RR LogoBobby Curtola Canadian Music Icon

Bobby Curtola Interview Photo for page oneI grew up listening to the music of Bobby Curtola, a Canadian rock ‘n’ roll legend whose hit songs dominated the airwaves in Canada and the United States in the 1960’s and whose concerts in Las Vegas and other major centers around the world, have sold out in the decades which followed. Few artists achieved the star status and the staying power of Bobby Curtola, during a time when the British Invasion swamped North America and in later years, first disco dominated and then heavy metal. My first recollections of the handsome teen idol occurred when I was a child and he appeared on a televised telethon singing, while he was wearing a white cowboy hat. Another early memory was of a relative of mine who told of a date with one of Bobby Curtola’s musicians. Whereas in those days, Paul Anka, another Canadian was considered smooth, it was the charismatic Bobby Curtola who sent the girls hearts a fluttering, much like his good friend Bobby Vinton and another teen idol Bobby Vee. His songs “Fortune Teller,” which was a million seller, “Aladdin,” and “Hitchiker,” were the songs which teens and young adults sang along with, while riding in their cars, spinning their 45’s and LPs and when dancing. It was songs such as “Sandy,” and “Three Rows Over,” which made the girls swoon as they wished for a guy like Bobby who would have a crush on them and who desired to woo them. You can then imagine this editor’s delight when my childhood hero Bobby Curtola graciously accepted our magazine’s invitation for an interview and when I discovered a man who speaks from a place of gratitude about the people who helped him to become a household name in music for so many years, for the friendships he has made, inside and outside the world of entertainment, and most of all for the fans who helped make his dreams come true. The story that will unfold in the following pages is not just about a music icon, it is about someone who young artists today and all of us should look to as a true hero, a role model and a sage. Welcome to the world of Bobby Curtola.

Who could have foreseen that a teenager growing up in an Italian family in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada and who skated on an outdoor skating rink to songs playing from WLOS radio station in Chicago would only a few years later, find himself as the focal point of adoration from loving music fans in Canada and the United States from east coast to west coast? 

 “A girl who remembered me singing at the rink, asked me to sing with a band at a school assembly. She was looking for singers to accompany the band that she had already lined up. I was (on that night) a background singer for a country band. The also let me sing a couple of songs and the kids went crazy at the end of the assembly,” Bobby Curtola recalls, and that marked the beginning of his singing career and briefly fronting a band that later became known as Bobby and the Bobcats.

Today’s artists who are either signed to a music label or have experienced the pitfalls of contracts, which often strip artists of their rights, will salivate at the type of relationship and agreement that Bobby Curtola enjoyed with his managers Basil and Dyer Hurdon who wrote his songs.

“It was the first year of high school and it was September 1959, Basil’s son went to the same school as me and he was in grade twelve. He told his dad about me and before I knew it, I was invited to sing on one side of a record. How this happened I don’t know (he says with gratitude in his voice). So there I was invited up and I got to sing “Hand In Hand With You,” with the Buddy Edwards Trio, They (the Hurdons) pressed it on their own label Tartan Records and they sent it out to all of the deejays. Winnipeg really got on it. Canada was not really well connected in those days and it was all regional areas, regional deejays and regional stations.  Winnipeg played me first and I had the biggest selling record there, up until The Beatles. “Hand In Hand With You,” was the big single from the record. The first record was a shock. The team tore my contract up and they made me a partner in the record company, the publishing company and the touring company. They were kind enough to pay me my royalties too. They were so thrilled that it worked out.”

Bobby Curtola was sixteen years old when he released his debut record, on January 27th, 1960 and by February of the same year the single “Hand and Hand With You,” and the LP were hot items. In March the soon to be teen idol was asked to appear on stage with Bob Hope in Winnipeg.

“At the end of the song, we had a huge standing ovation and so much so, that Bob (Hope) came to the dressing room, because he wanted to meet this kid. He congratulated me and from that time on, I opened many shows for Bob and he was a great friend,” says Curtola.

The 1962 hit song “Fortune Teller,” changed Bobby Curtola’s life. “Up to that point, people would remember the song and half remember the guy who was singing it. What was different about “Fortune Teller,” was Del-Fi Records and Bob Keane (Ritchie Valens), had seen the action that had happened with us. With “Fortune Teller,” a guy named Red Robinson sent it to some of his pals in Seattle. Red Robinson is one of the famous guys in Canada and he has the profile of a Dick Clark or a “Hound Dog” out of Buffalo. He was fantastic and he still is. He knows more about the music business and he was responsible for bringing Elvis to Canada. He is a wonderful friend and he did so many wonderful things for my career. Red’s friends in Seattle played “Fortune Teller,” and they sent it to Hawaii. It started going up the charts without any records, so we started shipping records from Canada to Hawaii. The distributors started selling them like crazy. As a result of the chart efforts, Del-Fi Records got hold of Bob Keane and before I knew it we signed a deal with Del-Fi Records. “Fortune Teller,” was released in America. It was number one and number two in most major markets in the United States,” he says. 

