What if I told you that the Nashville, Tenn.-based musician who wrote and sang the theme song for the Mary Tyler Moore Show performed in the first concert held at James Brown Arena?
Bet that got your attention, didn’t it?
The truth is that Sonny Curtis, who grew up in Meadow, Texas, about 20 miles from Lubbock, did write Love Is All Around as the MTM theme and that’s his voice you have heard singing it every episode.
And Curtis did perform in the civic center’s first concert as part of the band of country music superstar Waylon Jennings.
Jennings headlined the first major concert in what was then the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center on Dec. 14, 1979.
The heavy metal rock group Aerosmith was to be the first group to have that honor, but it had to cancel due to the illness of lead vocalist Steven Tyler; known in recent years as a judge on the American Idol series and, ironically, for his foray into country music.
About a year before Curtis came to Augusta, I crossed his path backstage at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville in October 1978 after a show sponsored at a music industry gathering by MCA Records.
Well-known MCA acts Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard, Bill Anderson, Jerry Clower, Mel Tillis and Tanya Tucker also were on the show.
When Curtis was introduced and walked out on stage with just his acoustic guitar, almost no one in that audience knew who he was. But when he finished singing a long list of world-famous songs that he had authored, including the MTM series theme, Curtis left the stage to thunderous applause and cheers.
Those hits included such classic rock numbers as The Everly Brothers’ Walk Right Back, Bobby Goldsboro’s The Straight Life, Andy Williams’ A Fool Never Learns, Keith Whitley’s I’m No Stranger To The Rain, Leo Sayer’s (I Love You) More Than I Can Say and The Bobby Fuller Four’s I Fought The Law (And The Law Won).
As if all that wasn’t impressive enough, it turned out Curtis played with another Lubbock musician, Buddy Holly, from 1954 to 1957.
Curtis wrote Holly’s hit single Rock Around With Ollie Vee and played electric guitar on Holly’s early Decca Records singles.
If you have seen The Buddy Holly Story bio flick starring actor Gary Busey, Curtis’ song was performed during the roller skating rink sequence.
“Buddy was more of a dignified cat than the movie made him out to be both in dress and personality,” Curtis would tell me backstage at the Opry House.
“He was the first person I knew to taper his Levis. He was ahead of his time,” Curtis continued. “The movie showed his parents pulling him back but that was totally not true. Nearly all the people in Lubbock were with all of us all of the way.”
Curtis said the scene in the movie where Holly supposedly had a blow up with Decca Records producer Owen Bradley (who also produced hit singles for Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, etc.) was totally made up for the movie.
“I was there, and he treated Owen Bradley of Decca with respect,” Curtis affirmed. “We were flipped out in Nashville to be recording there.”
Curtis, now 79 and still living in the Nashville area, was profiled a few times in the international news coverage of Mary Tyler Moore’s death at age 80 on Jan. 25.
But I didn’t see any mention at all of Moore’s other notable tie to Nashville.
For a couple of decades, I have kept a reminder of that connection in a corner near my front door in the form of an umbrella. It has a brown wooden handle and shows the famous MTM kitty cat logo on the light brown cloth when you open it.
It was given to me in promotion of Moore’s MTM Records label, which was on the country music scene from 1984 to 1988.
Alan Bernard, who was chief executive of MTM Records, told writer Jack Hurst of the Chicago Tribune that he had managed Moore along with Bob Newhart, Andy Williams, The Captain &Tennille, Neil Diamond, The Carpenters and Jim Croce.
While working with Croce, Bernard had come to know Croce’s recordings producer Tommy West.
Bernard was given the task to diversify MTM Enterprises’ holdings and that led to talking with West and ABC-Dunhill Records executive Howard Stark about the possibility of a weekly Christian music series for TV syndication.
But that evolved into looking at Christian music records instead, which also fell by the wayside, and finally to the country music label MTM Records.
The company moved into offices formerly used by Monument Records (Larry Jon Wilson, Larry Gatlin, Dick Flood/Okefenokee Joe, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, etc.), and in 1985 released its first single, I’ve Been Had By Love Before, recorded by newcomer Judy Rodman.
Over the next few years, the label would land several artists onto the national country music charts including hit singles by Rodman, The Almost Brothers, Marty Haggard (son of Merle), Paul Overstreet and the trios S-K-O and S-K-B.
Holly Dunn, who died recently, had her early singles on MTM Records including Love Someone Like Me, Only When I Love and Daddy’s Hands.
The Girls Next Door vocal quartet scored with the hit singles Slow Boat To China and Love Will Get You Through Times With No Money.
And Oklahoma-reared country rocker Becky Hobbs had three memorable single releases with Jones On The Jukebox (And You On My Mind), They Always Look Better When They’re Leavin’ and All Keyed Up (Over You).
MTM Enterprises in the summer of 1988 was sold to a British television company, and the MTM Records label with its catalog was absorbed by RCA Records.
So with Mary Tyler Moore’s death came back not only memories of the TV series I still love to watch in re-runs but also of talking with Sonny Curtis backstage at the Opry House and the many times I’ve used that brown umbrella with the kitty cat logo.
KEEP IN MIND THESE UPCOMING SHOWS:
- JEFF BARNES’ PRE-VALENTINE’S CONCERT: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, Discovery Center, 405 Main St., Edgefield; $12, call (803) 637-2233; benefiting the Edgefield County Historical Society
- HOT RIZE: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, Imperial Theatre, last of the Morris Museum of Art’s 2016-2017 Budweiser True Music Southern Soul &Song Series; $15, $23, $28, imperialtheatre.com; (706) 722-8341
- PAM TILLIS: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center, Evans; $44, call (706) 726-0366 or buy online at augustaamusements.com
- VINCE GILL, 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 17, Bell Auditorium, $39.50, $49.50, $59.50, $75; augustaentertainmentcomplex.com, James Brown Arena box office or call (877) 428-4849
- DAILEY &VINCENT: 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, Newberry (S.C.) Opera House, $30 and $40; call (803) 276-6264 or buy online at newberryoperahouse.com. The bluegrass duo of Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent
- JOHN CONLEE: 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center, Evans; $35 and $25; call (800) 965-9324 or online at itickets.com
- DWIGHT YOAKAM: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 3, Bell Auditorium; augustaentertainmentcomplex.com, James Brown Arena box office or call (877) 428-4849