On November 1, 1968, Ken Giffis interviewed Ken Curtis for
his book, "Here My Song, the
Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers"
Transcribed by Elizabeth Drake McDonald from tapes made
available to the public by Jim Kleist.
The audio interview is
available for public purchase.
GRIFFIS: This tape is being recorded Friday, November 1, 1968 in the TV studio
of Mr. Ken Curtis. This recording is being made under the auspices of the John
Edwards Memorial Foundation and will be used by the Foundation for the non-
profit activities of this organization only. So, if we can started, Ken, and ask
you, first of all, to give us your full name.
CURTIS: My full name is Curtis Wayne Gates.
[Spelling is confirmed]
GRIFFIS: That comes as a surprise! And would you be good enough to give us the
date of your birth?
CURTIS: Born July 2, 1916.
GRIFFIS: And where would this be?
CURTIS: In Colorado. Out south of Lamar, Colorado, down in the southeast portion
GRIFFIS: Was there a city? An actual city…?
CURTIS: Lamar. I was born out south of Lamar on the old homestead.
GRIFFIS: Fine. Could you give us the name of your mother and father?
CURTIS: Dan Gates is my father. My mother is Nellie Gates.
GRIFFIS: What was her maiden name?
CURTIS: Her maiden name was Sneed. [Spells the word.]
GRIFFIS: And do you have brothers and sisters?
CURTIS: Yes, I have two brothers. I have Carl – my oldest brother is Carl. My
next brother is Chester Kenneth and that’s how I derived my name. In fact, Tommy
Dorsey changed my name from Gates to Curtis because we, at that time, were doing
a lot of radio broadcasting and he was afraid it would be misunderstood so he
took my brother’s first name and my first name and made my name out of it. So
Tommy was responsible for that.
GRIFFIS: Wonderful. Was your parents or grandparents musically inclined?
CURTIS: Yes. My father very much so. He played just about every string
instrument. Couldn’t read [music], of course, but it was just a natural talent.
And all of us sang to some extent.
GRIFFIS: What instrument did you first pick up?
CURTIS: I first started on saxophone. I used to play sax and clarinet many, many
GRIFFIS: Is that right? And later on did you take up the guitar when you got
CURTIS: No, I never did play guitar. You know, I play a few chords but I never
did really play a guitar.
GRIFFIS: But your brothers and sisters, were they musical? Did they play musical
CURTIS: Well, my brother Dudley – we call him Dudley – Chester, he used to play
banjo and play with Dad. In fact, my early childhood was with the old square
dances back in Colorado. We used to have, you know, just the ranchers get
together and have a Saturday night dance, of course, and Dad played the fiddle.
Mom used to chord on the organ, the old pump organ, and Dud played banjo. And I
used to sleep on the benches around the side of the room, you know.
GRIFFIS: You were too young at this time to take part in….
CURTIS: Too young, yeah. All I could do was a little clog dance. Chuckles.
GRIFFIS: What is your earliest recollection or first interest in music? In other
words, at what age did you first take up the instrument - the saxophone or
CURTIS: Oh, that was in, I would say, that was around the 6th or 7th grade in
GRIFFIS: What was your first exposure to recordings? In other words, was it with
the Pioneers or was it with Dorsey?
CURTIS: No, my first experience with recordings … of course, the record that I
made – a test record that I made out here, was actually just a demo with Carl
Fisher. Do you remember Carl? He was at that time the arranger for Frankie Laine.
He has since passed away. A wonderful musician and a great songwriter and he
asked me to do some demo records for him, which I did. And Jo Stafford, who was
at that time with the Pied Pipers, happened to hear this demo and wanted to take
it back to Dorsey, so that was how I was sent for by Tommy Dorsey.
FEMALE VOICE: Your first recordings were not Country and Western, they were….
CURTIS: No, they were Pop. See, when I first started out here, after I got out
of college, when I started my singing career, I’d come out to publish some music
that I’d written in a musical show in college. And I got to singing this music
and everybody didn’t care too much about the tunes but they were listening to me
sing so I got a deal with NBC out here where I used to do sustaining shows with
Gordon Jenkins and Bud Dant. That was really my start in the entertainment
Charles Dant, I think, but everybody called him Bud Dant and I used to do
sustaining shows with he and Gordon Jenkins on NBC out here.