“It was a great time, because my friend Bobby Vinton had “Roses Are Red,” out at the time.  He is a great performer and a great friend. We used to joke about it, and he would say that he was tired of telling people that he didn’t record “Fortune Teller,” and I said, I was tired of telling them that I didn’t record “Roses Are Red.” He told me that he was signing it (“Fortune Teller”) anyways and I said me too (autographing “Roses Are Red”). We had great fun and the camaraderie in those days was unbelievable. The story that is never told about those days is the tremendous disc jockeys who had all the fans in those cities; Al Boliska (Toronto), PJ the Deejay in Winnipeg and Barry Boyd in Edmonton, Red Robinson (Vancouver), Frank Cameron on the east coast, “Hound Dog,” in Buffalo. How could I forget my good friend “Wolfman Jack,” who knew how to promote and he took it to another step? He was incredible and I was on his show many times. Those guys had a fan base that was bigger than any of us recording artists. They literally introduced us to their fans and they communicated with their fans. Those deejays had their pulse on the music business. They picked the playlist and they directly related it to the fan response. To me that’s an untold story that needs to be told, because you can’t really understand the music business if you don’t understand how the grassroots support came from the people who were listening to radio. These guys did actually present us to the people in each of those markets. Today when you make a record, there is no regional response to it. It is so challenging, because there are only so many spots on the record charts,” in talking about the deejays it is easy to detect the gratitude in Curtola’s voice. 

 Bobby Curtola’s reflections do not come from a place of it was better in the good old’ days, instead they are the substance of warm memories. “There was so much camaraderie in those days. None of us had very much, and we all came from, not poor families, but nobody was loaded and rich. The entertainment business fascinates all of us even today. For me to have an opportunity to really be there and to have stood at Hollywood and Vine, while wondering what I was doing there…. Here I have this record, and I am on a show called Hullabaloo (television) with all of these people whom I admired. I met Connie Stevens from Route 66, alive and in person. I fell in love immediately. She was so lovely and so kind.”

It is well documented that those in the entertainment industry who experience much success early in life, often struggle later in life, and yet Bobby Curtola has somehow sidestepped those issues and wherever you go or whoever you talk to in the music business they will tell you that Bobby Curtola is a class act. Bobby Curtola interview page two photo

“To have a chance to do this, when I came from Northern Ontario, the incredible part about doing this in those days was rock ‘n’ roll was a North American phenomena. I was just lucky that I fit into it. It was borderless and it wasn’t about whether it was Canadian or American. It was about the music and I just fit into that whole mosaic. Because of that I got to tour all over the world and I got to sing my records with so many different people in different countries who knew the English words. I am so happy and appreciative of what happened.  For people like Helen (Shapiro) (a mutual friend of ours and another teen idol), and myself, it was a dream come true. You realize that the hardest thing in your life is to know what to say no to, because everything becomes easy to do. The fact of the matter is that all of those stories that you hear about show business are true, they are not made up. It is wonderful and crazy at the same time. You have to be careful that you do not trap yourself. A good friend of mine said, when I was having some challenges, because nothing is ever simple in your life, it is always a challenge to make the right decisions and to correct the wrong ones. A young lady told me, ‘Bobby you don’t always have to worry about all of the stuff that is in front of you and that is a challenge, because you will always end up, who you originally were and you have to remember who that was.’ When you get off of the pavement in life, and you are into the rough, and trying to stay out of the trees that road is really the way that you were raised and who you really are.  I never forgot that. I was so thankful for what happened to me, because number one you can’t believe the money that is in your bank account. You are just like everybody else, but for some reason, because of this volume of exposure the nickels, the dimes and the quarters add up to a lot more than you would ever imagine. The challenge is to keep your feet on the ground and to keep your momentum. You learn when your life changes that the only way to maintain it is you have to find a way to give, because you really have to find a way to be worth it and to be there. It is not about you, it is about it. It took me a little while and I thank my parents for that and I thank the fans, because growing up like that, I missed a lot of my teenage years and all of a sudden the country of Canada was my backyard and my growing up with my fans. To this day I cherish those relationships and to this day I am still involved with talking with them.  It is so surprising to me and I have been so appreciative. I really care about those fans, they are my friends. You have to find a way to care and you have to find a way to give too. Charity is also very important,” he says. 

Bobby Curtola has enjoyed 25 gold singles in Canada and 12 gold albums, among the successes was “Fortune Teller,” which sold 2.5 million copies. There have also been many firsts; he was the first pop singer to record a jingle that was stylized like a hit single, the “Things Go Better with Coke,” theme and he signed an agreement with Coca- Cola to become their # 1 spokesman. Curtola also co-wrote “The Real Thing,” which was used for the commercial “Coke’s The Real Thing,” and it revolutionized advertising. He was later inducted into the Coca-Cola Hall of Fame.

