By Jennifer Walker Stoney Curtis has been lighting up stages in Las Vegas since 1999, and he’s not done yet. A Chicago native, long time former Los Angeles resident and eventual Las Vegas local, Curtis performs in his own power trio, the Stoney Curtis Band, as well as in Count’s 77 with Danny Koker […]
By Jennifer Walker
Stoney Curtis has been lighting up stages in Las Vegas since 1999, and he’s not done yet. A Chicago native, long time former Los Angeles resident and eventual Las Vegas local, Curtis performs in his own power trio, the Stoney Curtis Band, as well as in Count’s 77 with Danny Koker (Counting Cars, Count’s Kustoms, Count’s Vamp’d) in addition to curating an annual charity event, “KISS Night in Las Vegas”- a non-profit project founded to raise awareness and funding for struggling public school music departments. We recently sat down with Curtis to talk about his music, his mantras and his affinity for the magic of cannabis.
Jennifer Walker: Tell us how you got started as a musician, and how Stoney Curtis Band ultimately came to be…
Stoney Curtis: Stoney Curtis and the Stoney Curtis Band are really one in the same. I got started on the southside of Chicago playing in a band with my buddy Tony who I’d known since the age of 6. When we got to be into our teenage years, we formed a band called “Assault” and we played heavy metal and hard rock. My interest in music started when I was very young- my sister turned me on to music as well as my older brother. His friends were deep into Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper and KISS. I would listen to music and follow it in magazines. I was always attracted to the theatrics and showmanship of it all- the stage presence, the visual aspects and the mystique of these musicians was what really got me interested in playing music. My mom bought me an acoustic guitar when I was around 11 years old, and I was off from there.
JW: So you were self taught?
SC: Pretty much self taught. There were a few little local music shops in my neighborhood where I took some basic lessons, but I’m overall, self taught. As I got older, I outgrew the basic music lessons and playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. I wanted to play “Cat Scratch Fever”! I wanted to Rock!
JW: I imagine that your legal name is not really “Stoney”…
SC: No, my name is Curtis. Here’s how the Stoney name came about: when I started the Stoney Curtis Band, it was myself and a guy named Eric Mitchell (he was the singer). It was the early 1990’s and we were writing songs together and he was really good. We pretty much just did Blues covers and were coming up with song ideas on the side. I really wanted to put together a Blues band, that was the goal. Eric was the one who came up with the name “Stoney Curtis”. He loved The Flintstones and specifically, he loved Tony Curtis on the Flintstones because his character was a total heartthrob. “Oh Stoney! It’s Stoney Curtis!” as Wilma, Betty and the Bedrock ladies swooned. Eric always felt like true Blues bands were really the lead guy- B.B. King, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy, etc. So when we were thinking of a name for the band, Eric came up with “Stoney Curtis Band”. What he said to me was, “Because you’re Curtis, and it’s the Stoney Curtis Band, the audience is going to think that YOU are Stoney Curtis. Be prepared for people to start referring to you as ‘Stoney’”. Game on, I thought! Everyone started calling me Stoney and that’s how it all started. Of course, there is the added benefit of a stoner reference to my name, as well…I do like my weed!
JW: What are your thoughts about cannabis?
SC: I love cannabis for creative purposes. When I’m writing songs or working on riffs, I like to be in the control room (of the studio) by myself at night, take a few little hits, play my guitar and let it all come together. I think cannabis relaxes me but it also opens up channels that, in our normal everyday lives, we tend to suppress or be closed off to. I’m a sativa and an indica fan- I find benefit and enjoyment from both. Weed connects us to the Universe in a unique way.
JW: Cannabis can definitely enhance the creative process. Some people find more benefit in partaking as a means of channeling their creativity when they aren’t expected to be poised, present or in a more rigid situation.
SC: Absolutely. For me, I’m also a music producer and engineer. So if I know I’m going to be working on an important session with a client in the studio, I’m not going to smoke before I set up that session. When I’m working in that sense, I want to have full mental awareness and be prepared to react to anything that comes up. But when it’s time for me to be creative and relax into my artistic phase, now I can just let it go and not be the business guy; I can feel free to partake and not be worried about all the pertinent details. I also love cannabis for its medicinal value. I have a lot of pain in my arms, my shoulders, my hands and my knees from the repetitive motion of playing the guitar for so many years. Cannabis definitely helps! It helps put me in a good mood, be creative and ease my tensions- what’s not to love? I hear things better after I’ve consumed cannabis, too. It puts me into a relaxed state where I can pick up subtleties of music and it elevates my experience, all around.
JW: What’s your favorite way to consume cannabis?
