Born in Saco, ME. Education: Graduated from Brown University. Addresses: Record company--Rykodisc, Shetland Park, 27 Congress St., Salem, MA 01970; Booking agency--Monterey Peninsula Artists, 509 Hartnell St., Monterey, CA 93940; Fan mail--CatieMail, P.O. Box 1825, Biddeford, ME 04005 Phone: (978) 825-3225; (408) 375-4889 Fax: (978) 741-4506; (408) 375-2623 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Ron@MontereyIntl.com; CatieMail@aol.com.
The music of Boston-based folk singer and acoustic guitarist Catie Curtis exemplifies the timeless value of personal experience and honesty. Above all else, Curtis strives to reveal truth through her songs. As she once commented for a story in Billboard magazine: "I've found that you have to cut through a lot of false expectations and myths to get to something real." Both on record and on stage, Curtis prefers to keep things simple, usually playing acoustic sets backed by drums and bass, and occasionally adding accompaniment such as keyboards, mandolin, and electric guitar. Throughout her career, Curtis has maintained a lyrical depth and sense of integrity that make her a favorite among critics. She has garnered a loyal following, from the coffeehouse and folk club circuit to the pop mainstream.
Curtis' gravitation toward music began in her hometown of Saco, Maine, where, as she told the audience at a show at New York City's the Bottom Line at which Stephen Holden of the New York Times was in attendance, her neighbors were afraid of three things: "people who moved in from somewhere else, people who were planning to move out and anybody who was weird." Growing up, she played both the trombone and drums before picking up acoustic guitar in her teens. Upon graduating from high school, she attended college at Brown University and began singing and playing guitar at local coffeehouses. After earning her degree, she moved to Massachusetts to practice social work in the Boston area, all the while moonlighting with her music. In 1989, Curtis made her recording debut with the cassette-only Dandelion for the independent Mongoose label. Her first "proper" album, From Years To Hours, arrived in 1991.
Although From Years to Hours went largely unnoticed, Curtis continued to perform, gaining fans on the East Coast folk club circuit along the way. Soon, she was devoting herself more and more to writing and touring, and although she had an apartment, Curtis practically lived out of her car because she was on the road so many days out of the year. In 1994, Curtis released the original version of Truth From Lies on Mongoose, and toured almost non-stop to draw in more listeners. Through her hard work, both Truth From Lies and its predecessor, From Years to Hours, sold approximately 10,000 copies each--about half at Curtis' shows and the rest through mail order and her distributor. Public radio also began to air the folk singer's music.
Her first significant break came when a New York clothing store chose one of Curtis' songs for a 1994 compilation album entitled Shelter: The Best of Contemporary Singers/Songwriters, issued on the Putamayo label. Around that time, Angel Records had just introduced their new pop imprint, Guardian. One day, soon after joining the new label, Guardian president Steve Murphy was walking with his family in Washington, D.C., when his daughter pulled him into a store where a song off the record by Curtis--"Hole In the Bucket," a lament about the diminishing resources reserved for social services also featured on From Years to Hours--was being played. "I listen to dozens of tapes a week," Murphy said to Bradley Bambarger in Billboard, "but I was stopped dead in my tracks by that song." Eventually, he saw Curtis play live at the Bottom Line, then invited the singer/guitarist to visit Guardian's offices in Manhattan to perform before the staff. They all agreed that Curtis, whose songs at once sound familiar and original, possessed a special talent. "Catie can steal the hearts of seven people in a room," Murphy said, "but she can also capture 700 ... she has never failed to win people over in person or on record." Curtis, singing her honest and direct yet humble songs in soft, yearning tones, was now poised to widen her fanbase.
Signing with Guardian in 1995, Cutis entered the studio to re-record three songs from the original Truth From Lies--"Radical," "You Can Always Be Gone," and "The Wolf"--with David Kershenbaum, known for producing albums for Tracy Chapman and Joe Jackson. In 1996, following a marketing bang, Guardian re-issued the album to rave reviews, including one printed in the New Yorker hailing her a "folk rock goddess." The first single off Truth From Lies, "Radical," received a substantial amount of radio airplay, enabling Curtis to branch out from the coffeehouse scene. "I wrote 'Radical' about a person in a gay relationship, but I enjoy playing it because people come up to me after shows and say, 'I love that song about interracial relationships," Curtis said to Bambarger, referring to her music's wide appeal and ability to cross social and cultural lines. "'Radical' has a personal meaning for me, but it also has a personal meaning for other people. That's important. I want to reach a wider audience, one that includes people who have never even been to a folk club or listened to public radio."
To promote the second version of Truth From Lies, Curtis hit the road toward the end of January of 1996, touring the United States through May. That summer, she played festivals in the United States, Canada, and Europe. And in October, she was honored by the gay community for her music. Winning several awards at the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards (GLAMA) that year, Curtis took home the honors of Best "Out" Song and Best "Out" Recording for "Radical." She was also a nominee for Best Female Artist. Although she feels her music can touch the emotions of anyone, "It's great to know that I have such support in the gay community," Curtis said, as quoted by Larry Flick in Billboard. "It's important for artists who might be considering 'coming out' to know that such support exists. And while the focus of the GLAMAs might be on 'out' musicians, the attention generated by the event can only help the artists who were nominated to achieve our potential in the mainstream."
