Bobby Curtola and The Martels

By Russ: “It’s a very sad day today [Sunday June 4, 2016] – we just lost a great Canadian… Bobby Curtola. A man who was not only a pioneer rock n roll entertainer, but also a man who did a lot of great humanitarian work throughout the world. R.I.P. Bobby.

bobby-curtola-08

Bobby Curtola

April 17, 1943 – June 4, 2016

You might have to be from Ontario, Canada to really appreciate tonight’s story. I’d like to touch on some early days in the career of one of Canada’s first Teen Idol pop stars, Bobby Curtola. I’ll focus mainly on Bobby’s initial rise to popularity and the first band that was assigned to tour with him across Canada.

This band was originally called The Corvettes, but renamed The Martells. After working and recording with Bobby, they would strike out on their own and ultimately become “The Martels Rock n Roll Show”. (July 2015 – I currently have the honour of playing sax in the Martels).

Bobby Curtola:

Bobby Curtola

The Corvettes:

Back in 1957, a group of 5 friends in a Midland, Ontario high school formed a band and called themselves “The Corvettes”. They played concerts and Teen Sock Hops throughout Southern Ontario for several years. In their home town they developed a huge following with Teen Town dances at the Odd Fellows Hall and the Midland arena.


The Corvettes were:

Larry French (lead guitar, vocals)

Gary French (lead vocals, guitar, drums)

Milt Budarick (bass guitar)

Bert DesRochers (piano)

Tom Ambeau (drums, guitar)

The Corvettes played several years for Sock Hops as the house band at the Midland arena, which was the summer home for Teen Town.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 1959, there was a young sixteen-year-old high school student, Bobby Curtola (born Robert Allen Curtola, in Port Arthur, Ontario). He started out pumping gas at his father’s garage in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and went on to form his first “basement” band: “Bobby and the Bobcats”.

Bobby’s singing talent had attracted the attention of two songwriting brothers, Basil and Dyer Hurdon, who owned the Tartan record label. The Hurdons would become Bobby’s managers and Basil, a tall, mild mannered, gentle, almost father figure, would often be seen at his shows.

The Hurdons wrote all of Bobby’s songs, and their first one, “Hand In Hand with You” was recorded at a radio station in Thunder Bay, with a “45” released on their Tartan label in January 1960.
By February 1960 “Hand In Hand With You” was sent to radio stations nation-wide. Response was immense and by July of that year it had reached #26 on Toronto’s CHUM Chart *.

Bobby Curtola – Hand In Hand With You (Jul/1961) #26 (5) CHUM Chart
.

With Bobby’s good looking, boy-next-door popularity mushrooming, he was now making many promotional and professional appearances, a significant one being his opening for the Bob Hope Show in March.

After performing on the Bob Hope Show in 1960, the charismatic Bobby was quickly finding himself in a whirlwind of success that would be referred to back then as “Curtolamania.”

Bobby Hits Midland, Ontario…

In 1961, 17-year-old Bobby Curtola was on one of his weekend tours of southern Ontario and booked to perform at the Midland Summer Teen Town. Now, the manager of the Midland arena, Ken Stonehouse, introduced the Corvettes to Bobby Curtola, who was looking for a new backup band.

Larry, Gary, Milt, Bobby

Since they worked so well together at Teen Town, Bobby’s agent, Maria Martell, decided they should use the Corvettes for his first coast to coast tour across Canada..

.

The Corvettes” become “The Martells”…

Contemplating the name “Bobby Curtola & The Corvettes“, it was discovered that there was already an American band called The Corvettes, so they became “Bobby Curtola & The Martells“, the new name coming from, guess who?… Maria Martell !

Click to enlarge

Larry, Tom, Bobby

Click to enlarge

Gary, Bobby

Click to enlarge

Gary, Bobby, Milt

Larry French, Bobby Curtola, Milt Budarick, Gary French

When it was decided that Bobby and the Martells should tour across Canada, Tom and Bert opted to not go on the road. So, Larry, Gary and Milt added Bill Laramey as their keyboard player and Gary switched to drums, reducing the band to a 4-piece for their really big tour.

