis and his band have done four headlining tours of Europe and the UK and Asia. In Germany, he was invited to appear on Rock Palace TV Show. “Rock Palace is a huge music television show that would be the equivalent to our, back in the day, Don Kirschner, Midnight Special or Austin City Limits. That show has been on the air for like 40 years or something to that effect. It was a huge honor to be asked to be on that show because everyone from Johnny Winter to ZZ Top had been on that show at one point or another. To be asked to be on it early in my recording career, right after my first album, and to play in front of a full house for the show was a rush and a really huge honor. Europeans love guitar music and love the blues; they call it hand music because it is played with real instruments. They love it strongly! Doing four headlining tours in Europe, not many people know that. I mean I have friends and hang out here, but they really don’t know much about my career,” he says with a modest laugh. “I mention hey, I have a new album coming out and they are like oh, that’s cool. So doing this interview is great for me, it gets me out there even more. I want to say, you know, this is my fifth album on a record label. I’ve been lucky enough and sold enough records around the country and the world that I am up by two albums over my contract with Shrapnel. So here in Vegas I’m just one of the local guys, but I have been on the music scene for a while.”
Curtis has been compared to many blues, jazz and rock greats such Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and George Thorogood to the Chicago blues icons such as Muddy Waters, Joe Bonamossa and Buddy Guy. “It’s always humbling to be compared to any of those guys. I just think again, it’s because I’m a rock guy, I’m a blues guy, and I’m a guitar player. Since I was 11 or 12 my whole world has been about playing the guitar, it’s my favorite thing in the world to do. I love playing the solos and once you begin fusing the rock in with the blues and all my influences of Robin Trower, Clapton when he was in Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page; it just kind of naturally happened. At heart I’m a rocker, I’m a hippie and I’m a blues guy so it’s just a natural fusion of what my style has developed into.”
Curtis not only plays in his own Stoney Curtis Band, he has another band called Lust of Kiss with Barry Barnes and Scot Coogan. As though Curtis doesn’t have enough on his plate with his own two bands, he plays with Count’s 77 with Danny Koker who is best known for the hit TV show Counting Cars and is also the owner of Count’s Vampd Rock Bar & Grill. “I play in the Count’s 77 Band as well. With Danny’s popularity with the show doing so well and with all the other TV shows they film here in Vegas, the city is just becoming an entertainment mecca. Doing the Count’s 77 band is letting me be the rocker guy I wanted to be when I was a kid.” Curtis laughingly remembers a photo from his teen years and explains the rocker side of his persona that he gets to be on stage with Count’s 77. “A buddy sent me a pic of me last year when I was about 14 or 15. I had on a black leather vest and a white t-shirt, aviator sunglasses and the long blonde hair; I’ve always been that kid! So now with Count, I wear the aviators and my outfit and I get to be in KISS; in my mind I get to be in KISS. It’s a rock show and as that band progressed, I said this is going to be a show band that will put on rock shows and we are going to be something.”
“I say our costumes lightly,” Curtis continues, “we are not dressed up as KISS, and we just have our own characters we like to portray on stage. The Vegas locals are really enjoying and supporting us. I also believe it’s because Danny is such a strong personality. Danny and his wife Korie have the coolest rock club in the city and getting great rock shows there and people are supporting it and are packing the house. A club like Vampd, you can’t find a better couple of human beings to support the local music scene. The bands in Vegas are building a scene here and we’ve kind of bridged the gaps in between. Everyone supports each other and promotes each other. That’s what music should be about, supporting the arts, the chosen path. It’s hard enough and you have to band together or it’s not going to work.”
