Today, we’d like to introduce a first time special guest blogger! He’s a singer/Songwriter, session player, Academy of Country Music 6 time Award Winning Bass Player and co-Founder of the Award winning multi platinum Country Band Highway 101! Most importantly I’ve called him my friend for most of my adult life! Please join me in welcoming the very talented Curtis Stone…
First off, I’ve known our fearless SMS leader, Rick, since we were in our 20’s, hanging out at the Sundance Saloon in Calabasas. We listened to some pretty good music there, by some very good musicians. The friendship continues.
I’m a songwriter and a musician by trade – a bass player – to be exact. Of course, some people don’t consider a bass player a musician. It’s like the old story about two explorers being caught by a tribe of cannibals. One explorer says, “Man, what’s going to happen to us?”. The second explorer says, “Don’t’ worry, friend, the drums are still playing. As long as the drums are playing we’re safe. It’s after the drums stop that we need to panic”. First guy says, “Why, what happens then?” Second guy, he hesitates and says, ”Bass solo!!” We get no respect.
If you don’t know what a bass player is – it’s the guy standing around doing this while the lead guitarist and lead vocalist gets all of the attention. But trust me, we’re indispensable.
Ever since my dad took me to the BMI awards, when I was like 16, songwriting became my passion. I had some marginal success as a songwriter. Had a few publishing deals, got to write with some very successful writers and even had a few cuts, but playing bass has been how I’ve supported myself for many years. Pictured below: Father and Son, Curtis with his dad Cliffie Stone, 1989 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee!
As a session player, I worked with folks like Ronnie Tutt, James Burton and Glen Dee Hardin, of Elvis fame. Steve Cropper, Johnny Rivers, the great pedal steel player, Jay Dee Maness, and “Wrecking Crew” member, Hal Blaine, to mention a few. I also recording sessions for legendary producers Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson and Leon Russell. Played on records by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Freddy Hart, David Cassidy, iconic songwriter Barry Mann, “Rock-a-Billy Trio” member Dorsey Burnett and artist Rocky Burnett.
While touring with Rocky, I shared stages with, Dr Hook, the Doobie Brothers, REO Speedwagon, Little River Band, Johnny Winters and Fleetwood Mac. I am also a founding member of the award winning country band, “Highway 101”, and we’ve played with the likes of George Strait, Willie Nelson, Reba, the Judds, Randy Travis, Hank Williams Jr, Kenny Rodgers and Alabama, among others. This is all just to give context to where I’m coming from.
So enough about me, let’s talk music.
My first exposure to music was of the 50’s variety. Broadway Show tunes from South Pacific or Oklahoma and Country Western Music. With folks like Merle Travis or Tennessee Ernie Ford hanging around the house, it was hard not to have a deep appreciation for country music. The first tune I learned to sing and play, my Dad taught me the 2 chords to “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”, on his 4-string Gibson tenor guitar…G and D7.
On road trips, driving around with my folks, my mom and my sister and I were singing tunes like, “Show me the way to go home, I’m drunk and I want to go to bed” (A classic Stone refrain), in 3 part harmony, which is probably where I learned how to sing harmony – or at least my obsession with harmony began then.
Along comes 1961 and the movie West Side Story was all the rage. It was considered quite revolutionary and subversive at the time. Suddenly, everywhere I went I had a pocket-knife in the back pocket of my jeans, singing “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day” with my younger brother. I was ‘playing it cool’ – sorta. As cool as you can be at neighborhood gatherings, acting out the entire album of “West Side Story” for friends and family, with your little brother.
A little while after that, I got exposed to folk music like Bob Dylan and the Smothers Brothers for the first time. But it was the Kingston Trio’s ‘Hungry i’ album which inspired me the most – since even as a kid, I could play guitar along with them pretty well. Eventually, I ditched my little brother and started a folk singing group. We called ourselves “The Folkswingers”. Our impetuous trio consisting of myself, Eddie and Susie singing songs by Peter, Paul and Mary. We added some Dylan along the way, playing at various pancake breakfasts, community centers, school talent shows and PTA meetings. We were getting pretty good at songs like ‘MTA’ and ‘Blowin in the Wind’ when suddenly the ‘English Invasion’ hit us and shook everything up again. The times they were a changin’.
Everyone knows about the famous British bands which the invasion heralded – like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits and The Kinks…But you probably never heard of MY new band, which was now called the “The Beau Gentrys” for that hint of English flavor. And now instead of folk, we were playing pop songs like ‘She Loves You” and “You Really Got Me”. The first song I ever recorded in a studio was a cover of Gerry and the Peacemakers’ ‘Dont Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’. The second song I ever recorded in the studio, was the slightly less well known classic written by myself and my older brother ‘I Dreamed I Sang With Cher Last Night’.
One minute, me and my friends were going to Wayne Newton Concert and Broadway musicals, the the next day we were riding the wave of psychedelic pop that washed onto our shores. It was quite a mind blowing transition. I started going to a different kind of concert, at places like The Cheetah on the pier in Santa Monica where the Chambers Brothers played “Time Has Come Today”. The brand new Sports Arena at Exposition Park gave us Jefferson Airplane’s, “White Rabbit”, the Grateful Dead, tie-dyed tee’s and light shows. When the Byrds came to town, I was “Eight Miles High”. There was a band called the Nashville Teens, and they had a song, “Tobacco Road” that hit me so hard I still remember the feeling. Little did I know that later in life l’d be living in Nashville and playing music for a living, but I digress.
My next bands were ‘Dark Carnival’ and ‘Syncopated Justice’. Although we were still in high school, we played Gazzari’s on the strip, and other famous clubs like Whiskey A-Go-Go and The Troubador. I wasn’t old enough to get into those clubs, but I was old enough to play there. There was a very distinct style at the time – hair was a big issue in the sixties. At my school, the faculty enforced a rule that your hair could not touch the collar and side burns couldn’t grow down below your ears. Yet they gave us a waiver and permission to grow out our hair for a couple of months before we played in “Hollywood”. We were musicians’ man, so they let us slide.
I went to a concert at the music Valley Music Center, something or other. A theater-in-the-round and the bill was The Doors, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. When the Byrds sang “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star”, I was sucked in. Right after that, there was the “love in” at Griffith park with CTA, before they became Chicago and did “25 or 6 to 4”. Count up; 66, ’67, ’68. “The Summer of Love”, when I finally graduated from high school. My latest band, now called ‘Santa Fe Weed’, was still playing darkened clubs, teen centers, and colleges.
I was living in a hippy commune in 1969 (by which time I had come pretty far from the boy singing about the Jets in 1961) and BOOM!!!, WOODSTOCK. Another game changer. Hendrix, The Who, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Harmony was back in my life, baby. It was the perfect culmination of a decade which witnessed so many profound musical evolutions.
I wouldn’t change a thing on my musical journey. I look back on the 60’s and the music, with a bit of nostalgia. Happenings, marches, love ins, sitting around a huka, passing a pipe or a joint, rapping our shit, solving all the world’s problems. But always, in the background, there was the music, the harmony; Vinyl LP’s, 4 tracks, and 8 tracks. Slinging acoustic and electric guitars amid black light posters and smoke. Music, Words and Harmony.
It took me down the road to what I would do for the rest of my life and I am still at it. It made me who I am. If you’ve lived and learned through the 60’s, you are a little bit different. Thank you Rick for bringing it back for all of us here at, “Sixties Music Secrets”.