Soul Man Clifford Curry
If you google “Clifford Curry,” you won’t come up with a lot of mainstream media and music outlets. There’s no article within the pages of Rolling Stone, no mention in Billboard’s Hot 100, no sweet Clifford on the cover of People or even AARP magazine. But there are still close to 9,000 references to this iconic veteran of soul and R&B music, among them some rabid soul fanatics and bloggers who more than make up for the mainstream’s disinterest.
These posts all mirror my own respect and affection for this resilient performer, often taking special note of his legendary hit, “She Shot a Hole In My Soul” (Gayden-Neese/ 1967). I’ve been having such fun digging through their sites, that I want to share some of them – and what they have to say about Clifford.
aka Jamison Harvey
Flea Market Funk
“Clifford Curry is a true Soul veteran. His voice carries out on this side, and he does prove that he is indeed a Soul Ranger, moving from town to town, group to group, and stage name to stage name, spreading the word of Soul to everyone. He’s mending broken hearts, giving that shoulder to cry on, and this is only in the lyrics.
The killer bass line and horn section reinforce the fact that this side is a definite Soul banger. So if he’s the Soul Ranger, he’s definitely a super hero for Soul. This man has sacrificed lots to get where he is today. He may not have topped the charts, but he made an honest living, preaching the Gospel of Soul throughout the United States, one song at a time.”
The “A” Side
“As the story goes, Mac Gayden’s friend Chuck Neese heard a DeeJay on WVON mention that some song or other ‘put a hole in his soul,’ and told Mac about it, planting the seed for this amazing record we have here today. I can’t help but wonder if what really happened was that Neese heard them play the great “Potato Salad Part One” by Philadelphia Jock Georgie Woods (The Guy With The Goods), in which he admonishes his listeners to never eat chicken on Sunday, as it will ‘put a hole in your soul…’… Be that as it may, [Buzz] Cason’s production of this Gayden composition [“She Shot a Hole In My Soul” ] is simply untouchable, and is one of the hottest R&B records to emanate from Nashville in the 1960s, in my opinion. I’m lovin’ Clifford’s ‘Help Me Somebody!’ there, right before Mac kicks in with an early example of the ‘slide-wah’ style that he would later lend to records like J.J. Cale’s Crazy Mama. Great Stuff, y’all!
“Clifford Curry is a stupidly good southern soul singer from Knoxville, Tenn. He, like so many other astonishingly good southern soul singers, never really got the credit he perhaps deserved. Both sides of this single [She Shot a Hole In My Soul] are stunning and I may post the other side [“We’re Gonna Hate Ourselves IN the Morning”] in a month or so.
This track was his biggest hit and topped out at number 40 in the R&B charts in 1967. I wish America had got it’s act together in the 1960s and then artists outside of Motown and Stax could have got some more recognition.”
Other blogs and websites that happily give Clifford his due credit include Soul Treats, the soul music blog by Soulville UA (soultreats.se); Funky 16 Corners, a terrific music blog focusing on funk and soul vinyl – and now MP3s (funky16corners.com); Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks (uncamarvy.com) and Soul Detective, one of my blog faves (souldetective. blogspot.com).
Clifford Curry has been in the biz for some 50+ years. As a high school senior in Knoxville, Tenn., he joined a doo wop group called the Echos, becoming its sixth member. Shortly afterward, another doo wop group, the Clovers heard them and arranged for an audition with Atlantic Records in N.Y. While en route, Echos manager Fred Logan arranged for a stop in N.J. to talk to someone at Savoy Records.
Savoy signed them on the spot.
About this time (1955), Savoy management decided to rename the group, changing it to the Five Pennies (Did you catch that? The six-member group became the Five Pennies! Go figure.)
The young group cut two singles on the Savoy label – “Mr. Moon” and “My Heart Trembles.” During this time, Although “Mr. Moon” did fairly well, none of the group, all minors, saw much in the way of royalties. Fred Logan, who told Savoy he was the group’s guardian, reportedly had the checks sent to him.
Clifford said, “I received writing royalties from Savoy and checks from BMI, but nothing else.” Amidst the turmoil over royalties and payment, the group eventually went their separate ways. An obscene turn of events, if you ask me.
What followed was a series of groups: the Bingos, with Ernie Young’s Excello label; the Hollyhocks on Young’s Nasco label;and – for several years – the Bubba Suggs Band in Clarksville, Tenn.
Finally Clifford returned to Knoxville and went off on his own as Sweet Clifford, recording for both Nasco and Excello.
Under this moniker, he recorded four tunes in 1963: “Just a Lonely Boy:/”Baby! Just What Is Wrong” and “Things Gotta Get Better”/”Baby Kiss Me Again.” As luck would have it, there was some confusion at the label, and “Things Gotta Get Better” was credited to a very unhappy Clifford Sweet.
Several groups and record labels later, Clifford began writing songs with Knoxville deejay Rob Galbraith. They didn’t have much success, but the association would have one significant outcome.
It was through Galbraith, that Clifford connected with Buzz Cason, who had the rights to “She Shot a Hole In My Soul,” and the rest is history. Clifford released the tune in 1967 on Elf Records. It reached #95 on the pop charts and #45 on the R&B side. The flip side was “We’re Gonna Hate Ourselves In the Morning.”
Over the next three years, Clifford recorded seven more records for Elf; ”Soul Ranger”/”I Don’t Need You” on SSS International (1970); and several others. None were as successful as “She Shot a Hole In My Soul,” but now Clifford had a loyal following in the Carolina beach music market, which continues today.
Clifford Curry may not be mainstream, but he’s a star in my book, and I couldn’t wait to talk to him.
“I’m doing great,” the 70-something singer tells me in a telephone interview. “And, guess what, I’m going to make it to the Cammys this year!”
Last Nov., Clifford was all set to perform at the 2009 Carolina Beach Music Awards in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. when he was stricken with what turned out to be life-threatening blood clots in both legs. He spent two months in the hospital before going to rehab and finally returning home under daily nurse’s care. Almost a year later now, he’s much improved, but the experience, complicated by diabetes, has left his veins damaged, so he’s walking with a cane.
That said, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down all that much.
The charismatic entertainer released The Soul of Clifford Curry in March 2010 to very positive reviews. Clifford is the writer or co-writer for eight of the CD’s ten tracks, which showcase more southern soul and less white bread beach music.
Memorable tracks include the suggestive “Stacked In the Back” and “Love Injection.” “Black Sister, Soul Sister” is sweet but strong, a kiss blown to the sisterhood.
“I’ve been writing and recording demo tracks,” he tells me, “ and I’ve been performing. I just had a gig … a sold out show … with Buzz Cason, Jimmy Gilmer and Dickie Lee in Knoxville.”
He also penned “Don’t Say No (To Love),” the very successful title track to the latest Carolina Breakers CD.
On Wednesday, Nov. 3 – which will be yesterday by the time this posts – Clifford is scheduled to play at Third & Lindsley for his own birthday party, which somehow makes perfect sense to me.
Clifford, have the best birthday ever. You deserve it.
Thanks to Jamison Harvey, Red Kelly and Charlie Gower for giving me permission to include excerpts from their blogs. Love, love, love these sites and hope you’ll all visit them! ©2010 Dariel Bendin. All rights reserved.