Nick Curran is cruising around Austin, chatting in his cell phone. In a few hours, he'll be rockin' the Continental Club. This afternoon, he's pretty low-key – sounding more like the pompadoured kid pictured on his first two albums, Fixin' Your Head and Nitelife Boogie (both on Texas Jamboree). But he's let his wild side emerge over the past year, working towards Johnny Winter territory in the tattoo department while landing a solid contract with Blind Pig, a major blues label. His debut for the label, Doctor Velvet , shows Curran in full Mack Daddy Pimp mode – leather jacket with faux leopard collar, purple double-breasted suit, tinted shades with Texas-shaped lenses, and the obligatory "$" pinky ring punctuating his stylistic statement.
Curran is still evolving through many facets, but the one that's caught the most attention is his early '50s R&B / blues incarnation. "The first old blues guy I was turned onto was T-Bone Walker ," Curran said. "There's also a lot of Johnny 'Guitar' Watson in me, along with Gatemouth Brown and Guitar Slim," Curran said. "Lately, I've been getting into a guy named Goree Carter – he's a lot like T-Bone, but rougher and more raw."
Curran's vocals are even more jaw dropping than his guitar work; he's one of the few white guys who legitimately sounds, well, black. How does he take that observation? "Oh, I love it," he said. "It's one of the best compliments. I've been working on (my vocals), but it's just the way I do it. I don't really know how it happened."
Curran's musical tastes were strongly influenced by his father. "He was a guitar player and I wanted to play like him," he said. "The first stuff I heard was Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds . And coming from Maine, we really heard a lot from Roomful of Blues and Ronnie Earl." By age 9, Curran "messed around" with his first guitar, and started lessons by age 12. "I was playing Stones, Guns N' Roses , stuff like that – I got into what was going on." His style and technique developed in his father's band, and by age 18 he was asked to tour with Ronnie Dawson . "I was off the road for awhile, and Kim Lenz (a Dallas-based rockabilly bandleader) needed someone for her band. She asked me to move down, and I played with her for 2 years."
A move to Austin started Curran's solo career; rockabilly circles raved about his emergence. It wasn't long after his second release (Nitelife Boogie) that he received a call from Edward Chmelewski of Blind Pig. "Somebody who had heard us in Michigan sent Ed a CD," Curran said. "We talked for about a year, and got an agreement done. He told me just keep doing what I do." The major label deal helped Curran land guest appearances from two of Austin's top players: harmonica player Gary Primich and former T-Bird Jimmie Vaughan . "I heard he actually bought one of our CDs in a local store, so I bet that he would be willing to help out."
In yet another fluke, Curran's early dose of T-Birds material has come back around. "Our bass player, Eric (Przygocki), got an invitation to go with Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets," Curran said. "I told him to take it; it was a great opportunity for him. Then I find out that (original T-Bird bass player) Preston Hubbard was looking to return. I've always wanted to play with him. All the T-Birds stuff I was into – all my favorite parts had Preston. The thing is, he was out of commission for a while – he was bad into heroin, and in prison for a year. It's all on his web site. When he was in there, he decided to clean up his act – he figured if he could stay clean on the inside, he could on the outside, too. It's actually easier to get drugs in prison that on the outside." And how is Hubbard playing? "He's still learning our songs, but he's stronger than ever. And he's also back to playing with Lou Ann Barton and Shawn Pittman .
Curran's fan base has grown as he's supplanted the rockabilly scene with blues fans. "It's about half and half now," he said. "We're doing festivals in Montana and Pennsylvania, as well as the big San Francisco Blues Festival. But Curran continues to stretch out in other incarnations. "We lost Murph (Motycka), our sax player, a week before Green Bay last year – so we went up as a three-piece. It seemed weird to us. But since we were one of the few bands with two sets, we finally hit on the idea – as we were almost in town – of doing one set of Sonics and other garage stuff. We rehearsed twice in the hotel room – that's it. We took that idea and now play around Austin as the Hustlers . We have two go-go girls dancing, and can go total glam-rock with AC/DC songs." He's not just limited to guitar gigs, either. "I started out playing drums when I was 3, and still do some drumming gigs around Austin with Ben Peters in his band, Benny and the Fly-By-Nighters," Curran said. Yet another Curran venture is backing Austin's Red Light Burlesque troupe. "Each girl has her own trademark song; some use my stuff, some look for covers. Last time, (fellow guitarist) Dave Biller and I were running through a couple of instrumentals. Then someone requests 'Hot For Teacher;' nobody expected it. Biller gets into it with more of a 'Sing Sing Sing' arrangement; few people know he was a shredder in the '80s. He had the Van Halen licks down. It was so bad ass."
With the authentic sounds of the '50s that Curran records, there's only one thing lacking for the most ardent revivalists: a vinyl recording. "We were supposed to have vinyl on 'Fixin' Your Head,' but that didn't happen. And Blind Pig doesn't do vinyl anymore – but we talked about it. Maybe if enough people show they're interested…that would be killer."