As much as Matthew Curry is invested in summoning the spirit of the blues — a commitment that’s in full display on the pair of smokin’ hot albums he’s released to date, 2011’s barn-burning If I Don’t Got You and 2013’s hard-charging testifier Electric Religion — the 19-year-old guitar slinger and soulful singer from Bloomington, Illinois likes to take a much broader view of his style. “If somebody came up and asked me what I would call my music, I don’t think I would say ‘the blues,’” he admits. “And I don’t think I would say ‘rock and roll,’ either. I would actually say, ‘good music.’ Blues is my first love, but I also love ’60s rock like Cream, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix. I’m also into things like Southern rock, Chet Atkins, and Roy Clark. All of those artists are complete musicians. They write great songs, and they sing great too. They’re just incredible.”
Curry’s roots certainly run muddy-waters deep, something that’s not been lost on the guitar legends he’s had the honor of sharing the stage with over the past few years. “Matthew Curry is a phenomenal guitar player,” marvels Peter Frampton. “A highlight from my tour last year was jamming with him. He’s the next guitar hero!” Echoing that sentiment is Steve Miller, whom Curry both opened for and joined onstage during an exhilarating nine-date run in Canada in 2014 — and will again be his opening act for a slew of dates starting in May. Miller declares that Curry is a “wonderful guitar player [and] great songwriter in the Stevie Ray Vaughan area of virtuosity and originality.” Besides continuing on with the Steve Miller Band, Curry will also be opening for The Doobie Brothers and Don Felder. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” Curry says of supporting these and other heavy hitters. “We have so much fun out there and I really, really enjoy it. I grew up listening to those guys, so to be out on the road with people like Don Felder, The Doobie Brothers, and the Steve Miller Band is quite an honor.”
Not only does he get to go toe to toe and string to string with some of his heroes, but Curry recently became one of only 10 artists asked to be a part of The Fender Accelerator Tour, a program that provides developing artists the resources needed to get out on the road and spread the good word about what they do and where they can be seen next. Using Fender-supplied GoPro cameras in their decked-out tour van, Curry and his bandmates — bassist Tim Brickner, keyboardist Mike Nellas, and drummer Francis Valentino — will be sharing unique life-on-the-road moments in real time daily across social-media platforms via the #FENDERXLR8R tag. Says Curry, “I’ve always played Fender Strats, and it’s always been a dream of mine to work with Fender. I’ve long dreamt of looking inside a Musician’s Friend catalog years from now and seeing a Matthew Curry model for sale.” And just what would a Matthew Curry Signature Strat look like? “I’ve thought a lot about that,” he laughs. “Right now, my main axe is an Eric Clapton Fender Custom Shop Signature Stratocaster. I love that guitar so much! It’s based on a 1954 model. I really like the round necks on those old ’50s Strats and their smaller, more tapered bodies. Something about that just feels right, you know? But I’m also really into vintage Strat and Tele colors like surf green and fiesta red. Everybody’s got a black, white, or sunburst Fender — which is totally cool and iconic — but having a signature model that stands out from the pack would be pretty cool too.”
While Curry loves it when his band headlines its own gigs, he also sees the opening slot as a way of winning over new fans one lick at a time. “Part of the reason people like us so much is because we’re not just a corner-bar blues band,” he reflects. “We’re trying to make an impact and connect with audiences as best we can, even though when they see this young blond kid with a Stratocaster walk out there, they’re thinking, ‘Just get it over with.’ I know they’re there for someone else, but we’re able to grab their attention, so I like to think some of those people are walking away as fans.”
Curry believes the way to convert an audience is to perform an undeniably engaging set. “One thing I really enjoy is putting together a show,” he acknowledges. “We all have so much fun when we’re up there. Interacting with your bandmates or interacting with the people in the crowd — like maybe jumping off the mike and stepping out front and singing to them really loud — can really make people think, ‘This is so great!’ Sometimes it’s the real simple things that will connect you to the audience like that.”
All in all, it’s been an amazing trajectory for someone who just couldn’t get enough of that guitar stuff at age 4 to having a tune he’d written, If I Don’t Got You’s epic tour de jam “Blinded by the Darkness,” win accolades as the Best Blues Song in the International Songwriting Competition. “My dad had this beautiful Martin acoustic guitar, and he was really big into old-school blues like Muddy Waters,” Matthew recalls. “It really caught my ear. I can remember my dad sitting in his recliner and playing his acoustic while I would just sit on the floor, watching every single movement his fingers made. I was mesmerized by the sound.”
