LifeNotes: Beach Music Kingpin Clifford Curry Passes

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• September 19, 2016
Clifford Curry

Clifford Curry

Funeral services for Nashville’s soul music mainstay Clifford Curry were held in Knoxville on Saturday (Sept. 17).

Best known for his evergreen hit “She Shot a Hole in My Soul,” Curry became a star on the “beach music” circuit in the 1980s and 1990s. He toured with such R&B greats as Maurice Williams, Percy Sledge, Archie Bell, Clarence “Frogman” Henry and his fellow Nashvillians Earl Gaines and Roscoe Shelton.

Clifford Curry Jr. was born in Chicago on Nov. 3, 1936 and was raised in Knoxville. He originally gained local notoriety in 1956 in East Tennessee as a member of the doo-wop group The Echoes.

In 1959-63, Curry sang lead for the touring Bubba Suggs Band. Suggs dubbed him “Sweet Clifford.” For years thereafter, Clifford Curry commuted between Knoxville and the Nashville area trying to further his music career.

He sang with a variety of groups, including The Five Pennies, The Bingos, The Hollyhocks, The Fabulous Six and The Midnights. Curry became popular on the Southern fraternity-party circuit in the early 1960s. Billed as “Sweet Clifford,” he released singles on Nashville’s Excello Records in 1963 and 1965.

Music City songwriters Mac Gayden and Chuck Neese co-wrote “She Shot a Hole in My Soul.” After Curry recorded it in Nashville, Buzz Cason put it out on his Elf Records label. It topped the charts on many radio stations in Tennessee, Kentucky and other Southern states, was a hit on the national R&B charts and also became a minor pop success in 1967.

Curry followed it with recordings of such Nashville tunes as Arthur Alexander’s “We’re Gonna Hate Ourselves in the Morning,” Bobby Russell’s “I Need a Little Help, Girl” and Cason’s “Good Humor Man.” He continued to record in Nashville throughout the 1970s.

As a songwriter, Curry tasted gospel success with “He’s Gonna Smile on Me,” which became a hit for The Oak Ridge Boys in 1974.

Meanwhile, Clifford Curry records such as “The Natives Are Restless Tonight” and “Soul Ranger” became popular on the “Northern Soul” scene in England.

It turned out that his oldie “She Shot a Hole in My Soul” had a longer shelf life than expected. Its loping, easy-rocking tempo made it an ideal single for a dance called The Shag, which steadily grew in popularity in the beach-resort culture of the Carolinas. As a result, during the 1980s, Clifford Curry found himself in demand as an entertainer in the nightclubs of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the surrounding area.

He became a permanent Nashville resident in 1985. Curry reignited his recording career with such Music City albums as Then and Now, Cold Beer and Hot Women, The Soul of Clifford Curry, Blues I Can’t Lose, The Provider, Clifford’s Blues and She Shot a Hole in My Soul Again!

He also recorded a tune called “Shag With Me” to capitalize on his “beach music” notoriety. His 1986 single “Mr. Lonely”/”25 Hours a Day” was also aimed at the beach-music market.

Clifford Curry eventually became known as “The King of Beach Music.” He was regularly honored at the annual Carolina Beach Music Awards (known as The Cammys). He was inducted into the Beach Music Hall of Fame in 1995. His version of Joe Turner’s “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” was named Beach Music Record of the Year at the same ceremony.

This musical genre was notably saluted in the group Alabama’s 1997 country hit “Dancin,’ Shaggin’ on the Boulevard.” Around this same time, Curry saluted his hometown and his UT loyalty with his single “Pat Summit, Dad Gummit.”

Clifford Curry recorded blues albums in Nashville during the 1990s. He toured Europe to promote these in 1995 and 1997.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001. The Nashville music community organized a benefit show for Curry’s medical expenses. Billed as “An Evening of Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the event starred Cason, Dobie Gray, Bruce Channel, Dennis Yost, Dickey Lee, Ray Peterson, Bucky Wilkin, Troy Shondell, Robert Knight, Larry Henley, Gene Hughes, Freddy Weller, The Sons of the Beach and more.

Curry came back into the spotlight via the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Night Train to Nashville exhibit in 2004. “She Shot a Hole in My Soul” was included on the exhibit’s companion CD, which won a Grammy Award.

Clifford Curry suffered a stroke on Aug. 29 and was hospitalized at UT Medical Center in Knoxville. He died there on Sept. 7 at age 79.

He is survived by sons Tony, Jackie and Clifford III, by daughters Deborah Curry, Jessica Blaylock and Lydia Holmes, by brother Floyd and by several grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was buried in Knoxville’s Highland Memorial Cemetery.

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About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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