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I have always loved to sing and received my gift for singing from my father. As a preschooler I used to pass hours making up "endings" for songs.  (Now I know I was experimenting with cadences.) I was fortunate to experience a wide variety of influences as a child. My dad liked ragtime and singers like Bing Crosby.  My mom was always singing songs from her experiences in England during World War II.  How she loved to jitterbug! The most important record I remember having was Sam Cooke's Hits of the 50's. I love his versions of Mona Lisa, Unchained Melody, and Hey There.

Early 60's R&B
I also have two brothers who are 10 and 11 years older than me. So in the early 60's, the house was filled with great R&B tunes like Otis Redding's I've Been Loving You, Screaming Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You, The 5 Dutones (bend over let me see you shake a) Tail Feather, Rufus Thomas's Walkin' the Dog and Lee Dorsey's Sitting in my Ya Ya and Coal Mine. The first time I heard the Rightous Brothers sing You've Lost that Loving Feeling, I knew I wanted to be a singer.

Really the Blues
I survived a chaotic childhood and left home at age 14. In the early 70's I lived a free life in Boston and on Cape Cod, where I caught the fringes of the great folk scare. It was during this period I studied guitar with virtuoso fingerstyle guitarist Rolly Brown, a student of the legendary Reverend Gary Davis. Rolly turned me on to Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Lightin' Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and the pantheon of the great American blues and country blues guitarists. It was his instruction that gave me the steady bass with thumb/pattern picking style that I still use in my guitar playing today.



The Jazz Road West

Eventually, I made my way to Southern Colorado, where I sang with a few rock bands. I also gigged as a solo act and with a couple of different acoustic duos. But I didn't get paid to make music regularly until I got a job as an underage singing cocktail waitress at the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Theatre in Manitou Springs. Eventually, I became a member of the regular cast and got a five-year education in the standard jazz repertoire, including the songs of Bessie Smith, Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sophie Tucker. The Chateau is still a great little spot to see classic melodrama and hear jazz and show tunes by a revolving cast of talented entertainers.

At the same time I was digging Jazz at the Chateau, I was also being strongly influenced by artists like Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth), Bonnie Raitt, Nina Simone, Terry Garthwaite, Ricki Lee Jones, Maria Muldaur, Dusty Springfield, Little Feat, and Poco.
 
The Budding Songwriter
Singer/songwriters like Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Carol King, Cat Stevens, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Tom Rush, Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor are high on my list of early influences. But like countless other songwriters, the artist that has inspired me the most consistently is Joni Mitchell. I believe her poetry and musicianship can be counted among the greatest artistic contributions of this era. As a teenager, I would sit with the albums covers open, reading the lyrics, with headsets on, and be completely transported to her world. I was, and still am, totally knocked out by her first album Song to a Seagull (1968). It was the first time I understood that an album wasn't just a collection of songs, but that it could be a complete work of art, with a thematic flow. I have wanted to make records ever since.

 

Joni Mitchell's skill as a manipulator of language is what really made me want to become a writer.  At the time, she was writing songs like  Marcy in which the title character steps inside a candy store where "reds are sweet and greens are sour." Later, Marcy takes a cab uptown and "red is stop and green's for going." Still later, Marcy tells us that "red is anger, green is jealous." These kinds of musical/poetic devices really grabbed me. And of course her skill at this has evolved tremendously over the years and continues to awe me.

To my mind, this skill with language is what separates a songwriter from other kinds of artists. I have tried to apply this principal to my own writing, always asking myself, "Is this a song? Or is this sentiment better expressed in some other medium, like an essay or a film?" The Songwriters Tutorial section of this web site delves more deeply into this principle.

These days, my favorite artists include Houston Jones, Wake the Dead, Ed Johnson, Gillian Welch, Patty Larkin , Steve Earle, Greg Brown, Iris Dement, Jim Hurst & Missy Raines and way too many more to mention. Life is good!

Through the Door and Back Again
In 1976 I decided to put myself through college with the idea of studying music. I was accepted into the music program at Colorado College where I studied vocal performance and music theory. But without a classical music background, opportunities for making music were limited. I decided to shift my concentration to film and television production, and I earned a Masters degree in Mass Communications from the University of Denver.

I didn't play music again seriously until I moved to California in 1987, where I again picked up the guitar and sang on a few special projects.  Attending the California Coast Music Camp (CCMC) in 1995 changed my life. I came home from that first camp experience and started playing guitar again seriously. I formed a blues duo called Wild Women, playing blues of the twenties and thirties with CCMC camper Elaine Hawley. In 1997 I founded the Boulder Creek Acoustic Music Society, a monthly jam session for musicians living in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz mountains, which I now call home. This monthly gathering continues today.

In 1998 I made a CD with the folk rock trio Argyle, Curtis & Spear, but the CD was never released. In 1999, I released my debut solo recording, In A Rushing Stream, followed by 2004's Sugar & Sand: A Trilogy in Three Moods. My third solo project, Mid Life Chrysalis, was released August 5, 2008.

Playing with other people is my passion. So in addition to gigging as a solo performer, I especially enjoy playing with violinist Autumn Hancock and multi-instrumentalist Topher Gayle. I also play regular gigs with the And Friends BandUke Be A Lady and Dulcimer Girls

Side Trips
According to family legend, I am a descendant of the legendary Irish harpist Denis Hempson  -- aka Dennis O'Hampson, aka Denis a Hampsy

He is important to musicologists because of his visit to a music festival in Belfast in 1792 (a sort of  Woodstock of the times). There he met up with a famous musicologist named Edward Bunting (think of him as the Alan Lomax of his day), who was able to preserve a number of ancient pieces of music as a direct result of this meeting. Incidentally, Denis Hempson was 97 years old at the time.  It's said that he lived to be 112, being one of the rare individuals who can claim a life span across three centuries.  I'm hoping his genes are dominant!  

 

 

 

 

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P.O. Box 278  • Felton, CA 95006
Jayme at purrgirl.com
831/335-8110



©Jayme Kelly Curtis 2013