GRIFFIS: Well, let’s go back and regress just for a moment and we can go fast
since we do have a shortage of time … could you give us, from Lamar, at what age
you had moved where and so forth and bring us up to this period you’re speaking
CURTIS: Well, from the old homestead, we moved into a little town called Las
Animas when I was about 5 or 6 years old.
GRIFFIS: This is in Colorado?
CURTIS: In Colorado, also. And then – we didn’t stay in town too long – we moved
out to a ranch outside of Las Animas. My Dad was always a cattleman. A stockman.
Rancher. And then, later on, we moved back into Las Animas where my Dad became
sheriff. And we used to live in the jail there – lived in the bottom of the jail
and, of course, all the prisoners were upstairs and Mom cooked for all the
prisoners and I was a turnkey at the tender age of about 12, I guess.
GRIFFIS: How old would you have been when you moved from Lamar?
CURTIS: Well, we never did live in Lamar. See, our ranch was outside of Lamar.
GRIFFIS: Well, this Las Animas.
CURTIS: Las Animas? Well, I stayed in Las Animas until 1935 when I went away to
college. I went up to Colorado Springs to study medicine, actually. I took three
years of Pre Med.
GRIFFIS: Did you do any singing or any entertaining prior to going to college,
in the early days, in your teens?
CURTIS: Oh, yes. Sure. In fact, we had a little trio. We used to campaign for my
Dad when he was running for sheriff. There was a kid by the name of Kenny
Schuman – Kenneth Schuman – and a kid named Dale Schutts who never liked his
name so he changed it to Sloan. Dale Sloan.
GRIFFIS: Did either of these pursue a musical career?
CURTIS: Yes, Dale did. Kenny is a banker now. He was always more inclined toward
the financial end of it whereas Dale did become a musician. He has since passed
away, too. So that was really the start of kind of getting into it when we had
our little trio.
GRIFFIS: All right, then, in school. Did you get into the musical activities in
CURTIS: Oh, I sang quite a bit. I used to – of course, with the fraternity we
had quite a male chorus, you know. I started singing a little bit in college,
just here and there, and used to do a few of the music things around college.
And, as I say, I wrote this musical show in college.
GRIFFIS: Can you recall the name of it?
CURTIS: I can’t remember what it was. It’s been a long ago.
GRIFFIS: Is this the one that you took out to have somebody…?
CURTIS: Yes, I came out to California then. At the end of my third year of pre
med I came out here to try to publish these tunes during the summer months and
that’s when I got sidetracked and never went back to medicine. You know
ignorance is bliss. I came directly to Los Angeles and, as a matter of fact,
Dale Sloan and a friend of mine by the name of Tommy Clelland who just happened
to be a fraternity brother and a very dear friend of mine. In fact, we were
roommates in college. So the three of us came out. They all felt, well, these
[songs Curtis had written] were great and we’ll go out and set the world on
fire. It turned out that I wasn’t the new Cole Porter, by any means.
GRIFFIS: Then what was your next contact in music…?
CURTIS: Well, we got out here and Dale formed a….
GRIFFIS: Excuse me. Could we establish the year this would have been that you
CURTIS: This would have been 1939. I came out at the end of…. In 1939 Dale
formed a group called “The Katsnjammers”. A small group. I believe there were 7
members of it. And we started doing a few little acetate recordings around, as a
matter of fact, with Al Jarvis when he had his make believe ballroom here. And
Al made these records and started playing them and the group kinda caught on
around town and, if fact, so much so that at that time UCLA used to have a
program, a monthly program, called “All You Sing”. They used to invite their
favourite group or band out to entertain, you see. I believe it was monthly.
Anyway, we had cut these few records and they seemed to like our efforts so they
invited us out for “All You Sing”. It was during that performance at UCLA that a
lady by the name of Ida Koverman was in the audience. Well, Ida Koverman was at
that time the executive secretary for Louis B. Mayer.
[Spelling of Koverman confirmed.]
And a lovely, lovely lady. She happened to be in the audience. Well, after the
show, she came up on the stage and said, “Would you like to come out to MGM
tomorrow and sing?”
GRIFFIS: Speaking to you personally or the group…?