October 8, 2013 will be the release date for the Stoney Curtis Band’s fifth album titled Halo of Dark Matter with Shrapnel Records. The previous album was titled Cosmic Connections and Curtis wanted to stay within that space theme. “Halo of Dark Matter is a space thing. It also fits into the psychedelic music, trippy spacey stuff.” One day while the band is working in the studio, Chris Logan (Michael Schenker Group) walked into the studio talking about the Halo of Dark Matter and the rest is history. “Chris who did back ground vocals on the album, had come into the studio talking about the Halo of Dark Matter and I really liked the thought of naming the album after that. So I mentioned it to my producer, Mike Varney, that I wanted to call it that and he was like….ah, I don’t know, maybe, but probably not,” he laughs.
“I told him I was going to write a song about it then. We had the music in no time and started working on the lyrics for this new song that I was determined to get Halo of Dark Matter on this record one way or another. The song came out brilliantly! Then when Mike sent me the info about the songs and the order they were going to be he included the title to the album would be Halo of Dark Matter. I just laughed and said perfect! I got my way and didn’t even get to pout about it. I love the title and I love what it means and what it stands for. There are 12 tracks on the album. We actually recorded 13, but this is a long album, it’s over 75 minutes long so we had to cut a song. I had so many songs and it was a hard decision to choose which song to leave off. It’s a trip down 70’s rock blues music. The spectrum of it is a crazy ride. Mike is an awesome producer and is really great at sequencing the songs in order to where you really do go on this musical ride so to speak.”
Special guests on the album included Chris Logan/MSG, Jake E. Lee, Michael Lardie/Great White, Barry Barnes/SCB & Lust of Kiss and Jeff Tortora from The Blue Man Group. “Chris does the background vocals on the record. He also sang with Jake E. Lee’s record Re-trace. We have Mike on keyboards, Barry Barnes on bass, who plays in all my bands. Last is Jeff Tortora on drums and all I can say about Tortora is…INSANITY! Barry and I always say there’s FULL TOTORANESS on this album,” he laughs. “Jeff is just one of those rare breeds. He’s one of the best drummers on the planet and you marvel at him where you get caught up in his playing and question, what? Did you really just do that? One of the reasons I wanted to use Jeff was because I did a gig where he filled in for me and he just laid it out. I wanted someone who could pull something out of me and creativeness and whatever I threw at This Beast..hahaha…he was going to be able to throw it right back at me. I’m so glad I used Jeff on this album because he really did pull out another side of me and I think it really shows on this record that didn’t on the previous ones. On the last two albums, we had Aaron Hagerty played drums and he is insane as well. Tortora just has this other gear that he can go into and just pulls something out of me as well. I’m very excited about this album. It was my first record I’ve recorded at Desert Moon Studios in Vegas, which is Danny Koker’s studio. All my others were done in Northern California. It has Vegas musicians on it and it is a great representation of Vegas…I proud to say I am now a Vegas band and this is my first offering as a Vegas album. I’m hoping everyone digs it and everyone will be proud say this is a Vegas band and this is a Vegas album.”
Halo of Dark Matter is the fifth album The Stoney Curtis Band has put out on the Shrapnel Label and Curtis is very appreciative of what he has accomplished. “I hope people will take a chance on them. Every record of mine from the first to this one, each one is different. Each one is 100% me, but each one is different than the last. One of the things I’m proud of is that you can tell how each evolves. The writing, the tone, the growth evolves and it gets better each time. Each have their own feel. On the first two albums I wrote all the music and lyrics. On the last two, my producer, Mike Varney and I wrote the music and the lyrics together. I don’t like involving too many people with my writing because they are my songs and my stuff and I want to be in control of my music and my path of what I want to do and get across to people. I think Mike and I are really in tune with each other and I think we really have a connection and work really well together. It’s a 50-50 collaboration. As for us being on the road, yea it’s going to happen. Count’s 77 is going into the studio in November and then touring the country and possibly Europe. I was just recently asked if I would come back to tour Europe in 2014 so I’m sure there is going to be a constant array of The Stoney Curtis Band and Count’s 77 shows over the next year and half. Who’s coming?”
Photos By: Jo Anna Jackson
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