When it came time to begin preparing for a new album, Curtis met with Guardian executives to discuss possible producers and named two Bruce Springsteen songs, "Streets of Philadelphia" and "Secret Garden," as examples of how she wanted to come across on her forthcoming project. The following month, she was visiting Roy Brittan, Springsteen's keyboard player and arranger, to record with a cast of first-rate musicians--including drummer Kenny Arnoff (John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge), and bassist Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson)--what would become Catie Curtis. According to Curtis, she wanted to incorporate Springsteen's sensitive, simple storytelling and playing style to the set. "Bruce was one of the last guys not to use synthesizers," she noted in an interview with Christopher Muther of the Boston Globe. "He was always careful not to over-finesse in the studio. Even though we used drum loops, it was like a quilt process of taking something old from an old record and coming up with something new that we played that day. It was just like putting together textures that resonated with the emotions of a song."
Although Curtis' self-titled album sounded more polished and pop-inspired than past efforts, tracks like "River Winding" and "Larry," both unassuming, small-town vignettes, and the humorous "Forgiveness" demonstrated that her keen power of observation remained in focus. Released in the fall of 1997, it, too, won critical admiration. However, soon afterward, Guardian went out of business, and without label backing, Curtis' career appeared in limbo. But despite a lack of support, the album's first single, "Soulfully," received rotation on Triple-A radio. It was also featured in episodes of the hit television shows Dawson's Creek and Chicago Hope. Additionally, after touring extensively, Curtis picked up a slot on the Lilith Fair tour with Mary Chapin Carpenter. In 1998, Curtis took home her second GLAMA award for Best Album for Catie Curtis.
Recognizing Curtis' longevity, Rykodisc signed the folk singer for the recording of A Crash Course In Roses in 1999. Recorded and produced in Boston with seasoned musicians Paul Bryan on bass, Billy Conway (Morphine) on drums, Duke Levine on guitars, Jimmy Ryan (Wooden Leg, Blood Oranges) on mandolin, and Kenny White on organ and featuring harmony vocals by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Melissa Ferrick, and Jennifer Kimball, A Crash Course In Roses saw Curtis adding more contemporary and percussive rock elements. "I just found myself experimenting a lot and wanting to see how my thought would process through an electric guitar or a drum machine, instead of an acoustic guitar," she explained, as quoted by Larry Flick in Billboard. "In many ways, this album brings me back to my childhood. I grew up on Motown. I wanted this to be the kind of energetic album you put into your Walkman and just roll with."
Described by Scott Alarik of the Boston Globe as Curtis' "best-ever CD," A Crash Course In Roses led to another GLAMA honor for the song "What's the Matter?" in April of 2000. In 1999, Curtis also contributed to the two-disc Respond compilation, featuring prominent Boston-based female singers-songwriters. Proceeds from the album benefited a local domestic violence intervention and prevention program.
by Laura Hightower
Catie Curtis's Career
Played trombone, drums, and guitar growing up; started performing music in coffeehouses as a college student; released From Years to Hours, 1991; signed with Guardian Records, 1995; released Catie Curtis, toured with Lilith Fair, 1997; signed with Rykodisc, released A Crash Course In Roses, 1999.
Catie Curtis's Awards
GLAMA award for Best Song for "Radical," 1996; GLAMA award for Best Album for Catie Curtis, 1998; GLAMA award for Best Song "What's the Matter," 2000.
- Selected discography
- Dandelion , (cassette), Mongoose, 1989.
- From Years To Hours , Mongoose, 1991.
- Truth From Lies , Mongoose, 1994; issued with re-recorded versions of "Radical," "You Can Always Be Gone," and "The Wolf," Guardian, 1996.
- Catie Curtis , Guardian, 1997.
- A Crash Course In Roses , Rykodisc, 1999.
- Shelter: The Best of Contemporary Singers/Songwriters , Putamayo World Music, 1994.
- Performing Songwriters Top 12 DIYs, Volume 1 , Performing Songwriter, 1994.
- 1995 Kerrville Highlights , Kerrville/Silverwolf, 1995.
- The Women of Kerrville , Kerrville/Silverwolf, 1996.
- One More Song , Philo, 1996.
- Women's Work , Putamayo, 1996.
- Snow Angels , Hear Music/Compass, 1996.
- Respond , Signature Sounds, 1999.
- Billboard, January 20, 1996; August 24, 1996; October 19, 1996; September 27, 1997; March 21, 1998; March 27, 1999; July 31, 1999; November 13, 1999; April 8, 2000; May 30, 2000.
- Boston Globe, November 2, 1997; September 17, 1999; September 21, 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1996.
- New York Times, February 20, 1996.
- Catie Curtis, http://www.cgrg.ohio-state.edu/~kspencer/Catie_Curtis/ (December 18, 2000).