CURTIS: To me. And I said, “Of course. I’d love to.” Of course, I’d had so many
false excitements about the career up until that time, I thought well, I don’t
imagine it’ll really happen. But sure enough, the following day here comes this
big black limousine to take me out to MGM where I sang for Louis B. Mayer and
Roger Edens was there and, oh, all the top folks out at MGM including a man
named Wynne Rockemorra. And you’ve probably heard his name. He for years ran the
Hollywood Bowl here. Booked all the talent and set up the shows. Well, Wynne
Rockemorra at that time was the head of talent for NBC, he booked the talent for
NBC, and that is how I came into my contract as staff singer at NBC with Gordon
Jenkins and Bud Dant.
GRIFFIS: Was this about 1940?
CURTIS: Around ’40, yes. ’39 and ’40.
FEMALE VOICE: Those first recordings you made, were they on a commercial label?
CURTIS: No. They were just little acetate pressings that Al got together.
GRIFFIS: And then you were on the staff of NBC for a period of time. What did
you do in this capacity?
CURTIS: Well, I would do these sustaining shows each week, one with Bud Dant and
one with Gordon Jenkins. They used to have a boy and a girl singer. One of the
singers at that time was a girl by the name of Kay St. Germaine who was at that
time, married to Jack Carson. Do you remember her? Kay was on several of the
shows with me.
GRIFFIS: You would just appear on the hour, half hour program, and you were one
of the singers….
CURTIS: Yes, I’d do several songs during the half hour or hour. I’ve forgotten
just how long they ran. At that time still my name was Curtis Gates, you see,
because it was never changed until I went back to join Tommy.
GRIFFIS: How long were you on the staff?
CURTIS: Well, it wasn’t too long because I kinda got itchy to go back to New
York. I thought, well, maybe I can really break in and do something. I really
wanted to do big band work rather than just staff work and I went back thinking
that I might be able to latch onto a band job in New York but as it turned out
it wasn’t that easy.
GRIFFIS: Was this about ’41 again?
CURTIS: This would have been been still around ’40. And I went back and found
out it wasn’t that easy and I wound up being a sand hog.
GRIFFIS: In a tunnel.
CURTIS: In a tunnel, yes. From upstate New York they were building a tunnel down
in New York City and I wound up working in this water tunnel. That made me more
determined that I wanted to get into the singing business again!
GRIFFIS: And how long would you have pursued this back there..?
CURTIS: Well, I worked there through the Summer months and up into the Fall.
GRIFFIS: This could have been ’41?
CURTIS: Well, now let’s see, I’m trying to think. I joined Tommy in September
and the war started in December of ’41 so this would have been going into ’41,
probably the early part of it, and I decided to come back out to California. My
brother Dudley, was with me and, of course, he pursued the construction work so
this was right down his line. I came back out here and again started in
construction just to keep beans on the table. And it was during that time that I
made this test record with Carl Fisher and after Jo Stafford heard that she
asked me if she could take it back to New York and play it for Tommy because
Tommy and Frank Sinatra were not getting along too well in those days and he had
been wanting to leave the band. So Tommy asked me to come back as a replacement
GRIFFIS: Oh, you actually would have been a replacement for Sinatra.
CURTIS: Yes, so I went back in September of ’41 and stayed with Tommy until, it
seems to me, around the first of November and Frank had stayed on. They had me
rehearsing with the band and the Pipers and I did some recordings with them….
GRIFFIS: Do you recall the first recording you might have made with them?
CURTIS: With Tommy?
CURTIS: The first song I did, I did a thing called “Love Sends a Little Gift of
Roses”. I have a copy of it at home with the Pied Pipers and I, of course, sang
the solo on it. Then I did a thing called, seems to me, “The Anniversary Waltz”
but it wasn’t the one that later became so popular – you know, out of “The
Jolson Story”. It was another one called “The Anniversary Waltz” and I don’t
have a copy of that. I don’t know. I’ve lost most of my old records. But I do
happen to have “Love Sends a Little Gift of Roses”.
