Musician, record company executive, motorsports car owner & politician. Born December 24, 1944
From almost the very day I became interested in lounge music or easy listening, I’ve been aware of Mike Curb. Back in my Limewire days, I downloaded the lounge standard “Music to Watch Girls By” and it was labeled as being by “The Mike Curb Congregation”. This is incorrect as the popular instrumental version of this song is by The Bob Crewe Generation. In the interest of full disclosure, I just found this out this minute. I recall that those file-sharing programs were rife with errors. My favourite was when I came across a version of “Side By Side” that said it was by Tony Bennett and Harry Connick, Jr. I downloaded it thinking that maybe they duetted live on this standard. When I listened to it, I discovered it was – wait for it – Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello. They had sung this together in Bruce’s film Hudson Hawk. Anyways, Mike Curb…
Mike got to work early. As a freshman at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge. Alumni include Dick Enberg, Paula Abdul, Richard Dreyfuss, Jenna Elfman, Teri Garr, Helen Hunt, Cheech Marin, Charles Martin Smith, John Densmore and Daryl Dragon) Mike wrote “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda” which was used in Honda’s ad campaign.
Mike dropped out in ’63 at age 19 to start his own record company. With this early version of Curb Records he helped launch the careers of many west coast acts such as The Stone Poneys. He quickly went on to film scoring starting in 1965 with the first film devoted to skateboarding, Skaterdater, winner of the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival. This little film is said to have “lasting cultural relevance” and is suggested viewing for budding filmmakers. Mike started in features in ’66 and scored many motorcycle/race car films, including Thunder Alley and The Born Losers. In ’69 – at age 24 – he merged his record label with MGM and became president of MGM Records and Verve Records. He went on to compose or supervise the scores for 50 films.
As the ’60’s turned to the ’70’s, Curb started the Congregation. His musical group scored hits with “Burning Bridges” – written by Lalo Schifrin and used as the theme for the film Kelly’s Heroes. In ’72, the group was featured on Sammy Davis, Jr.’s #1 hit “The Candy Man”. And who has heard of this film? In 1978, the Mike Curb Congregation was featured in the musical The Magic of Lassie starring James Stewart!
Curb gave Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman his start by signing him to Capitol Records. He then spent the 1970’s writing for and producing countless artists, some being signed to his label; Roy Orbison, the Osmond Family, Lou Rawls, Eric Burdon, Richie Havens, the Five Man Electrical Band, Exile, the Four Seasons, Liza Minnelli and Hank Williams, Jr. He even ran the short-lived country music subsidiary of Motown, Hitsville Records.
In the late ’70’s, Curb entered politics at the urging of Ronald Reagan. Mike was elected Lieutenant Governor of California in 1978. Curb served as acting governor while Jerry Brown was seeking the Democratic nomination to run for president.
Curb, never one to sit idle, also made a mark in Motorsports. He is currently owner of Curb Agajanian Performance Group which competes in IndyCar. From 1984 to 2011, the Curb Racing team was a NASCAR concern that boasted many big name riders on their roster including Richard Petty. Curb sponsored other drivers such as Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip.
I first suspected that there was much to learn about Mr. Curb when I visited 1034 Audubon Drive in Memphis. This ranch-style home was purchased by Elvis Presley three months in to his world-shaking year of 1956. He lived in the home with his parents until he purchased Graceland 13 months later. Mike Curb bought the house – on eBay – in 2006 and turned it over to the Mike Curb Institute at Rhodes College. Curb – born in Savannah – set up the institute as a means by which students can appreciate Southern culture.
“The Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes College was founded in 2006 through a generous gift from the Mike Curb Family Foundation to foster awareness and understanding of the distinct musical traditions of the South and to study the effect music has had on its culture, history, and economy.”
Interestingly, “Curb Fellows” use the house for interviews, live performances and for recording and editing. Rosanne Cash has performed there. The purpose here is not to create a museum but an active work space where students can learn, create and be inspired. A place where their youthful energy can run riot – just like Presley’s did in ’56. Good for Mike.
Students of the Institute have been able to learn from and interact with such artists as Bobby Emmons, who played on Presley’s American Sound sessions, Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of the venerable jazz family and Peter Guralnick, author of seminal books on Southern music including the definitive Presley biographies Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love.
Mike Curb has seemingly done it all. His Curb Records is still going strong, focusing on the Country and Contemporary Christian music markets. He is a solitary figure, in charge of his own company, doing battle with the conglomerates. But more importantly, Mike Curb has given back, investing in the future through the Mike Curb Institute.