SC: I like a good preroll. Flower is my preference. Concentrates are great, but I’m a flower guy, for sure. I haven’t smoked cigarettes for 20 years or more, but I do like the ritual and the experience of holding a joint in my hand and smoking it. Pipes and bongs are great too because the smoke is cleaner and smoother but there’s something about a preroll that gets me every time. Pop into a dispensary and for $8-$10, you can get yourself a great preroll; it’s cheaper than a cocktail! I also just started to experiment with edibles. For awhile, the effect that the edibles would have on me would put me into a massive body sedation, and that’s not the experience that I was looking for; it would make me not want to work or play the guitar. It would knock me out. But recently a friend of mine who suffers from chronic pain and was able to get off of pharmaceutical medications turned me on to dispensary-bought edibles and it opened my eyes to a whole new experience. We stopped into a dispensary, picked up some edibles and I popped two 10mg gummies…
JW: What’s 20mg to Stoney Curtis, right?! No big thing!
SC: That’s right! I’m a pro. Ha! So after a while, we were hanging out at Red Rock, hiking around, listening to music and it really gave me an enlightening experience. I was instantly in a great mood and felt motivated to be social and enjoy myself. I’m also really enjoying the advantage of being able to consume edibles discreetly- on a plane, at a concert, out to dinner with friends, etc. It’s a nice option. I love seeing concerts this way; it helps me be in the moment and hear things so vividly.
JW: Do you feel as if the excitement or taboo nature of cannabis consumption has worn off with recreational legalization and being able to purchase cannabis so easily?
SC: I do, a bit. Even after dispensaries came to be and legalization passed here in Nevada, I mean, I’m old school. I still liked it the old fashioned way and would get my flower from underground sources. But with time, we all came to see that there are some really great products out there and dispensaries aren’t evil. They’re practically like convenience stores these days!
JW: That’s true. The ease of availability has made cannabis that much more acceptable and enticing…
SC: To be honest, I never got into any hard drugs at all. I had tried certain things and realized, eh, those things weren’t for me, so I moved on. Being a child of the 1970’s growing up in a city like Chicago, I had certainly seen my fair share of devastation at the hands of addiction and hard drugs, and it was enough to scare me and confirm that I was not interested in being one of those statistics. Cannabis was always the thing that I was drawn to when it came to recreational use. When the Stoney Curtis Band was touring Europe, one of my favorite things was to visit Holland and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, eat a chocolate muffin and smoke a joint in a cafe! What’s better than that? I’m looking forward to the consumption lounges opening up here in Vegas soon, too. There’s a whole cultural experience around cannabis.
JW: Getting back to music, who would you list as some of your most inspirational musical influences?
SC: Definitely the Blues, as well as bands like KISS, and performers like Elton John and Alice Cooper who brought the theatrics and the wild, production stage shows and diverse musical elements. Being from Chicago growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was really a blue collar, working class, middle class town full of Blues and Hard Rock influences. That’s what I grew up on. At the end of the day, the Stoney Curtis Band is Blues-based, Hard Rock delivered in a Rock ‘N Roll style. Really, as many of the great bands were. I would see Buddy Guy a lot and he was great, but there’s also a few musicians who I don’t think are talked about enough, who were huge influences on me: Luther Allison and Son Seals. I remember going to see Son Seals when I was just a young kid and had no business hangin’ out in a few of those old Blues clubs in the city, and I was blown away! To be honest though, I’m also influenced by the people around me right here in Las Vegas, we’re surrounded by incredible talent here. I get influenced by people like Jason Walker (who I love to hear play), and so many other fantastic players.
JW: Las Vegas is actually a fairly small town and the music community is pretty small, as well. If you’re fortunate enough to be part of it, you can get a lot of inspiration from the musicians here.
SC: That’s true! And now, so many of the well known musicians have migrated here and become residents like Sebastian Bach, Stephen Pearcy, Phil Lewis, Eric Singer, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Bruce Kulick and his wife (who are such nice people). But at the end of the day, I’ve been lighting Vegas up for 20 years, performing live in the local clubs! Guys like me, Scott Rhiner, Chris Tofield and some of the guys who came before us here, they have that local Blues sound. So I consider myself a big part of the local sound and scene. Count’s 77, Jerry Lopez, Jason Walker, The Moanin’ Blacksnakes and others are a part of the reason why people come here and go “Whoa!!! The Vegas music scene is incredible!” I feel a pride about Las Vegas; I was able to perform here for years and get so much out of it. And I still do. Las Vegas is the Entertainment Capital of the World, so if you’re fortunate enough to be known here, you’re likely to be appreciated and beloved, everywhere. This is my town now and I’m not going anywhere anytime soon! The Count band (Count’s 77) is doing great and there’s a new record coming from them soon. We’ve been playing a lot of shows. Mike Varney and I are working on a new Stoney Curtis Band album and I’m looking forward to the future.
JW: When did you first start working with Mike Varney?