GRIFFIS: I’d love to get a copy of that. Now, you were with him approximately 2
CURTIS: Yes. I travelled with the band, rehearsed with the band and, like I
said, did this recording and when Sinatra decided he would stay on with the
band. Tommy kept me under contract and sent me with Shep Fields who had at that
time just formed a new all-reed band. It was a very interesting band because the
reeds were playing brass licks, you see, and it was a very interesting band but
I think it was a little bit before its time because it was just a little too
wild for the folks and, of course, he’d just come out of the success of Rippling
Rhythm. So I went with Shep and, of course, war was declared and I’ll never
forget standing on the bandstand and seeing these young guys coming up in Navy
uniforms. So I said, “I can’t stand it, I’m gonna enlist.” So I enlisted in the
Army and they took me in…
GRIFFIS: This would have been in what year?
CURTIS: That would have been in ’42. They finally took me in in June.
GRIFFIS: And you went into the Army.
CURTIS: I went into the Army in Anti-Aircraft and I was sent back out here to
California. And then, career-wise, the funniest thing. A real kind of a
coincidence. When I came out of the Army in 1945, the first people I ran into
were the Pied Pipers – Jo Stafford, and at that time she was married to one of
the members of the Pipers named John Huddleston. And I ran into Jo and John and
Chuck Lowry who was one of them, Clark Yokum was another member. They were doing
a show with Johnny Mercer called the Chesterfield Music Shop – a little
15-minute show 5 nights a week. Jo had just recorded a wonderful – had made a
wonderful record of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. A beautiful arrangement. So they
said, “Why don’t you come on Johnny’s show and do a guest spot?” which was great
with me. So I went on the Chesterfield Music Shop and I sang Jo’s arrangement of
“Tumbling Tumbleweeds” which happened to be in my key and Columbia Pictures
heard me and signed me then to do a series of musical westerns.
GRIFFIS: This would have been in ’45?
CURTIS: Yes, as I remember it was around ’45. Yes, ’45. So I started doing these
musical westerns. That was my introduction into the acting bit. My first time.
GRIFFIS: What – do you recall your first picture?
CURTIS: Hmm. Well, I was starring along with the Hoosier Hot Shots in it. I was
the hero and Big Boy Williams was my sidekick and my leading lady, I believe,
was – my first picture – it might…. [End of tape]
CURTIS: It would have been – as near as I can recollect, and as I told you, Shug
and I were together yesterday trying to figure it out. It would have been ’47,
right after I left Columbia. It would have been in ’47 because I was with them
about 6 1/2 years. ‘47, ‘48, 49, ‘50, ‘51 and I left them in ’52.
GRIFFIS: You just filled in for Lloyd for just a few days the first time?
CURTIS: Well, I never left after that time.
GRIFFIS: I see. You actually stayed with them. I see.
CURTIS: Now, this is as near as I remember. I’ll tell you, I haven’t even tried
to think about those days, it’s been so far back, but anyway, both Shug and I
joined the group. Shug played bass, of course, and I also sang. We used to, not
only sing with the group and perform with them, but Shug and I had our own
little act – a little comedy thing that we would do when we were doing a
program, you see.
GRIFFIS: Can you recall the members of the group at the time that you made
contact with them?
CURTIS: Oh, yes. There was, of course, Bob Nolan, Lloyd Perryman, Tim Spencer
and the Farr Brothers.
GRIFFIS: Had Pat Brady left them?
CURTIS: Pat Brady. I believe Pat had left. Yes, I believe he had. I believe he
had gone with Roy Rogers then. So that was the group at the time that I joined
them. And then, it seems to me, Bob stayed about…. Do you know exactly when he
GRIFFIS: He left about ’49.
CURTIS: Yeah, I was thinking about 2 years after I joined the group, Bob retired
and Tommy Doss came into the group.
GRIFFIS: Do you recall the first recording session you had with the Pioneers?
CURTIS: Oh. Yes, I think my first recording session was, I believe, “Room Full
of Roses” was the first thing that we did and “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.
GRIFFIS: Would you be good enough to pick up that “Room Full of Roses Album” and
tell us which one of those that you would have sang on?
CURTIS: Out of this, let’s see, I’m not sure; I might have sung on this “Have I
Told You Lately that I Love You”. “Let Me Share Your Name” I’m pretty sure I
sang on. “Room Full of Roses” I know I did because I did the solo on that.
“Wedding Dolls” I also sang on. “Roses” I sang on. And I’m not sure about the
others. I think Lloyd Perryman did “The Three of Us” and I probably sang in the
background on it.
