Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every week.
Hey folks, it’s Retro Dee and I’d like to wish a very Happy 85th Birthday to one of my favorite singer-song writers of all time, Mr. Sonny Curtis.
Sonny Curtis was born in Meadow, TX on May 9, 1937. He is best known for writing songs such as “Rock Around With Ollie Vee” (1956) , “I Fought The Law” (1960) and “Walk Right Back” (1961). He also wrote the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Love Is All Around” (1970).
Sonny was one of Rock N Roll legend Buddy Holly’s closest friends and early bandmate. They called themselves “Buddy Holly and The Three Tunes”. Decca Records signed them in 1956, and Sonny played guitar on several of the Nashville recordings. The group also opened for Elvis Presley.
In 1956, Sonny wrote “Rock Around With Ollie Vee”, which was recorded twice with Buddy Holly on vocals. The name Ollie Vee was inspired by a woman who worked on Sonny’s Dad’s Farm.
Here, below, is the version known as the “alt. sax version”, (at least that’s what they call it on NotNow! Music’s “The Very Best of Buddy Holly and The Crickets.” )
Shortly before Buddy Holly’s untimely death in 1959, Sonny Curtis became one of The Crickets. “I Fought The Law” is sometimes thought to be a direct inspiration from the late Buddy Holly himself. The vocals on the original 1960 recording were performed by Earl Sinks, with Sonny Curtis on guitar, Joe B. Mauldin on bass and Jerry “J.I.” Allison on drums. The song was covered multiple times by artists such as The Bobby Fuller Four, The Stray Cats, The Ventures, The Clash, Tom Petty and Hank Williams Jr.
Here is The Crickets original version from 1960, with Earl Sinks on vocals. Out of all the versions of this song, I prefer The Crickets original, which I feel best channels Buddy in both style and spirit.
Also in 1960, Sonny enlisted in the Army. While in basic training, he wrote the song “Walk Right Back”. During a 3-day pass, Sonny went to Hollywood and met up with The Crickets and The Everly Brothers. Jerry Allison urged Sonny to play his new song for Don Everly, who immediately loved it. Don called Phil in to hear it and he also loved it. However, the boys were reluctant to record “Walk Right Back” because it only had one verse.
When Sonny returned to base, he wrote a second verse to “Walk Right Back”, and popped it in the mail to the Everlys. Soon after, he found out that the song had already been recorded with only the single verse, sung twice. Turns out, that’s all it needed!
“Walk Right Back” made it to Number 7 on The Billboard Hot 100, when it was released in 1961. In the UK, it reached Number One for three weeks. The song was also covered by Anne Murray in 1978.
Here, below is the They Everly Brothers 1961 hit which is one of my all time favorite songs!
Next, here’s Sonny’s version of “Love Is All Around” (1970) which is better known as The Theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Normally, this is out of my preferred era for music, but I find it so beautiful, I wanted to include it.
Thank you for reading (and listening) to this Special Birthday Tribute to Sonny Curtis.
Many of my posts are “Today We Remember” posts. It’s easy to appreciate someone when they’re gone. But this time, I wanted to acknowledge Mr. Curtis on a very special milestone Birthday. So Happy 85th, Sonny, and thanks for everything.
Special thanks to my Twitter peeps Ken B. and Richard D. for their help with this post.
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