SC: 2004, I was still living out of state (California) but I was coming here every other week to play at The Sand Dollar. When I first began performing at Sand Dollar, back in those days, the set was from 2:30 to 5:30am. It would go all night. Mike had heard about me from a local Las Vegas guy named Gary. Gary would talk me up a lot and one night, Mike overheard him talking about this Blues guitar player, Stoney Curtis. Mike showed up at The Sand Dollar just as I was pulling into the parking lot, blasting Michael Schenker and Kelly Keeling performing on this album in my truck, which was a Shrapnel Records album that Mike Varney produced. Mike Varney, who was now standing in the parking lot of The Sand Dollar at 2 o’clock in the morning, waiting to meet me and listen to me play. Talk about a crazy coincidence! Mike watched my show, we got acquainted and the rest is history. We made a great connection and ended up working together down the road. Now, Mike is one of my dearest friends and most respected colleagues.
JW: What have you been working on musically and which organizations do you lend your talent to?
SC: Stoney Curtis Band, Count’s 77, I help put together and produce “KISS Night in Las Vegas” which is a local charity fundraiser event that we hold annually to raise money for local schools music programs. We produce songs and a compilation album with collaborative performances from local musicians doing KISS songs, which is a great way to work with a ton of talented folks, but also, to offer something that people can buy to support the charity.
JW: Have you worked with any other influential projects?
SC: Well over the years I have worked extensively with Mike Varney (Shrapnel Records) and I work pretty much everyday at The Count’s Desert Moon Studios which is a premier recording studio in Las Vegas. I produce and engineer studio sessions. I love creating music but I love helping people to create music, too. I’ve been fortunate to have AJ McCready and Bruce Boulliet (engineers) help guide me and really help me in my process, it’s been great. I co-wrote and produced the John Zito Band album which is really good. I just had the opportunity to perform at the M3 Rock Festival with the Count band, and that was great. We’re not really known for doing large Rock festivals, but fans of The Count and his various projects were really blown away by our performance. It was a good opportunity to get out there in front of an audience and show them that we’re a real Rock ‘N Roll band. We got a standing ovation at the show and there has been so much positive feedback on social media from attendees.
JW: That’s the thing about Danny Koker, he walks the walk, he doesn’t just talk the talk. He really is a talented guy and even though so many know him from Counting Cars and Count’s Kustoms or his music club, Count’s Vamp’d, he can bring the house down with his live band, as well…
SC: Danny was (and is) a local celebrity for a long time, too. But now it’s at a whole other level.
JW: What are some of your favorite local venues?
SC: I started performing at The Sand Dollar Lounge in 1999, so I always list it as one of my favorites. I also play at Count’s Vamp’d a lot and it’s definitely home to me. And the way Danny and Korie Koker run that venue and treat the bands that perform there is unmatched; they’re the most genuine people. Backstage Bar & Billiards is another great stage in town, House of Blues is awesome, too. There are so many good ones.
JW: Do you change up your shows and curate your live performances for the various venues? Or are your shows similar from stage to stage?
SC: It can vary. If I’m playing at Vamp’d, it’s usually a straight Rock show, so it’s going to be an hour or so, maybe I do a few sets. For over 20 years, I’ve really gotten away with playing my own shit. My own original music. I pop in some cover songs, too. I’ve always kind of stuck to my guns- I do me. I do my own thing. At venues like The Sand Dollar, I get to spread out the set a bit too, because the sets are longer, I will play for 4 hours or so. And that’s the great thing about a “power trio”- me, Barry Barnes and Shon McKee, we get to experiment and vamp a lot. It’s a lot of freedom. Count’s 77 has 6 members and it’s a lot more to contend with musically, but when it’s cookin’, it’s a freight train and it sounds so good to have all of those other instruments and parts. We put on a show, it’s not just about performing 3-4 minute songs. We’re from Las Vegas, we’re a show band. When we go out of town on tours and for live performances, we don’t half ass it. We’re going to put on a great show as we’re representing our town, the Entertainment Capital, Las Vegas. But we’re also representing the Count’s brand too- so there’s a level of professionalism and quality that we need to adhere to. We always go out there on stage and do our best to bring it, and I hope that resonates with the audience.
JW: Anything cool on the horizon for your projects?
SC: Stoney Curtis Band will be back in the Midwest doing some stuff, Count’s 77 is going to be all over the country touring and performing, there’s a new Stoney Curtis album hopefully done soon, a new Count’s 77 album done soon, we have a film coming out soon, we have 2 singles (“Day After Day” and “Vehicle”) being released soon. Michelle Adams is working on a documentary on Stoney Curtis called, “For The Love of Blues and Rock N Roll”- it’s a Rockumentary about the journey. So there’s a lot on the horizon.
JW: Final last words?
SC: Don’t fake the Funk!
Keep up with Stoney Curtis and all of his upcoming events and releases here:
Instagram: @stoneycurtis77, @counts_77, @countsdesertmoon
FaceBook: Stoney Curtis, Stoney Curtis Band, Count’s 77, The Count’s-Desert Moon Productions