Jimmy Curtiss

Jimmy Curtiss was born Feb. 2 1940 under his real name James Martin Stulberger in New York. He grew up and lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Florida, Queens and Long Island.

 

The best biography you can find about JC is from Mike Korbik – a speciall thanks for the permission to use it here on jimmycurtis.com

 

 

Psychedelic And Other Situations - The musical career of Jimmy Curtiss – by Mike Korbik

 

My first contact with Jimmy Curtiss was in the early summer of 1967. In SF-Beat - the best radio show in Berlin at that time - his single Psychedelic Situation was played a couple of times. I was thirteen at the time and my pocket money was not enough to buy every great new 7"45, so they recorded with a small reel-to-reel tape recorder of Japanese origin. So Psychedelic Situation landed on one of my party tapes and then fell into oblivion. It wasn't until years later, when the great Nuggets compilation by Lenny Kaye brought me back to the 60's US Garage and Psych scene, that I remembered Psychedelic Situation. And with that began a search that has not really ended until today.

 

I bought the single in 1977 on the Oldie market, at that time the only auction and collector's magazine in Germany. For a long time this 7"45 remained the only musical testimony of Jimmy Curtiss for me. And for reasons I can't explain, this single, this track has become a kind of obsession for me and at the same time the best piece of pop music of all times. On the surface it is "only" a nice psychedelic bubblegum number, a "period piece" so to speak. But if you listen carefully, this single contains everything that 1967 was for pop music. The number is fast, danceable, absolutely catchy! It is highly original, i.e. distinctive, and has a catchy melody that is easy to sing along with. The arrangement and the sound effects used are typical for the time, simple but quite clever. Jimmy Curtiss singing, his high head voice in the chorus, is probably unique and has at least a high recognition value. Don't get us wrong, there were a lot of great tracks and singles in the years '66/'67. Whether Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys, Strawberry Fields Forever by the Beatles or Paint It Black and We Love You by the Stones, just to name a few of the better known ones, all these numbers are of course not worse than Psychedelic Situation. But for me, the single has subjectively become the epitome of this period over the years. Not least the lyrics describe in a simple naive way how a teenager imagines his first trip.

 

I found out that Jimmy Curtiss was also in charge of a band called The Hobbits when I got hold of their second LP Men And Doors at a record fair. But the full extent of his musically versatile career only became clear to me through research that would have been hardly possible, or at least much more tedious and laborious, without the Internet and the worldwide networking of a collector and enthusiast scene. And so it took a website of my own, on which I published my findings in English as well, before I finally made contact with Mister Curtiss himself. Or rather, he contacted me. Some years ago I received an e-mail from the USA, which started with the words "I'm still walking the planet...".

 

Jimmy Curtiss was born James Martin Stulberger in New York in 1940. He grew up in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. While still in high school he joined a doo-wop group called The EmJays. The band wrote a few songs themselves and released at least three singles in 1958/59. Jimmy's participation in the first of these three singles was confirmed to me by himself. This Is My Love /bw Waitin' (The Pitty Pitty Pat Song) was released in 1958 on Greenwich Records. The A-side is a typical doo-wop ballad of the time and was a regional hit in some states on the East Coast. The B-side, despite its somewhat childish title, is a jaunty rockabilly informed number.

 

At 18, Curtiss began studying art and commercial design at Marshall College in West Virginia. At the same time he was signed by United Artists as a solo artist.

In 1960 his debut solo single Without You /bw The Simple Things was released, which was played on the radio (in New York and Boston, among other places) but, like the debut of the EmJays, did not appear in the national charts. Without You is Teen Pop, similar to the contemporaneous works of Dion & The Belmonts for example. In 1961 a second single Love Sweet Love /bw Miss Untrue followed again on United Artists, but despite all catchyness it was even less successful than its predecessor. In spring 1962 a third 7"45 You Got What I Like /bw Five Smooth Stones was released on Warner Brothers Records in the UK. This time the A-side was written by Ellie Greenwich. But I like the flipside, which was composed by Curtiss himself like the previous singles, better. Five Smooth Stones has a certain novelty character and is in a naive way extremely charming teen pop. By the way, Vernon Joynson writes in his standard work Fuzz Acid And Flowers about Jimmy Curtiss that he sold songs to Bobby Darin and Ellie Greenwich in the early sixties.