GRIFFIS: Lloyd says that’s one of his favorites.
CURTIS: Yes. It’s a great song and Lloyd did a great job on it.
GRIFFIS: Do you ever listen to any of these recordings?
CURTIS: You know, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve lost my albums, just through the
GRIFFIS: Do you have any real interest in country music any more?
CURTIS: Oh, yes. Very much so. Especially, I just love to hear the Pioneers’
later recordings. I have those because Lloyd, when a new one comes out, always
tips me off and gets me one of them but I sure thoroughly enjoy hearing them
GRIFFIS: We have a sort of Discography here and if you would just run down right
fast and see. You remember the first label you would have recorded? Would it
have been RCA?
CURTIS: With the Pioneers, you mean?
CURTIS: Yes. RCA.
GRIFFIS: Can you just run down the list here and see if you can recall any of
these, starting right there.
CURTIS: Let’s see. “The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma”. I sang on that. I don’t
know whether it’s this particular record but I did sing that at one time. “Blue
Prairie” I’ve sung with them. “The Timber Trail”. See, I don’t remember whether
we recorded that or not.
GRIFFIS: Were you on the record they put out…Lloyd said they put out a “Cowboy
Classics”. They were 45s. He said they sold them in a box, a group of them
together. You could buy a box called “Cowboy Classics”. They were 45 [rpm]
records. You recall that name?
CURTIS: I’ll tell you, Ken….
GRIFFIS: That name doesn’t ring a bell with you?
CURTIS: No, it doesn’t.
GRIFFIS: Well, it’s the recording of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “The Everlasting
Hills of Oklahoma”. And “Cool Water”, “Cowboy Camp Meetin’”….
CURTIS: And this is the one that was done after the original “Tumbling
CURTIS: Well, I could have been. Very possibly might have been. I’m sorry to be
so vague but I just can’t really remember.
GRIFFIS: Well, Lloyd made the statement that you sang with the group and he
thought that while you were with them they put out their finest quality records.
That’s why I thought you probably did.
CURTIS: Well, I think that I might have been. I just could say without really…
GRIFFIS: …hearing them.
CURTIS: Hearing them, you know.
GRIFFIS: Would you recognize your voice immediately if you were to listen to the
CURTIS: Oh, yes. Very definitely. Well, let’s see….
GRIFFIS: As I mentioned to you before, Lloyd had some very flattering things to
say about you. He thought that you had a real outstanding voice.
CURTIS: Well, thank you, Ken. I think the same about Lloyd. Those were some
great years and I suppose that he told you about our doing a concert at Carnegie
GRIFFIS: No, I don’t think that neither he nor Tim mentioned anything about it.
CURTIS: Really? Yes, we did a concert at Carnegie Hall and it seems to me it was
around, could have been around ’50. I’m not just positive but it was around that
time. I, of course, thought that was one of the highlights of my career with the
Sons of the Pioneers. It was quite a thrill.
GRIFFIS: This is the importance of talking with different people because neither
of them thought that was important enough to mention. I think it’s very
CURTIS: Yes, sure. I’ll never forget that. It was a great thrill for us.
GRIFFIS: I would think so. Now you joined them in roughly 1947 and did you do
most of your recordings here in Hollywood?
CURTIS: Yes. We did a few back in New York. We recorded, I believe, twice with
Perry Como. Seems to me we did it twice.
GRIFFIS: As a background for him on a record?
CURTIS: Yes and, as a matter of fact, we did “You Don’t Know What Lonesome Is”
with Perry Como. We did the Perry Como Show and then we went down to record.
GRIFFIS: Is see. And you would have remained with the Pioneers up until about
CURTIS: That’s right.
GRIFFIS: Now, did you make the religious album with them? Do I recall Lloyd
saying you did a religious album?
CURTIS: Yes. I did some religious things with them.
GRIFFIS: I don’t know if …. I have one religious album there and I’m not certain
[Search for the album without success.]
CURTIS: Apparently it isn’t here. Is that the one that included “Little White
Cross”? Yes, I did the solo on “Little White Cross” and also….
GRIFFIS: And “Wagons West”. See if you recall the names on that.