His parents, Paul and Patti Curry, were quick to recognize their son’s inherent fretboard talents. “My dad handed me a First Act miniature acoustic guitar, and the first thing I did was turn it upside-down,” Curry recounts. “I’m a lefty, and I do everything left-handed. He was trying to tell me, ‘No, no, no — you need to play it this way.’ He was a lefty too, but he played guitar right-handed. I just wasn’t having it, so my dad restrung that guitar to where the low E was on top.”
Young southpaw-pickin’ Matthew took to learning songs by The Beatles and James Taylor, establishing an early link with great songwriting and vocal acumen. By age 6, Curry already knew his life’s calling. “I had an idea of what I wanted to do for a living from a very early age,” he agrees. “At a certain point, my mom and dad would have to make me go outside and play with my friends, because I’d just want to be in my room with the guitar, practicing,” he says with a chuckle.
Taking formal lessons further cemented the basics, but guidance from his dad helped Matthew lock into even stronger influences. “I can still remember the first time I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he notes. “It was a nice day and my dad was working on his motorcycle outside, where he had on Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s Texas Flood. I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my God — what is this guy doing?’ I wanted to sit there and listen some more. When my dad showed me Stevie, I was out in the garage with my cheap Mexican Fender Strat — which I still have, and still love — and a little Peavey solid-state amp, trying to mimic what he was doing. Hearing Stevie Ray for the first time totally meant everything. There will probably never be anyone like him again.”
Matthew feels he owes everything to his dad, who tragically passed away a few years ago after suffering a fatal aneurysm while watching his son play during a local soundcheck. “Without him, who knows if I ever would have even picked up a guitar?” he wonders. “I wish he was still with us today to see all the things we’ve gotten to do, but I guess I’ll never know what he thinks until my own journey ends. It was really unfair. Everybody says that when somebody leaves them. But he was the one who really pushed me and drove me to do what I’m doing. I look back now, just a few years later, and everything he told me was spot on — and I’m so glad I listened. He never played in a touring band or really wrote songs, but man, he sure had an ear. He knew what sounded good.”
Whenever you hear that cover of Warren Haynes’ touching, elegiac “Soulshine” in the set, you’ll know Matthew is thinking about his dad, note for note. “It was one of his favorite tunes, so I give him a little shout-out before we play it onstage,” he confirms. “That one brings up a lot of memories. Since he passed, I’ve been in the process of writing a song for him. It’s been a few years now, but before I share it, it has to be right.”
Family support has always been important, and both his mom Patti and his twin brother Andrew — a gifted musician in his own right — continue to support Curry on his chosen path. “There’s a great bond between Andrew and me, and I couldn’t have asked for more from my parents,” he says. “I wish there was a way I could repay them to the extent that they’ve helped me out. Words can’t even express how much I needed them. A lot of times, when a kid says, ‘I want to play rock and roll guitar and be in a band for a living,’ parents say, ‘No, you need to go to college; you need to do this.’ Kids can get shut out by their parents for wanting to do something like that, but mine were nothing but supportive about everything. I just can’t thank them enough.”
Moving forward as an artist, Curry recognizes that while the blues owes its pedigree to the past, it’s not an artform that has to be stuck in park. “Carrying on the tradition of blues guitar is something that’s important to me because, sadly, it is dying,” he observes. “A lot of people don’t know that’s where everything came from. And guys like Gary Clark Jr. are taking their interpretation of the blues somewhere else. Many people might hear what he does and say, ‘That’s rock and roll.’ So are The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones, but if you really listen to what they do, it’s blues. It’s something that people should experience by going to a Joe Bonamassa concert or, who knows — a Matthew Curry concert.”
Can’t argue with that logic. After all, as Curry sings in the impassioned “Hear the Highway,” one of the most poignant and expressive tracks from If I Don’t Got You, “It’s on myself just to keep the blues alive.” If you’re someone who likes good music, you’ll find that night after night, Matthew Curry amply proves that age ain’t nothing but a number. The kid was born with a six-string heart that just won’t quit, so be sure to catch him while he’s on the rise.
- Mike Mettler || 5/15