I was in Maine last week on a family trip, and while it was great to visit with family, eat great food, and chase the girl (our daughter) around the back deck, it also presented a great excuse to dig out some of my old Dick Curless records. Now when you think of Maine, likely it’s a vision of lobsters, not country music, that jumps out. But if you have a soft spot for old-school blues-based honky-tonk, Curless just might change that perspective. A native of northern Maine, Curless got his start working around Maine, Mass., and New England in the ’50s, then broke out nationally in the ’60s and went on to a respectably successful music career on a variety of labels (Tiffany, Tower, Capitol, Rounder). He even had one bona fide hit with the song “Tombstone Every Mile.”
“Tombstone” hit in 1965 during the height of trucking-song fever. But it wasn’t Curless cashing in on a trend–he was singing about what he knew, the icy roads of his beloved home state. In particular, a lonely stretch through the Hainesville Woods:
When you’re loaded with potatoes and you’re headed down/You’ve gotta drive the Woods to get to Boston town/When it’s winter up in Maine, better check it over twice/That Hainesville road is just a ribbon of ice
And speaking of potatoes, we get to another of his Maine-themed songs, the catchy “Tater Raisin’ Man”:
But while the Maine references are unique, that’s not what makes Curless ultimately stand out. The guy was a superb songwriter; and as a singer, his voice was awe-inspiring–deep as a mineshaft and smooth right to the bottom.
Curless released quite a few albums, and many of them are fantastic. But one of the ultimate standouts is actually his final studio album, Traveling Through, released on Rounder in 1994, just a year before his death. Stripped down and full of slow, soulful, bluesy ballads, it’s the album that first turned me (any many others) on to the world of Dick Curless–and one I go back to often.
Videos of Dick in person are hard to find on YouTube, but this one does show him in 1990, eyepatch and voice intact, and still full of spark.