Bobby Curtola with The Martells became trailblazers, establishing the very first coast to coast Canadian Rock n’ Roll tour. Larry French:

We did stops at such places as Massey Hall and Johnnie Lombardi’s CHIN Picnic in Toronto, “Klondike Days” in Edmonton, Montreal, the Calgary Stampede, the Pacific Exhibition and other exhibitions and festivals across Canada… 52 shows in 48 days with 4 Matinees thrown in for good luck.

Recordings…

During this frenetic time, the Martells also managed to cut several records with Bobby; after playing Friday and Saturday nights they would go into the studio in Toronto on Sunday to lay down bed tracks. Bobby would then take the bed tracks to the RCA Studios in Nashville where Bill Porter would work with him on overdubs of his vocal and final mixing. The Anita Kerr Singers were used extensively for backup vocals during many of these sessions.

Bobby would continue to record there for many years to come.

Click to enlarge

This earned the band the reputation of being one of the top ten in Canada… they were Studio Musicians!

Bobby Curtola – Don’t You Sweetheart Me (Aug/1961) #5 (12) CHUM Chart
.
Bobby Curtola – I’ll Never Be Alone (Sep/1961) #6 (9) CHUM Chart
.
Bobby Curtola – Hitchhiker (1961) #4 (11) CHUM Chart
.
Bobby Curtola & The MartellsFortune Teller (Mar/1962) #5 (14) CHUM Chart
.
Bobby Curtola – Johnny Take Your Time (Mar/1962) #10 (9) CHUM Chart
.
Bobby Curtola & The MartellsIndian Giver (1963) #3 (11) CHUM Chart
.

Bobby Curtola & The MartellsThree Rows Over (1963) #2 (13) CHUM Chart

.

Bobby Curtola – Little Girl Blue (1964) #7 (6) CHUM Chart

Bobby never had a # 1 hit, even in Canada, but charted 20 times with Toronto Radio’s CHUM Chart *.

.

Videos:

Bobby Curtola & The Martells – Three Rows Over
.
Early Nineties / CFRN TV Show /
.
Breakfast Television Toronto /
.
2015 / Corrina Corrina / with Danny Marks at the Rex /
.
  and
.

Fortune Tellerbecame Bobby’s biggest chart-topper as it was successful internationally. It went Gold in Canada. The song sold over 2 million copies and became a legitimate US hit. This erupted into a successive string of hits during the fiercely competitive British Invasion era culminating into a ‘Male Vocalist Of The Year’ pre-Juno in 1965.

Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s DJ, Red Robinson, was instrumental in Fortune Teller’s success. Seeing its potential of being a hit internationally, he sent it to Seattle’s KJR and Hawaii’s KPOI radio. A major US record deal was signed and Fortune Teller went on to become a 2.5 million seller internationally!

With it’s moderate success on Tartan Records the team were encouraged to continue with a carefully calculated campaign of record releases, club dates, and the early formation of the Bobby Curtola Fan Club following the phenomenal success of “Fortune Teller” and its double A-side “Johnny Take Your Time” in 1962.


notesLineThe Martells Name Change to “The Martels”

Coming home from their whirlwind tour, the boys decided to get back to being normal teens again and just play locally, so they were obliged to modify their name to: “The Martels” with one “L”. This slight change meant that the Bobby’s agency could continue seamlessly with “The Martells” for his succeeding shows and recordings.

The Martels (moins Bobby) went on to have a significant role as back-up musicians, opening shows for top Rock n Roll artists that appeared at the Midland Teen Town: Little Caesar & The Consuls, Ritchie Knight & The Midnights, David Clayton Thomas & The Shays, Pat Hervey, Linda Lane, The Stampeders, The Beau Marks, Shirley Mathews, Peggy Lynn and Mary Lewis.

They also backed up such stars as Del Shannon (“Runaway“), Bryan Hyland, Barbara Lewis, The Cadillacs, The Newbeats, Chuck Berry and R.Dean Taylor, to name a few.