 

In 1963 Curtiss completed his college education and began working in the advertising industry. But he continued to write songs on the side. And in 1965 two more 7"45s were released on Laurie Records. This one was called Not For You /bw You're What's Happening Baby, written by Ernie Maresca, who was also responsible for several Dion & The Belmonts hits and was thus a kind of house producer at Laurie Records. Maresca himself was previously a member of the doo-wop group The Regents. And with their support Jimmy Curtiss recorded his next single, Girl From The Land Of 1000 Dances /bw Let's Dance Close, also released on Laurie in 1965. This seems to be the rarest of his singles. At least I haven't been able to find an original until today.

 

In 1967 Jimmy Curtiss decided to make music full-time.

 

Together with Ernie Maresca he wrote Psychedelic Situation and the B-side of this single Gone But Not Forgotten. The single was released on Laurie Records, released in Germany by Ariola and at that time was not only played on the radio in Berlin but also on Hessischer Rundfunk, SWR and probably elsewhere. It was not a hit either here or in the USA, but it was still the most successful single of Mister Curtiss. Another 7"45 was planned Laughing At The Rain /bw Mr. Jingle Jangle Man, but only Acetate exists. Also in 1967 Child Of Clay was released, the biggest charter success in which Curtiss was involved. He had written the song together with Ernie Maresca, and the US pop singer Jimmie Rodgers, whose greatest hits include Honeycomb and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, reached number 31 in the US charts with Child Of Clay in the summer of 1967.

 

Curtiss was now also active as a writer and producer for other artists. There was a scene of young artists, songwriters, musicians and producers on the edge of the Brill Building, so to speak, which included people like Lou Reed, Jack Vance, Terry Philips and others. He work with the latter two together on the project The Hobbits. This was actually just a studio project of these three composers and arrangers. The first LP Down To Middle Earth was released in late 1967 on Decca. While the decoupled single Daffodil Days /bw Sunny Day Girl is really pure Sunshine Pop, there are a few tracks on the LP that try to create a mild kind of pseudo-psychedelia, both lyrically and musically. The reference to J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic is only given in a few keywords. On the other hand, the three songwriters try to take up the world of experience of High School Kids of the year 1967 in their lyrics. 1968 reappeared on

 

Decca published the second LP of the Hobbits under the title Men And Doors, The Hobbits Communicate. It is clearly the best, musically most versatile and sophisticated LP of the group, which at least on the backcover can now be seen in the photo, even though live performances still did not take place except on local TV stations. The group's songwriters and musicians now include New York studio musician Marcia Hillman.

 

The other musicians Terry Philips and others had meanwhile founded the company Perception Productions, for which Jimmy Curtiss had also worked from the beginning. From 1969 the company released its productions on its own label Perception Records. Jimmy Curtiss was there as he himself says: "executive vice president, creative director with responsibilities as art director, staff producer, writer and talent coordinator. Under his aegis, such diverse records as the album by New York-based blue eyed soul group The Bag entitled Real on Decca or the only LP by acid folk rock band Velvet Night on Metromedia, as well as an album by Californian jazz and rock psychedelic The Jon Bartel Thing on Capitol, co-produced by Curtiss and Terry Philips, were released.

 

The first LP on his own Perception label was Jimmy Curtiss' solo album Life, which was released in 1969. Compared to the early doo-wop singles, the psychedelic sunshine pop of the hobbits or the proto-bubblegum pop of Psychedelic Situation, this LP sounds more mature, more sophisticated, more like a singer / songwriter album. The opener of the album is Curtiss' own version of Child Of Clay. The basic mood of the LP is more of a thoughtful one, and with Johnny Get Your Gun, which was also released as a single, and Lack O' Testicle Blues are two explicit anti-war songs on the album. The band recruits itself from the environment of Curtiss and Perception. The keyboard player Howard Wyeth, who later worked as a session musician for Bob Dylan, among others, and released an album on Perception with his own band The Albert, is also part of the band. The LP Life was surprisingly also released under license in France with a less provocative cover. Whereby the original US cover is not really provocative, but at least it is quite unusual and almost dilettantish. I don't think it needs to be mentioned that the LP was not a success.

