By: Stephen Rose
Ty Curtis is a 25-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist based in Salem, Oregon, who already has four albums under his youthful belt. His band has performed at Portland’s Waterfront Music Festival, The Winthrop Blues Festival in Washington, and The Montreal Jazz Festival. He has opened for the likes of The Doobie Brothers, Los Lonely Boys, Coco Montoya, George Thorogood, Roy Rogers, and local favorites in the Pacific Northwest such as Curtis Salgado, and the late Paul deLay who praised Curtis by observing, “Ty plays it like a young man should, straight ahead and from the heart.” In 2009, the Ty Curtis Band gained national recognition by earning 2nd place, in the prestigious International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN.
Ty Curtis discovered the blues early in his teens, listening to guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Roy Rodgers, and Malford Milligan. He plays a Gibson ES-335 in deference to his hero, Chris Cain. “I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him multiple times at Lefty’s in Salem and gotten to play with him a couple of times,” Curtis said. “It’s great being able to play guitar with your idol.”
Ty’s first introduction to guitar was watching his father teach the instrument to his older brother. He began by playing on what he calls a “kid’s toy Western guitar” from the 1970s. The guitar is still part of his arsenal, resurrected for the occasional show. “It’s got this old Delta sound,” Curtis said, laughing. “It’s really trippy, really unique. Anyway, I started on that and kept going with it, trying to pick up styles and songs that I liked – which I still do.”
While attending Sprague High School, Curtis preferred sports to music, pitching for the Olympians baseball team. “Early on I didn’t like singing and I didn’t grow into my voice, so to speak, until later on,” Curtis said. “That’s when I gained the confidence and got into the vibe of the style I was going for. Sports helped me a lot in playing music, no doubt.”
The original incarnation of the Ty Curtis Band, featuring drummer Davis Brown, was formed shortly after high school graduation. Portland’s Willamette Live wrote of the band, “Whether you see him as a 19-year-old with the voice and guitar chops of a 60-year-old blues master, or a wet-behind-the-ears Mike Bloomfield wannabe, attention must be paid to Ty Curtis.”
In 2006, the Ty Curtis Band released their inaugural CD “Stubborn Mind.” The self-produced effort has a warm, intimate tone and a rich presence, containing material that would spin nicely on any blues programmer’s playlist. Consisting entirely of original compositions, the album contains red hot blues playing, ferocious jams, and a variety of styles including the ballad “What Kind of Fool;” the juke joint of “No Regrets;” and the Texas blues of “Stubborn Mind.” Other highlights include “I Lit A Fire,” and “What Do I Know About Love.” This album was chosen to go to Memphis for consideration as Best Self-Produced Release of 2006.
In 2008, The Ty Curtis Band completed their sophomore effort “Down on My Luck.” Once again, this album was self-produced by Ty Curtis and contains all original compositions. Hank Shreve joined the lineup for this outing, and put his wailing harp to good use on the opener “Cherry City Boogie,” and the delta stylings of “Coming Back Baby.” Other highlights include the stutter-step rhythm of “Been Down That Road;” the funky R&B of “Give It Up;” the Texas funk of “I’m Going Away;” the late night chillout of “Lose Yourself;” and the down-tempo groove of the title track “Down On My Luck.” The production, arrangements, and songwriting throughout are outstanding, especially on the closing anthem “Out in the Country.”
The Ty Curtis Band was awarded a Muddy by the Cascade Blues Association for Best New Act in 2008. Down on my Luck appeared nationally on a number of 2009 top Blues album lists as did the song “Cherry City Boogie.”
In 2009, the Ty Curtis Band took 2nd place in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The Challenge started with more than 2,000 bands in nine countries and 36 states. One hundred bands earned the right to come to Memphis, ten made it to the Finals and The Ty Curtis Band was voted 2nd place by a panel of judges made up of industry professionals.