Ultimately however, the British Invasion would take Rock n’ Roll in a new directions so The Martels eventually disbanded in the late 1960’s…

notesLineBobby With Subsequent Bands…

After that first Trans-Canada Tour, Bobby Curtola, with another Martells group, did more recording in Nashville, releasing hit songs such as “Gypsy Heart“, “Destination Love“, and many more. In 1966 he won the RPM Gold Leaf Award for becoming the first Canadian to have an album go gold.

As English Canada’s only ‘teen idol’ in the early 1960s, Curtola specialized in what the Hurdons called “rock-a-ballads” and sang in what Frank Rasky described as a “silvery tenor” with “a soft-sweet quality”. Curtola toured widely in Canada until 1967, his performances often creating hysteria among his young audiences.

As a teen idol he had an amazing 32 Top Ten hits from 46 released singles and over 20 albums, appeared on The Bob Hope Show, and hosted CTV television’s ‘After Four‘ show.

By 1968 it was time for a change to cater to his aging audience and Adult Contemporary seemed more suited to his new direction. Curtola turned to a nightclub career, first in Canada; in the early 1970s, he hosted a CTV musical series entitled, Shake, Rock and Roll.

By 1973 and into the 1980s, he shifted some of his entertaining for part of each year to Las Vegas (where he opened for Louis Armstrong).

He recorded sporadically during the 1980s, sometimes using the name Boby Curtola, or just Curtola. Releases in 1990 from RBI and RCA/BMG found him singing in a country-gospel style and included the modest Canadian hit ‘Playin’ in the Shadows of Glory.’

Curtola went on to a successful singing career at Las Vegas, Nevada casino venues and still performs at various clubs today.

Curtola’s musical career benefited from the 1990s’ nostalgia wave; he was active singing at clubs, telethons, cruise ships, and conventions into the 2000s. His recordings during this period included Christmas Flashback (Tartan, 1992), Gotta Get Used to Being Country (Tartan, 1993), Turn the Radio Up and Reflections: Legend to Legend (both Tartan, 1997). He toured Canada and Malaysia in 1998, and Europe in 2001. He also embarked on other business ventures, eg a tomato drink company.

In 1998, in recognition of Curtola’s long service to the Canadian music industry as well as his humanitarian work around the world, he was made a member of the Order of Canada. His pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Curtola proved it was possible to succeed in pop music and still live in Canada, thus breaking ground for later Canadian pop musicians. He was an innovator on a number of musical fronts:

Curtola was one of the first Canadians (along with Paul Anka) to be offered a multimillion dollar contract in Las Vegas; and his jingle “Things go better with Coke” was the first commercial to sound like a hit pop record.

Things Go Better With Coke


In addition to material by the Hurdon brothers, Curtola recorded songs written by Paul Anka, Ben McPeek, Gary Buck and Gene MacLellan.

notesLineAnd, As For The Martels…

Fast forward to 1979… as fate would have it, the 5 original Martels (Larry, Gary, Milt, Bert and Tom) were invited to reunite with Bobby Curtola for a surprise Birthday Bash in Toronto – Maria Martell arranged this surprise for Bobby.

Larry French recalls:

“We walked into the club (a now defunct place on Yonge St that was across from the Eaton Centre) and there was Bobby talking with Jack Scott (a Canadian icon of 50’s Rock n Roll from Windsor)”.

So it is that those 5 high school friends from Midland, Ontario, once called the Corvettes, have been actively playing together ever since that 1979 birthday reunion.

From time to time, they added to the group; for example with Doug Woods (vocals, percussion), with Larry’s son, Landon French (vocals, percussion), and now with Madeleine French (vocals, piano) and sax man Russ Strathdee (the writer of this post).

Click to enlarge

The Martels Live in Concert at The Kings Wharf Theatre, Penetanguishene, Ontario

In 1999, the Martels performed a concert for a full house at the Opera House in Orillia, Ontario, and recording of this live show was released on a CD.

The Martels Rock n’ Roll Show subsequently augmented the lineup with Bill Chambers (guitar, vocals), formerly of the Canadian band “Lisle“.

Former radio DJ Ken Rowland was an integral part of the show, serving for many years as the band’s Master of Ceremonies and occasional percussionist until his untimely death in 2008, after a battle with cancer.

The Martels released a new album of Rock & Roll classics to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of their founding.