 

Also in 1969 The Hobbits were revived as The New Hobbits by Curtiss. An LP under the title Back From Middle Earth was produced. The material was colorfully thrown together. Older songs by Curtiss as well as newer ones that came from his collaboration with musicians from The Bag and The Albert were used. The best tracks on the album, however, are I Could Hear The Grass Growin and Underground, two songs written by Mike Brassard and Steve Blodgett and released as a single on Decca in 1967 under the name Fire & Brimstone. The both composers were originally members of the garage and rock'n'roll band Mike & The Ravens from Plattsburgh, New York. But that is another story. Terry Philips had produced the Fire & Brimstone single, and so Jimmy Curtiss got to know the songs he obviously liked so much that he simply adopted them for the third Hobbits LP. They were not even recorded anew. They used the tapes that had been made under the direction of Terry Philips two years earlier. With only 23 minutes playing time, the New Hobbits LP was quite short. And musically or contentwise it is not stringent either. It is questionable whether the LP was even released regularly. All copies that I have seen or heard of are promo copies. (Some years ago it was released on CD as well)

Perception Records developed more and more into a pure R&B and jazz label, which counted Dizzy Gillespie, Wanda Robinson and The Fatback Band among its artists. Not too long ago a double LP was released by BBE Records under the title The Best Of Perception and Today Records, which presents exactly this side of the label. Occasionally Mister Curtiss also produced soul and R&B acts for Perception. But other things were obviously more to his liking. For example, he wrote songs for the Indian musician Floyd Westerman, whose debut album Custer Died For Your Sins he produced in 1970. Curtiss also produced the LP We Can Be Everything by the young singer/songwriter John Simson together with Terry Philips in 1970. Part of this album was recorded in England at Morgan Sound Studios with British session musicians, including Mike Kellie on drums, who played with Spooky Tooth and later with The Only Ones.

 

Probably one of the most curious releases on Perception is a purely instrumental LP by Jimmy Curtiss, which presents variations on guitars and other instruments in three long tracks using the Wah Wah pedal. Concerto For Wah Wah by Century Expanded is the official title. Not for the faint of heart.

 

In 1969-72 Jimmy Curtiss also wrote several bubblegum songs for bands like The Sweet Bippies or The Changing Colours. None of them became a hit, but there are license releases in Europe and these tracks also appear on relevant samplers every now and then. They prove that Mister Curtiss always had a knack for catchy melodies and catchy hooks. Perception even released an LP entitled History Of Bubblegum Music by a fictional band called Mirror. All titles on it were written by Mister Curtiss alone or in collaboration with former colleagues from Perception and The Hobbits. The LP was recorded by studio musicians in New York.

 

In 1974 Curtiss retired from the music business and worked again exclusively in advertising, mainly as a lyricist and graphic designer, but also as a composer of advertising songs. "I never considered myself a musician. I played good enough to write, but not perform," he wrote to me in an e-mail in 2007. Mister Curtiss and Stulberger are now living in well-deserved retirement. In 2016 he gave a small private radio station in New Jersey a quite detailed interview (you can listen to it on this website). It became clear that he always understood music as a means to a livelihood. After all, he had a family to support from the mid-1960s on. He often felt exploited and betrayed by his colleagues and colleagues in the music business, which ultimately led to his withdrawal from the world of pop music. But he never stopped writing songs and recording demos. Some unreleased material is now available to me. His last commercial musical project was a Christmas album which was sold in Disney World.

 

Today 80 years old Jimmy Curtiss has already retired and lives in the greater New York area.

 

Under permission of Mike Korbik - www.twang-tone.de

for www.jimmycurtiss.com   -  Updatet Nov. 2020

The two different Cover-Arts of J.C.'s Album "Life"