Friday, January 13, 2012

A drunk chicken stumbling through empty coffee cans

James "Peck" Curtis. A better nickname for a drummer might never be given.

Curtis was the longtime drummer for the "King Biscuit Time" radio program out of KFFA in Helena, Arkansas which began broadcasting in 1941 and was the only area radio station of that time that would play African-American artists. Many blues musicians from the Delta region, who we now think of as iconic figures in the genre, built their audience by performing daily on the half hour-long lunchtime show: Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck "Rice" Miller), Robert Lockwood, Pinetop Perkins, and others.

James "Peck" Curtis' playing is unlike anything heard elsewhere. The sound is akin to a drunk chicken stumbling through empty coffee cans. Yet his style is a demonstration of controlled chaos; his attack more like a series of pecks or stabs at the drum kit than straight-struck time-keeping. It's subtle, but serves the music very distinctly - and once you hear it, you'll always know what it is.

At 10 o'clock on "Dark Was the Night" this Saturday night, we'll hear a 15 minute-long 1965 performance of Sonny Boy Williamson II on "King Biscuit Time" with James "Peck" Curtis on drums, including brief dialogue between songs in which Sonny Boy, among other things, gives off-the-cuff verbal instructions to Curtis about the beat of upcoming songs to be played, which the drummer nails handily.

In the meantime, enjoy this recording featuring Curtis behind Houston Stackhouse and Robert Nighthawk in the mid-1960's.

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