2011 - The Martels' view of Kempenfest Audience

2011 – The Martels’ view of Barrie’s Kempenfest Audience (photo: Tom Aikins)

In August 2012, The Martels played for Barrie, Ontario’s Kempenfest Arts and Crafts Festival for the 22nd straight year, to an audience of more than 5,000.

1297728320288_ORIGINAL

L-R back row: Milt, Bill, Tom, Bert; front row: Russ, Madeleine, Gary, Larry

In April 2013,  the Martels’ last CD Lost In The Fifties was released.

Martels--LostInTheFifties

Track #1 / Shake Rattle and Roll!

2015 marks the final year for the Martels. They played their 25th Kempenfest to a record-breaking crowd.

—-

For more information, please refer to their web site: themartels.com.

Martels Promo Video

2015 Publicity

Simcoe County News: http://www.simcoe.com/whatson-story/5593780-simcoe-county-s-martels-ready-to-rock-n-roll-into-sunset/

JazzMania:  http://www.jazzmania.ca/events.cfm?eventid=28

The Barrie Examiner:  http://www.thebarrieexaminer.com/2015/07/22/the-martels-calling-it-quits-after-25-years

notesLine

* The CHUM Chart was the longest-running Top 40 chart in the world produced by an individual radio station. From 1957 to 1986, it was a ranking of top 30 (and, until August 1968, the top 50) songs on Toronto, Ontario radio station CHUM 1050 AM .

–o–

Advertisements

25 responses to “Bobby Curtola and The Martels

  1. Russ,
    I especially enjoyed this post on the Martels because the band (including yourself) are local heroes. It was great seeing and hearing the band in their early days. They still sound amazing!
    potsi

  2. Thank you for the history! The Town of Midland will be honouring The Martels at Little Lake Park this Friday, August 26th, 2011 and they will perform a free concert! It will be an amazing time!

  3. Great history! I was at a Bobby Curtola concert back in the early 70s during the Calgary Stampede. Rich Little was playing at the Stampede grandstand and he dropped in, did a impromptu stand up routine and nearly stole the show. Any chances you were in the band?

    • Bob: Hi it’s Gary, I write almost everything and Russ does the maintenance. Now to the Martells. Well they have been together since 1957. The town of Midland just named a street after them, but I believe, my partner, Russ, joined them in the 80’s. There were only 5 in the original Corvettes/Martells the band that I watch now has 8, including Dr. Sax, my partner Russ.
      Gary

  4. Hi Gary,
    I tried to connect regarding Bobby Curtola and Martells but to no avail. I shall try again.
    I really like your Canadian content postings a lot, including Bobby Curtola and the Martells.
    Bobby’s first 45, “Hand In Hand With You” was re-recorded and issued on the B-side of “Indian Giver”. This second version is always used, as it is on this posting, and in album compilations throughout the years. The first version is by far better; having a much more fuller, immediate sound.
    Just about the only way to hear it is by obtaining the first Tartan single.
    Also, I mentioned to you that upcoming soon, there will be a column appearing about The Regents. Thought this would be of interest to you.
    -Andy.

  5. Pingback: The Most Successful Band in Canada! | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  6. Pingback: Looking Back! 1962 | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  7. David from Southwestern Ontario

    This is a good read! I have Bobby’s 33 1/3 record advertising the Coca Cola song just like pictured above. It was from my late grandfather’s home that I have kept for the last little bit.
    Does it have any monetary value to a collector?

  8. Pingback: The Fireballs! | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  9. Basil and Dyer Hurdon were my great uncles. They lived half a block up the street from my Grandmother in Port Arthur. 🙂

    • Hi Rob – I guess music runs in your blood too, eh?

      • No, not really. It ended with my Mom. She sang with Bobby in his early days and then spent the rest of the time singing in choirs and such while raising a family. My grandmother is buried in her churches garden (they dont have a graveyard) because she sang for the same church choir for 70 years. Yes 70 years. So they both sang and my mom still does but none of us kids can sing a tune at all 🙂

  10. Rick M. a.k.a. Colin Richards

    Rick,m. a.k.a Colin Richards entertainer,I met Bobby Curtola 1992, the C.N.E. Grande stand,we took pictures, Bobby DIDN”T even know me at all and asked if I would like to come back in the evening show and sing with him on the band shell I was shock hears the great Bobby C.,asking me, well I did go back that night but I thanked Bobby but just sang back stage with him it was priceless,every one says what a great entertainer Bobby is I say, what a great person he is,truly mister personality even when he’s off the stage. I have the pictures from that night and afternoon It ment a lot to me thanks Mister C.

