The blue and blues-rock scenes are more vibrant than ever, and guitarist Stone Cutis – a member of Count 77’s and his namesake trio – is playing quite a significant role to that end.
Chicago-born and now based out of Las Vegas, Curtis’s musical roots run deep and vary profoundly. As a member of Count 77’s, Cusrts brings the heat, lending his six-string talents to the group’s hard-rocking approach. And as the leader of his own Stoney Curtis Trio, the veteran bluesbreaker lets his influences seep out, with blues-driven undertones bleeding across the stage to undulating audiences.
With a third for axe-slashing exploits via amp-driven bravado, Curtis’s influences such as KISS, Alice Cooper, UFO, Jimi Hendrix, and Steve Ray Vaughan are being passed down to a new generation of rock-consuming fans. Combine that with the guitarist’s passion for producing and aiding young musicians, and you’ve got a simmering stew of blues-rock goodness.
With his calendar already filling up for 2023, Stoney Curtis dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to run through his long and varied rock and blues music career.
As a young musician, what was the moment which first sparked your interest in music, and who were some of your early influences?
I have always, since I can remember, been fascinated with music. My older brother and sister listened to a lot of music and a wide variety of it. The sounds, the vibes, the posters, and the photos all had a part in attracting me to music. Obviously, KISS was a huge part of that. But first, it was Alice Cooper and Elton John, so I probably loved the outfits, the presentation, the show, and being an entertainer. I think it all started there. That then turned to UFO, Stevie Ray, Trower, Hendrix, etc.
Do you remember your first guitar?
I do! It was a guitar from K-Mart. Then my mother got me an Acoustic guitar from our neighbors. My first legit guitar was an Ibanez Iceman in the 8th grade, which I still have today.
How would you say that style has evolved as you’ve moved through your career?
For the most part, I’m self-taught. I always tried to use my ear. I didn’t have a lot of people that showed me stuff… I just kinda figured it out. I think that helped me develop my style and sound; of everything, that’s what I’m most proud of. My own sound. But that being said, your surroundings have much to do with it. I grew up on the Southside of Chicago; blues surrounded me, and hard rock always.. gets into your being. So, the development came with lots of great influences of music around me, which turns into you as you grow as a player and develop into what you are today and will continue to evolve.
You’re often boxed in as a blues player. Are you comfortable in that box?
Of course, I’m comfortable with it. That’s really what I am, even in the Count’s 77 bands… it’s blues, just heavier-handed. The Stoney Curtis Band has always been a blues and blues rock band.
What were some of your earliest gigs?
I started doing gigs when I was about 14—Elks Club, the High School, neighborhood parties, etc. I started playing clubs when I was about 16 or 17, and I’ve never stopped from there. Our drummer was the older brother of the singer, and guitarist, so he looked after us, and we started jamming in clubs at an early age. That was a good education about a lot of things during this time.
How did you end up in Count 77’s?
Count 77’s came together pretty organic. We all used to jam together at the John Zito Jam at Vamp’d around 2010 or 2011, and we’d get up and jam to some Doors tunes and others. Danny [Koker] loves the Doors; it felt pretty good jamming together. We decided to rehearse a bit and open for some bands at the club. We had and still have a blast jamming with each other. This all started before Danny had the TV show. After a few years of doing some travel and local shows, Mike Varney approached me and asked if we could write songs for this project. So, we did. That turned into the two original albums that 77 has out on Shrapnel Records, and now we’re playing bigger shows, festivals, and more.
I also wanted to touch on the Stoney Curtis Band. How did that come together?
All of this started with the Stoney Curtis Band, which was formed in 1996. I began doing blues clubs, covers, and some originals. They started with five guys for about two years, then became a power trio towards ’99, and recorded a live album at a blues club in 2001 called Alive & Unleashed. It turned into a cult classic; you can still find that Mike Varney got that album once in a while and signed SCB in 2004. The first album, Acid Blues Experience, came out on Shrapnel/Blues Bureau International Records in 2005, followed by five others over the years. In 2014 Mike turned our focus from writing and recording to Count’s 77 albums, Count’s 77, and Soul Transfusion.
How do you balance the two, and what are the most significant differences in your musical expression?
It’s not much to balance the two; they’re one of the same for the most part. More guys in 77, and Danny [Koker] sings, but it’s still me, pretty much steering the ship. The 77 band is more of a heavier-handed, hard rock approach, heavier-handed. My band is more of a straight-up guitar-driven blues-rock trio, and the solos are a bit longer. [Laughs].
From a songwriting perspective, how have your collective experiences affected the music?
As I stated earlier, life is the best experience; everything around you influences you. Every interaction has some perspective to it and influences everything about your sound. Your surroundings, the sounds of the city, and the energy around you. The discussions you have with your friends and lovers… I use all of it.
If you had to boil down your approach to the guitar, how would you do it?
I don’t really think about my approach. I play with feel, emotion, vibe, power, passion, and rage. I think I have decent technique, but I don’t really think about the approach… I just play.
What gear are you using these days and why?
It has been the same as always: my band is more of a Stratocaster with Marshall and Fender amps. With 77, I use more Gibson guitars, Les Paul’s with Marshall amps. My pedals are minimal: Tube Screamer, wah pedal, and some kind of modulation, and that’s about it…
What five albums most shaped your musical life?
What’s next for you in all lanes?
I am currently recording a new album with Stoney Curtis Band. There’s a documentary that is being made about Stoney Curtis called For the Love of Blues and Rock “N’ Roll. The sizzle reel is coming out soon, with the film being released around the release of the new album.
I’ve got gigs coming up with my band and 77. We also have a few things in the can with 77, so the train keeps rolling down the tracks. I also produce and engineer others, and I have a studio here at Count’s called Desert Moon Productions that I run here. I love recording and getting others’ music to sound awesome as well.
There’s an album that came out I recorded and co-produced with a blues artist Rick Berthod called A Tribute to Peter Green. It’s really killer, and that was released on October 29th, 2022. I also have stuff from a couple of artists: Kyle Frost, Mandy Lion, and others that I’ve written and recorded with. All that stuff is slamming, too.
My charity event, KISS Night in Las Vegas, will return in 2023 for our 8th annual event. We had two years off, and we’re ready to get that going again. We raise money for our music departments here in Las Vegas, and we have a couple of tribute albums that I recorded for that as well. You can check all that out at www.kissnight.org.
Stoney Curtis of Count 77’s: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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