CURTIS: “Land Beyond the Sun”, I believe I sang on that. I didn’t sing on “Santa
Fe, New Mexico”, I didn’t sing on. “Teardrops in My Heart”. No, that was before
I joined, too. “Wagons West” I sang on. “Cowboy Camp Meetin’” was before me.
“Moonlight and Roses” I did. “Waltz of the Roses” I did. I also, as I remember,
did “The Whiffenpoof Song”.
GRIFFIS: Now, this one I know very definitely you were on.
CURTIS: “Crazy Arms”. Oh, yes.
GRIFFIS: You did the solo on that one, as I recall.
CURTIS: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” I did the solo on. And “Does Your
Conscience Ever Bother You” and “Hang Your Head in Shame”. Oh, yeah. I was very
definitely on this session.
GRIFFIS: Now do you recall any particular song on there that made an impression
on you? You would say, “If somebody wants to play a record of mine, this is
Curtis at his best.” Could you single out one that you would …? I like “Crazy
CURTIS: “Crazy Heart”? Let’s see. “It’s a Sin” is one I sang on, I very
definitely remember. And I haven’t heard these in so long that I’d be afraid to
say whether it would be my best effort. But I think that “Little White Cross” is
one of the prettiest things that I ever sang.
GRIFFIS: Did you have a solo on that?
CURTIS: Yes. It’s in the religious thing. It’s one of the most touching and
beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, I think. And carries a beautiful message, too.
GRIFFIS: Right. Now during the time that you were with them, what members joined
them and left that you recall?
CURTIS: Well, Bob was the only one who left. Tim, of course, was managing the
group. And I did this “Cool Water” with Vaughn Monroe, too, right here.
[Singling out a recording.] Remember that? I remember we were in – where was it?
- Philadelphia, I believe, and recorded…. I can’t remember if it was New York or
Philadelphia. Let’s see. “Wagon Wheels”, yeah, I sang on that. “Last Roundup” I
sang and Lloyd sang on that. There’s that “Little White Cross” I was speaking
of. “America Forever” I sang on that. “Room Full of Roses” I did. “Riders in the
Sky” I was on that. Bob did the solo. “So Long to the Red River Valley” I did
that, too. “Wedding Dolls”. Well, there’s a whole bunch of ‘em here that I see.
Forgotten a good deal of ‘em, too.
GRIFFIS: Well, you see, we try to collect all of these records and we have to
break the Discography down and say who was on a particular record. It’s quite a
CURTIS: You bet. You’ve got your work cut out for you, I’d say.
GRIFFIS: During the period of 1950 you said you left, I mean Bob Nolan left the
Pioneers and Tommy Doss joined the group at that time.
CURTIS: Yes, we were on a tour, a rodeo tour and we’d gone up through Eureka
and, it seems to me we did a couple of dates in Washington and up to our last
date in Canada – we’d gone up into Canada and our last date was Edmonton,
Alberta. Bob left us there. And we picked up Tommy back in Helena, Montana.
GRIFFIS: Would you like to compare his talents with that of Bob? The good and
the bad. He fitted in very well with….
CURTIS: Yes, I thought Tommy did an excellent job. Of course, you know that the
quality of their voices is very similar. And I’ve heard Tommy sing just recently
and I think he’s singing better than he ever did.
GRIFFIS: I think so. Do recall the last recording session you may have made with
the Pioneers? And about what year that would have been?
CURTIS: Well, let’s see. I think it might have been that [indicates the album
“Good Old Country Music”] yes, I believe that could have been the last real
session. I think it was originally titled “One Man’s Songs”. I think there’s an
album called “One Man’s Songs”.
GRIFFIS: Yes, that’s right but I took the title to Tim Spencer and they cannot
find an album released under that name, strangely enough.
CURTIS: Is that right?
GRIFFIS: I went back there and told him I’d found that name listed in the record
of songs but he researched it and he thinks they changed the title to this.
CURTIS: Well, now, as I remember the first time I saw that album it was called
“One Man’s Songs”. They’re all Fred Rose numbers, I believe.
GRIFFIS: Strangely somehow the title got changed. During the time you
experienced with the Farr Brothers, would you like to comment on the singing
quality of Hugh Farr?
