From his West Texas beginnings as the lead
guitarist in Buddy Holly's pre-Crickets band, "The Three Tunes," to a
prolific songwriting career, Sonny Curtis is a rare talent who transcended
musical genres long before the term "crossover" was coined.
Sonny was born in a dugout about seven miles east of Meadow, Texas in 1937. He
was the second youngest of six children born to struggling cotton farmers
during the devastating Dust Bowl era.
In the Curtis family, music was a way of life. And in Meadow, it was the main source of entertainment. When he was a boy, Sonny and his family would gather with neighbors for "musical Saturday nights," where anyone who played an instrument could join in the fun.
Sonny learned to play before his fingers could reach across the neck of the guitar; he just played on the four high strings. He joined his older brothers, Pete and Dean, to pick at local radio stations, jamborees, and other events.
When he reached his teens, Sonny"s friends and contemporaries were fellow musicians Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and future Crickets (J. I. Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, and Glen D. Hardin.) While he was still in high school, Dave Stone, a local promoter, frequently used him on bills that included the young Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, and other stars of the day.
When Elvis exploded onto the music scene in 1955, Sonny, Buddy Holly, J. I. Allison and other musician friends followed suit and started rocking. In 1956, Sonny accompanied Buddy Holly and bassist Don Guess to Nashville, where he played lead guitar on Buddy"s recordings of "Blue Days, Black Nights," "Midnight Shift," and his own composition of "Rock Around With Ollie Vee."
On those recordings, Sonny made history as the first rock 'n roller to record playing a Fender Stratocaster. Soon after, he left the band to play with Slim Whitman, and then went on tour as a member of the Philip Morris Country Music Show starring Carl Smith, Red Sovine and Goldie Hill.
Sonny's first record as a songwriter was "Someday," a chart success for Webb Pierce. Sonny had a hit song to his credit, and he was still a teenager.
One sand stormy afternoon Sonny wrote one of his most recognized and recorded tunes, the rock anthem "I Fought the Law," originally recorded on the album "In Style With the Crickets." The song later made stars of The Bobby Fuller Four when they recorded it in 1964. One of the first declarations of rock and roll rebellion, "I Fought the Law" has since been covered by everyone from the Hank Williams Jr. to the Clash to garage punk bands the world over.
At age 21, Sonny rejoined the Crickets, just prior to Holly's tragic death in a plane crash. Soon after Holly died, "The Crickets" (J.I., Joe B. and Sonny) started backing the Everly Brothers.
A few months later, Sonny received his draft notice from the Army.
During the two years he was in the military, he wrote one of his classic songs, "Walk Right Back." It was recorded by the Everly Brothers and topped the charts in the U.S. and England.
After his discharge from the Army, Sonny moved to Los Angeles. In 1965, he decided to devote more attention to songwriting and developing his career as an artist.
Throughout the 1970's, Sonny applied his songwriting skills to rock, pop, country, television and radio commercials. Along with friend and songwriting companion Don Piestrup, Sonny wrote numerous nationally known jingles for clients such as McDonald's, Buick, Western Airlines, Honda, Bell Telephone, etc.
During this time, he also wrote and sang the theme song for the Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Love Is All Around." Because of its positive message for working women in the early days of feminism, the song is not only one of television's best loved themes; it's a cultural touchstone.
Sonny moved to Nashville in 1976 where, as a member of the Crickets, he toured with Waylon Jennings for five years. As a recording artist for Elektra in the early eighties, Sonny scored numerous songs in the Top 100 country charts, including "Good Ole Girls," written by Dan Wilson, which made it into the top ten charts.
With co-writer Ron Hellard, he achieved one of his biggest country music successes with "I'm No Stranger to the Rain," a number one record for the late Keith Whitley. In 1989, the Country Music Association voted it the "Single of the Year."
Sonny is a member of BMI's "Million Airs Club" in recognition for "I Fought the Law," "More Than I Can Say" (co-written with J.I. Allison), "Walk Right Back," "The Straight Life," and "I'm No Stranger to the Rain," each of which achieved 1,000,000 air plays. His wide-ranging contributions to songwriting earned him a place in the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) Hall of Fame in 1991.
Along with the other two Crickets, Sonny was inducted into the "Music City Walk of Fame" in April, 2007 and "The Musicians Hall Of Fame" in October, 2009 and on April 14, 2012 they were inducted into the "The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame" .
Sonny and his wife, Louise, live near Nashville, where he continues to be active in the music business and tour with The Crickets, J.I. Allison and Joe B. Mauldin.