Second of an eight-part featuring the legendary rock group, The Kingsmen
As told by Barry Curtis, The Kingsmen Keyboard Player, 1963-2005
Everyone in The Kingsman had been playing music for quite a while in various capacities. I’d been in other bands in junior and senior high school, and studied piano since I was a little kid. And in high school I was in various vocal ensembles and things like that. I was totally aware of rock and roll — Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly… I was that young teenager buying those records. I even dreamed of seeing someone famous like that. I was in these bands learning those tunes and playing them at sock hops, etc.
I was 19 years old. At the pinnacle, our managers were making a lot of money and the record companies were making a lot of money, and the booking agents were making a lot and we were making more than any of us had made before. Management, booking agency, record companies—these entities have their legitimate place and take their amounts. They were well-established entities. William Morris is huge. We were paid decently for that time, I think. When we were doing gigs it was before Credence Clearwater, Led Zeppelin and others who in the later ’60s were making really awesome money. We were before that era. But I had no complaints.
Later on in our career we started questioning, like maybe we should be getting a greater percentage for our record sales, which we eventually did. But by then, our record sales weren’t as huge as they were before. None of us became millionaires doing that.
Five years ago I retired from The Kingsmen. During some time before that, I took computer-oriented classes in community college. Now I have a job in Seattle doing data quality control and processing for an AIDS study in Africa, dealing with data they collect during clinic procedures and interviews.
I was connected to The Kingsmen through a person I played in bands with in high school and who had been Lynn Easton’s (one of the original band members) roommate. That’s how I got involved. I didn’t even audition. Lynn called me on the phone and said, “Well, you play organ, right?” So I got hired on the phone.
I’d been playing at least as long as the rest of the guys had—maybe longer. So I knew most of the tunes they were doing. It wasn’t a huge learning curve. I liked the groove and sound we had. It was good solid R&B rock and roll, so that worked, and we just went on the road.
What happened to all of us, perhaps in different ways is that we experienced something of a delayed maturation process. “Normal” people in their early 20s start becoming adults. I think we kind of stayed where we were at 19. As the jobs got into bigger venues and we had more and more record sales, did interviews and TV, etc., we were, in various ways, affected by that. I personally got into the space that this was reality. And it WAS reality. I began to think of that reality not changing. And I think that’s what most anyone in this kind of successful situation might experience.
There are phases of music, different kinds and different eras. Cream, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead became the dominant San Francisco, psychedelic kinds of bands, and certainly the WHO, Rolling Stones, and Beatles kept going and kept innovating. We didn’t have a lot of opportunity to take time off for extensive recording, rehearsing and writing. The booking agents thought we should be playing constantly because it was good for the income. So we basically were run dry. That’s how I look at it.
In early 1966, I was drafted and went to Viet Nam and came back in late 1967 into a Jefferson Airplane-dominated, era which was quite different. The Kingsmen hadn’t transitioned into that. There were some decent original recordings, but by that time the focus had changed to these other kinds of bands. After a while we kind of became dormant.
Currently, Steve Peterson and I are members of The Daily Flash in Seattle. (Steve is also still an active member of The Kingsmen). All the Flash members have a lot of musical background and knowledge. We can quickly communicate musical ideas — transposing, modulations, chord substitutions, vocal harmony arrangements, tempo changes, etc.
The Daily Flash is kind of like Utopia for us. It’s all about the music and what each of us can bring to it. We all love it. We’re all good friends. We trust each other—None of the BS that happens in so many other bands.
This is the musical environment I’ve always wanted and needed. It’s so expansive and collaborative. We’re free to explore wherever the muse takes us. It is always interesting and sometimes surprising where that goes.
My gold record is in a cardboard box next to my computer desk. If I had it on the wall it would freak me out. I don’t have to live under that now. Now, that expectation is not put on me. “Louie Louie” was a magnificent thing, but it so dominated us we found it difficult to break out of garage rock mode. Other kinds of stuff weren’t what we became known for.
We took it seriously but we had a lot of fun doing it. We felt we were like American rock and roll ambassadors. Agents would say we were the answer to the British Invasion, but we loved the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Animals… We were just serious about putting on a good rocking show, and we did.
Barry Curtis has found happiness in The Daily Flash. Having seen the band perform numerous times, I can vouch for the fact they put on an incredible show each and every time.
Above photo © 2006 Richard Peterson
Terri Nakamura is a professional graphic designer who loves social media, music and writing. Follow her on Twitter: @terrinakamura; Read her blog, Confessions of a Graphic Designer: http://seattledesigner.blogspot.com/ or find her connections on xeeme: http://xeeme.com/terrinakamura
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