CURTIS: I thought that Hugh had a magnificent quality, bass quality. I never
heard a more beautiful, round bass singer in my life. I think he was just
GRIFFIS: We were very much impressed with Hugh.
CURTIS: You bet. He had a quality that I never heard in another bass singer. You
know, sometimes they can get kinda raspy but Hugh’s was always very round, very
GRIFFIS: His fiddling was magnificent, too.
CURTIS: Oh, yeah. He’s quite a fiddler.
GRIFFIS: During this period of time were …did Ken Carson sing during the period
of time that you were with them?
CURTIS: No. You see, Ken came in to take Lloyd’s place when Lloyd went into the
service. So I never sang with Ken. He had already left the group when I came in.
GRIFFIS: With the exception of Bob Nolan or Tim Spencer, did any other person
leave the group or join the group during the period of time you were there? Shug
Fisher and Pat Brady – any changing there?
CURTIS: No, Shug was with them all the time that I was with them. And then,
after Shug and I left the group in ’52 – and Shug later rejoined them. He was
with them off and on for many years. Have you talked to Shug yet?
GRIFFIS: No. We hope to talk to him. We want to talk to every member of the
Pioneers and then put the whole thing together. Do you think there’s a
possibility we might get to talk to him?
CURTIS: Oh, yes! I don’t know whether…. Shug has been shooting here out on the
lot. He was working yesterday. I don’t know whether he’s working today or not.
If so, they might…. No, I don’t believe he’s working today. He’s said that he’d
probably finish yesterday.
GRIFFIS: About the only person that we may not get to talk to, of course,
excepting Karl Farr, would be Bob Nolan. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance
to talk to Bob Nolan. Both Tim and Lloyd say that he just doesn’t talk.
CURTIS: He is pretty hard to get to, I’ll tell you. He’s too busy fishing!
GRIFFIS: According to them, he just doesn’t like to talk to people.
CURTIS: No, he’s strange in that respect. I enjoy talking to Bob when you get a
chat with him. He’s a great guy.
GRIFFIS: Now, a couple of other questions. Is there a specific reason why you
left the Pioneers?
CURTIS: Well, yes. Mainly it was – I was pretty tired of traveling. And they had
a chance to go out and do more rodeos and I had a chance – Shug and I had the
opportunity to stay on this program we were doing called “Lucky U”, a local show
in town here we were doing five days a week.
GRIFFIS: That was a radio program?
CURTIS: No, it was TV and radio. It was a simo-cast for Planter’s Peanuts so we
had the chance to stay on and form a new group and stay here and do this show
which I decided to do because I just wanted to stay in town. I didn’t want to
GRIFFIS: Do you recall the name of the group? Did you form it or did you join
CURTIS: Well, I just got two other fellows to come in and sing with me – a boy
by the name of Rex Dennis and Buddy Dooley. You know Buddy Dooley?
GRIFFIS: M-hmm, I’ve heard that name.
CURTIS: Fine singer. So Rex and Buddy and I formed our trio and then, of course,
Shug sang with the group at times.
FEMALE VOICE: What network…?
CURTIS: We were on Channel 9 here.
GRIFFIS: Did you play any instrument during the time that you traveled with the
CURTIS: No. No, I never….
GRIFFIS: Then, how long did this program last?
CURTIS: Well now, let’s see. It seems like we went on for maybe a year and a
half or two years on this show. I’ve forgotten just what the length of time was.
GRIFFIS: What was your next move?
CURTIS: Well, then I got into the …. I had a chance to go into some features
with John Ford and John Wayne. I did several features then. They started out
small. I sang a thing in “The Quiet Man”. Sang a couple of songs in “The Quiet
Man” and played a little character – a very small part. And each one of those
progressed into bigger things and ….
GRIFFIS: Then you made your contact with “Gunsmoke”?
CURTIS: Finally, came a picture called “The Searchers” where I first used the
dialect I now use as “Festus”. And it was off of that feature, that part, that a
writer came along by the name of Jay Simms and Jay wrote a story for “Have Gun
Will Travel” and I was a mangy little character called “Monk” in there. I just
smelled so bad that Mr. Paladin couldn’t stand me, you know. The skinner that
followed the trail herd. Do you remember that? And I smelled so bad that they’d
tie me off up on the hill every night so they could get some….
[Tape runs out.]