“It was an incredible experience,” Curtis said. “I got into the zone and played it to the best of my ability. Hank and I trading off was a real crowd-pleaser. It was a big thrill to play in that place before that many people. It’s a highlight of my musical career, no doubt.”
Blues Challenge panelist and Grammy award winning producer David Z (Prince, Etta James, Jonny Lang) took a special interest in the band, which lead to his work as producer/engineer on the band’s final album, “Cross That Line,” released May 2010.
Cross That Line would be Curtis’ first attempt to break out of a strictly blues mold. The disc opens with a bit of Texas nastiness on “Fools Game;” and contains a variety of styles for every taste including several tracks targeted for the adult contemporary audience such as “Tell Me,” and “What He Don’t Know.” Curtis bares his soul on the standout track, the late night burner “Five Long Years.” The band lays down a groovin’ dance beat on “Low Down Broken and Blue;” then falls back into the comfort zone with the blues rocker “Do I Love You Too Much.” Other highlights include the mainstream rockers “What He Don’t Know,” and “Cross That Line.” The album has gained radio airplay throughout North America, and attracted an audience in such wide-ranging markets as Europe, Australia, and South America.
In 2009, the Ty Curtis Band received Muddy Awards from the Cascade Blues Association for Best Regional Act (repeated in 2011), and Best Harmonica Player to Hank Shreve. The band was awarded a Rainy Day Blues Society Rooster Award for Best New Act in 2009, and Best Contemporary Blues Act in 2010.
Also in 2010, the Ty Curtis Band won Muddys for Best Contemporary Blues Act, and Cross That Line won Best Northwest Recording. Curtis also took home that year’s Curtis Salgado Male Vocalist award.
Described by a music critic as “A multi-talented line-up, that is packing blues-lovers in and keeping them on their feet,” the band’s three part vocal harmonies were augmented by the addition of bassist Willie Barber (Blues Brothers, Steve Miller, Curtis Salgado, Lloyd Jones) who came on board in the second half of 2010.
In 2012, Ty Curtis dissolved his band and embarked on the second phase of his musical career with the release of his fourth album, entitled “Ty Curtis.”
“This CD is really a lot more personal to me,” he said. “I feel it, because I’ve lived what I’m singing. That’s what I’ve strived to do since I started – to play music that you care about and feel.
“The more that I live, the more I’ll be able to diversify,” he continued. “I wanted to prove with this album that I’m not just a blues guitarist and singer. I want to be more universal. I’ve been doing stuff lately with hip-hop artists as well as my own acoustic shows. I’m trying to fit in with as many people as I can.
“It’s funny — I was watching a ‘Behind the Music’ with Lil Wayne, and one thing that I took from it was that he just tried to play with everybody. When you do that, and you don’t limit yourself to any one style, it diversifies you as an artist. Plus, you learn a lot and you grow. I really enjoy doing that.”
Produced by fellow guitarist Jacob Petersen (Steve Miller) at Ken Tondre’s Compound Recording Studios in Austin,Texas, Curtis is supported on the album by an impressive array of musicians including bassist Glen Fukunaga (Chuck Berry, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan) ; drummer and co-producer Brian Ferguson (Aaron Watson); singer Casey McPherson (Alpa Rev); trumpeter Ephraim Owens (Sheryl Crow); and former band mate, drummer Jerry Jacques.
“And the recording process was awesome,” Curtis recalls. “Those guys laid it down. They know what they’re doing; they do it every day. They live and breathe music. Working with top pros like that makes you a better musician and makes you rise up to show what you’ve got. We were kind of like a big family down there in Austin. It was an amazing experience, making that music. I’m really proud of what’s out right now.”
Hank Shreve, Ty Curtis and Willie Barber at JJ’s Blues, San Jose, CA. Nov. 27, 2010
Ty Curtis Band at the Redwood Run (2009)
Do I Love You Too Much (Poor House Bistro, San Jose, CA. May 1, 2011)
Portland Waterfront Blues Festival (July 2011)