Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Rockabilly Hall of Famer Mac Curtis died Monday after car accident last month
Even into his 70s, Curtis never stopped performing.
WEATHERFORD Fort Worth-born rockabilly great Mac Curtis, an early-days inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, died Monday night in a Weatherford nursing home. His ex-wife and sister say it was sudden: Curtis, born Wesley Erwin Curtis Jr. on January 16, 1939, was injured in a car accident in Weatherford last month, and over the weekend he took a turn for the worse.
“He went to the nursing home for rehab after the accident, and it turned out he had a subdural hematoma that kept growing and growing and ultimately burst,” says his sister, Cindy Winters of Granbury. “It was a shock. It was sudden. He was taken to the hospital after the accident, and they did a CAT scan and didn’t determine anything. All they can say is it must have been a tiny brain bleed that just grew and grew and grew.”
Even into his 70s, Curtis never stopped performing such songs as “You Ain’t Treatin’ Me Right,” “If I Had Me A Woman,” “Goosebumps,” “Say So,” “What You Want” and the other hits and near-misses he recorded during his estimable run of records in the 1950s. Winter says he performed in Austin and overseas just last year.
Playing in front of crowds “was what he lived for,” says Curtis’ ex-wife Peggy. “I can understand it. You just get it in your blood.”
For most of his career, Curtis wasn’t the star at home he was overseas, where he was resurrected in the 1970s thanks to the flattop-sporting Teddy Boys dolled up in leather jackets over white tees. They loved him, and he loved them for giving him a new life long after he figured his recording and performing days were long behind him — like the old Sporatorium, where he played on the Big “D” Jamboree, a distant memory.
Mac Curtis on King - 45 - That Ain’t Nothing But Right
Curtis started playing when he was 12 and winning local talent shows. In ’54 he moved from Olney to Weatherford and put together a cover band playing country and R&B hits; they were hillbillies playing black music, right around the time the Sun was rising over Memphis. In ’56 he was signed to Syd Nathan’s King Records label out of Cincinnati, home to the Dominoes (“Sixty-Minute Man”) and James Brown (who initially recorded for the King subsidiary Federal). He recorded his sides at Jim Beck’s studio on Ross Avenue; years later the Brits would place them on a pedestal alongside the works of men named Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Cash.
But Curtis suffered the fate bestowed upon most rockabilly artists: He made a big noise that quickly faded into fad. It didn’t help that in 1957 he went into the Army. When he got out, he returned to The Real World: a few gigs here and there, stints as a disc jockey from Fort Worth to Los Angeles, some voiceover work for local radio and TV stations. Then the Brits came a-callin’, and Curtis answered, bringing with him the likes of Ronnie Dawson, Sid King and other local rockers unjustly left behind.
“I think the [kids in Europe] identify with that style, the rebelliousness of the music,” he told me in 1995. “When we’re over there in Europe, they sort of have this vision that this still goes on every day. If they came to the United States, they think they would go down to some big hall and see Ronnie Dawson perform or go see Mac Curtis. They still think it’s like it was until they come here and see it, and then they’re surprised and disappointed. Then it makes the music more precious to them. They’re like, ‘Well, they’ve turned their backs on their own people, and now it’s up to us to keep these guys alive.’ And I guess they sorta do.”
Cindy says the memorial will take place, more than likely, one week from Saturday at the Spring Creek Baptist Church in Weatherford. Cindy says it was where her brother started performing when he was a teenager.
“We figured it started there, it should end there,” she says. “He was grateful for everything he got to do. That was just his life. He loved performing. It was what he lived for.”