GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Most rock-and-rollers are usually coming home at 3:30 a.m. Not Curt Towne. His day is just getting started.
He has music to write, a shop to run, lessons to give and concerts to play. He has no entourage, private jet or traveling secretary.
And that’s all right – for now.
What the Curt Towne band has is the respect and admiration of the legendary Southern rockers that paved an important, and too-often tragic, path ahead of him.
“I’m very grateful for my life,” Towne said from his Guitar Station at 421 Walnut St. “I stay very busy working on something. I’m always on the go. Sure, I’d like to (be a national headlining act). I’d like that very much. Who knows what will happen? I’m having a good time and I’m always working toward that. It’s not like I’m sitting back and hoping. I’m working towards it.”
Towne’s next gig is Saturday night at the Thrasher-Horne Center in Orange Park. The Help Somebody 3 concert will benefit St. Michael’s Soldiers, the Homegrown Kindness Project and Hoods for Heroes, and it will include sets from .38 Special with Brett Myers, Pinto Graham and Towne’s band.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Johnny Van Zant and .38 Special founding member Donnie Van Zant, both close friends with Towne, are scheduled to make an appearance.
“The Curt Towne Band is old school just like I am,” Johnny Van Zant said.
Towne and the Van Zants have a long history of working together. Towne’s band opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd Sept. 13 at Southaven, Mississippi, and a night later at Alpharetta, Georgia. Towne also will open for Lynyrd Skynyrd on Nov. 30 in Hollywood, and they will join Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Dickey Betts, Blackberry Smoke, Blackstone Cherry, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Marshall Tucker Band and the Kentucky Headhunters on the Southern Rock Cruise from Tampa to Mexico from Jan. 6-12.
In six short years, Towne’s band has evolved from playing high school gymnasiums, smoky night clubs and pizza parlors to the national stage.
“My band performances are limited to national acts and international acts. We stay home once in a while so people can come and see us,” Towne said. “Normally we don’t play in that close of an area. We stay busy. We’re not as active as a band that plays clubs every week because that’s not what we do. I did that stuff for years. This is a different band.”
And a unique band that’s committed to playing its own music.
“I’d say it’s Southern Rock, only because it’s a mixture of things. It’s got elements of country; it’s got elements of rock and roll. Everybody in the band contributes to that,” Towne said. “I like gospel music. I like bluegrass music. I like hard rock. I like all kinds of music. Each song has a little thing it calls for it. I guess it’s more Southern Rock, and I’m honored anyone would say that. We know what our musical heritage is. It’s something you have to really put up. You can’t halfway it. You’ve got to write the best song you can write, and you’ve got to write a better song next time. You’ve got to play harder and they next time even harder than that. You’ve got to make it happen, especially with the internet.
“It’s tough to do your own original stuff, but it’s great. When you open for Skynyrd, nobody knows who you are, nobody cares. Hopefully, when you walk away from that, some people know who you are and they care. What’s great is they want you to go out and perform your best. They want you to fire the crowd up, then they just blow the roof off the place. Not everybody wants you to get the crowd going or be good. Skynyrd does. They want you to go on like a fighter and put a one-two punch on the crowd.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd got its big break opening for The Who and the Rolling Stones, while .38 Special opened for KISS.
His band includes Barry Rapp on vocals and keyboards, Greg “GT” Thompson on bass and Michael Cansler on drums. Carol Bristow Zur, a former backup for both .38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd, currently is working in the studio on the bands’ new project.
Like Skynyrd, .38 Special and Molly Hatchet, Towne grew up on the west side of Jacksonville, a generation behind the bands that helped create the Southern rock genre. His “Whatcha Gonna Do” was a hard-driving anthem that feature’s Towne’s skills on guitar. The album featured other hits like “All or Nothin’,” “Breakin’ Hearts Again” and “Train (of Life).”
“I hear the old souls of Southern Rock pouring out of the young men’s hearts,” Donnie Van Zant said. “Southern Rock is still alive.”
“We’re all Westside refugees one way or another,” Towne said.
Towne is willing to do what it takes to becoming a headliner, too.
“There’s a lot into that. Things have changed so drastically,” he said. “You used to tour to promote a new record. Now record companies want a big chunk of your ticket sales and a big chunk of your merchandise. Unfortunately, that’s how you get to the next gig – putting money in your gas tank. If you have less gas, you’re not going to go as far. I’m not knocking record companies. That’s the realization of it. If you can get on with the bigger bands, and we’ve been fortunate to open up for many bigger bands, and that gets you exposure.”
For now, every time the alarm rings at 3:30 a.m. to kickstart another hectic day, it moves him a little closer to the headlining act.