Chad Allen and the Reflections, which then became Chad Allen and the Expressions before finally morphing into the legendary rock band The Guess Who, was one of the bands which toured with Curtola, during the time when “Shakin’ All Over,” became a big hit.

About “Shakin’ All Over,” he says, “I worked really hard with all of my deejay friends to get airplay for that record. It helped being on tour and history just took over. I am very proud of being instrumental in some of those early days. I remember going to a high school to listen to Burton Cummings play, because we wanted to have a piano player for the next tour. Burton is a dear friend and he is unbelievably talented. Randy (Bachman) and the boys deserve every inch of (their success).”

“I put the band Crowbar together. Kelly Jay was a musical conductor of mine and The Ascots were dear friends of mine. We got together for a tour and the rest is history for them too. Because I was out there pounding the beat, I got a chance to play a little bit, but it was frustrating for some of the guys in those early days,” he remembers.

In 1972, Bobby Curtola experienced another highpoint in his career when he signed a lucrative contract with the Hughes Hotel chain. He recalls how that came about, “I opened for Louis Armstrong in Toronto. He knew how nervous I was, and every night in the wings, before the show he would give me a smack on the butt and he would say, ‘Now kid, just go out there and be yourself.’ Because of that relationship with Louis, I got to go to Las Vegas when Howard Hughes, bought all of those hotels. Walter Kane, Howard Hughes’ (Entertainment Director) called me up to his office and he said to me, “Listen all of these guys are driving me crazy. They are screwing me around and I am going to give a Canadian the first multimillion dollar contract. He signed me up for a huge deal that went over twenty years, with acceleration (clauses) in it. He taught me more about the entertainment business than anybody in my life.”

As a brief aside, Curtola takes a moment to relate some humorous incidents, which took place during his performances in Las Vegas. “Desi Arnaz was in the audience one time, and I asked Desi, ‘Would you just do a little bit of “Babalu,’ and he said, ‘No, no I can’t do it without my conga drum.’ He didn’t know that I happened to have one, around the corner in the storage room. I asked him if he would do it if I could get one and he said he would. I said just a minute and I ran off the stage, I got the key and I went into the room. He said, ‘You, You, okay I will do it.’ As the people were screaming, he was doing “Babalu,” and we had a conga line going, not only in the casino, but in the lounge. It was insane. It was like party. In those days they were dancing on the tables. One time Joey Bishop was going by and what a wonderful guy. He was always kind to me. I said, ‘Mr. Bishop, great show. If you ever get lonesome, I would love to have you in here with me. He walks in and he says, ‘Gve me the mic kid. I want to tell the people a few jokes,’ and he starts rapping off the one-liners. Now the crowd is eating it up, they are going crazy and they are clapping. He says, ‘I am having too much fun here. This is where I started. I am going to go get the rest of the show.’ He goes into the showroom and gets some of the performers from his show and brings them back into the lounge. They did another one half hour of comedy. In those days they would do all of that. Sammy (Davis Jr.) would hang out. One night he got on stage with me as I was singing “Candy Man,” and he said, ‘Let me show you how to sing this.’ You had to pinch yourself sometimes when this happened.”

During his lifetime Bobby Curtola has received The Order of Canada, the highest civil honor that a Canadian can receive, his friends have included Chubby Checker, Jerry Lew Lewis, Bobby Vinton, Wolfman Jack, Dick Clark and many more. A year ago he performed in Edmonton (Canada) on the prestigious The Citadel stage in the musical Grease and then he performed a half-hour concert at the end of the musical. 

He says, “It is always hard for artists to continue to have hit records, because usually you fall into a formula. There you are singing on the elevator and one day you are singing in your hometown or in your school gymnasium. Then it goes to another floor and the doors open and you are singing the same songs and it’s the world. It doesn’t make sense when you are doing it and all of a sudden you sing and you point and that’s what you do. You are really trying to figure out the success that you are having in the middle of it happening, because you really don’t know. Something happens and it comes together and it did for me. The song “Fortune Teller,” really is about my life. I never thought, “Fortune Teller can you see / What my fortune’s going to be on your crystal ball / Have you got a thing for me.”

“I am still singing, the shows never went away and we still sell out everywhere that we go. My life changed a little and I was lucky enough to be the father of some great boys. The music never went away and I am still doing all of that stuff. For a lot of people I am the new “old face” out there. They have heard of me and some still remember me. It never went away and all I can do is to say thank you.

On June 5, 2016 Bobby Curtola passed away, seven years after this interview was conducted. You made us all proud to be Canadians Bobby Curtola. Thank you.

This interview by Joe Montague  published April 15, 2009 is protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine © All Rights Reserved.  All photos the exclusive property of Bobby Curtola and are protected by copyright ©, All Rights Reserved This inteview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved, protected by copyright ©