    • I’d love to see some of those photos, Rick.
      Message me on our Contact page, if you want. – Russ

    • Bobby is definitely a gracious person. About 10 years ago the Martels (original Midland band) invited him to sing a few songs with us but he declined, saying something like ” … you guys don’t need me anymore”. Wouldn’t it be great if he changed his mind about this? Midland would love it. – Russ

      • Colin Richards

        Hi again Russ; If a bunch of us got together maybe Bobby would be consider and come do a show Bobby is now ten years older than me, were not young anymore but we all could ask him, I”d be the first to show up.I have Bobby”s picures just have to get someone to load them and send them thanks.Not sure how!!! I”ll get back to you!

        On Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 10:53 AM, Russ & Gary’s The Best Years of Music wrote:

        > strathdee commented: “Bobby is definitely a gracious person. About 10 > years ago the Martels (original Midland band) invited him to sing a few > songs with us but he declined, saying something like ” … you guys don’t > need me anymore”. Wouldn’t it be great if he changed his min” >

      • Colin Richards

        Hi Russ it:s Rick M. .a.k.a.Colin Richards here”s some pictures of Bobby Curtola, me, and Bobby”s wife Ava,taken, 1992-1994 ,I have more pictures I”ll send later,let me know what you think,happy holiday talk to you soon!!!

  11. Rick M. a.k.a. Colin Richards

    Hi Russ,I will pull out a few of Bobby’s and I, pictures from my first meeting him in the afternoon and back stage that night at the C.N.E.1992. I spent alot of time in Barrie met the martels the key board player don’t renember his name (sorry) he informed that they use to be Bobby”s back up band,he said to say hi to Bobby I phone Bobby at home in Edmoton.Bobby asked how are they doing I said good,I had a new song out my first an only I told Bobby, he invited me to meet him at Tartan records,I did and met Dave Sanderson of Tartan,in the studio I asked Bobby If he got this excited when they played one of his new songs on the air Bobby, said every time!! Sorry forgoing on an on I “ll send pictures,thanks ,Colin Richard .Rick m.

  12. Ian MacDougall

    Today I have to move Muhammad Ali over a little bit to make room for Bobby Curtola…when the song I remember him best for was up, there was a girl in my class I liked, although I never got anywhere with her. She sat two rows over, and three seats down, so in my head I always changed the lyrics. Too bad I seem to have missed my chance to see the Martels.

  13. Thanks for the post! Bobby was a super entertainer throughout his career and seemed to give his all during every performance. A generation of Canadians will feel his absence. Thanks too for the information on the Hurdons and The Martell.

  14. Not one of my favs, but a decent hardworking artist. Thanks for this well written piece Russ.

  15. I think you meant to say that you had to be CANADIAN to appreciate today’s story. As Bobby’s secretary from 1961 to 1975 (and personal friend up until the time of his passing ), I typed his booking contracts which included shows across Canada, in every major city and rural town. Bobby was well known from coast to coast and supported by disc jockeys like Red Robinson in Vancouver; Ron Waddall in Dauphin, MB and Frank Cameron in Halifax, NS to name a few. He played the PNE, the Calgary Stampede, Klondike Days as well as the CNE on numerous ocasions. Toronto was initially a hard market but the fan clubs continually phoned CHUM until they cracked – CHUM wrote a letter to Basil and Dyer Hurdon saying “Call off the hounds – we’ll play his record”. Bobby was the 1st Canadian to tour across Canada and gathered fans and friends along the way. Bobby will always hold a special place in our hearts as well as many Americans who got to know him and his music while performing with Dick Clark’s Calvacade of Stars and his long running shows with the Howard Hughes chain of hotels in Vegas, and Princess Cruises.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s