|Mac Curtis, Texas Legend|
When I was in high school, I heard a recording of "That's All Right Mama" by Marty Robbins and I liked it. Then a fellow took me to town and played me Elvis Presley's version on Sun Records on a jukebox. I said, "Man, that's what I've been looking for". Until then, our band had done mostly upbeat country. One record changed that approach. When I was a child growing up in Olney, Texas, I took up the guitar. I continued to play it for my grandparents, with whom I grew up. When my grandfather bought a farm near Fort Worth, in 1954, I was a sophomore in high school. I played in a local band. Then one day a man named Bill Thompson from Fort Worth got us on the Big D Jamboree. Things started happening. KNOK Radio asked us to appear at a car show in town, and in between sets we got to perform on the air. We had one fantastic time. About a week later, somebody from the station called and said we ought to go to Dallas to audition for Ralph Bass, an executive with King Records out of Cincinnati. So we went there and played for him in a motel room. After we had played only two songs, he said, "Yeah, I want you". At the time, you see, every label was looking for an Elvis. So I got a record deal as a high school kid in the winter of '56. In all, I cut 17 songs for King, and only one, "Blue Jean Heart", was not released by the label. In those days, I never did consider being a writer, even though I did write "Little Miss Linda" and "Don't You Love". The record company thought of you as a singer. It thought of writers as writers. There were so many of us doing our thing then - what did somebody call us? Oh, yes, "obscure Southern rockabillies". Well, I recorded all the King material in Dallas and Fort Worth. My first single was "If I Had Me A Woman" and my second was "Granddaddy's Rockin'". The records did well for me. In the '50s, if you got a review in the trade magazines it was almost as good as a hit record, and I got good reviews. I got stacks of mail from all over the world.
Unbeknownst to me, Alan Freed had started playing my records on his radio show. In the fall of '56, Freed's people contacted me and I played the Brooklyn Paramount rock shows. I didn't know what to think of it: all around, a eager sea of humanity. We couldn't even leave the hotel room until two in the morning because the kids wouldn't leave. I met George Hamilton IV then and we became good friends. About this time I came back to Texas to finish high school. All this time I had been on a leave of absence. As a senior in high school with a record deal, I was pretty unusual and the manager of a local radio station asked me if I wanted to get into radio. So I did. Had my own show. Then I went into the Army, and I studied broadcasting and went to the Armed Forces Radio Network in Korea. I came to Dallas when I got out of the Army, and by that time I had redeveloped a love for roots country music. The rockabilly thing had faded by then - 1960 it was - and there was little demand for the kind of thing we did. Buddy Holly had went on to New York City and the string section. Then, of course, he was killed in the plane crash. Rockabilly was not doing well. Probably what happened was evolution as much as anything. The green country kids learned the techniques of the big-time New York producers. Suddenly everything had a big sound, with voices. As with anything, the spectators became the participants. The same thing happened with country music. Evolution just happens. But I know that in '56 we, as kids, had our own kind of music. When the film Rebel Without A Cause with James Dean came out in those days, we knew it was all right to dress and act a certain way. The movie reconfirmed what we already knew. When rockabilly went out, I got into pure country music, like that of Hank Thompson, and I got heavily involved in radio and performing. Over the years I moved to stations in other states, but I wanted to return to Texas. So I did. My official title now at KPLX near Arlington is creative production director. I love to write and deliver commercials. I'm happy to say that I've had two careers - radio and records. I still perform sometimes. I'm fortunate to have another shot at it, with the popularity of rockabilly and country being what it is. I can do more now than I did in the '50s. Somebody told me once that show business is two words. You must present a show and work on your career like a product. You've got your show and you've got your business. I'm really lucky to have had two careers that I have loved so well.
Mac Curtis, Euless, Texas - August, 1987
Mac's Website: http://www.maccurtis.com