Monday, September 10, 2012

Curley Ennis, August 2012

Curley Ennis, August 2012 Valley Blend Magazine
By J. Gabrielle

When legendary blues pianist “Pinetop” Perkins played the Iroquois Club in the late 80’s, I was escorted to the show by walking musical historian Curley Ennis.  “C’mon, let’s go say hello,” Curley said with mischievous grin and twinkling eye.  He sauntered us down some secret steps to a Green Room that I had never seen before (and never saw again).  “Pinetop” looked up and exclaimed, “Well, Curley Ennis!” They greeted each other as old friends, knowing the other from touring on the road at roots music festivals.

Curley Ennis: Musician.  Musical Historian.  Storyteller.  Teacher.  Photographer.  Citizen of the World. Legend. Musicians were his family.  On June 22, we musicians lost our Grandpappy. 

Curley Ennis specialized in traditional and contemporary folk songs and folk tales.  He accompanied himself on the guitar, dulcimer, banjo, song-bow, and harmonica.  He sang songs of the cowboy, the railroad, bluegrass, blues, Irish, children's songs, pioneer and contemporary life.  Ennis told stories about the music and people he encountered in his travels. 

I met Curley at the Iroquois Club where he ran the Open Mic on Wednesday nights.  We became fast friends.  A look in the Roanoke Times Friday Extra Section in those days would find a Roanoke still in its’ infancy as a music boomtown.  Besides the aforementioned Iroquois, precious few other venues existed.  There was Crystal Spring Deli, Third Street Coffeehouse, Steak and Ale, Billy’s Ritz and not much else.  Curley stayed busy, scratching out the next gig and pushing the idea of live entertainment. I always enjoyed his unique set list of folk songs.  He would work in a yodeling number delighting in recounting that the Queen of Country Music, Miss Kitty Wells taught him the craft.

He would regale us with stories from touring with “The Road Rangers” in Omaha and of a wild youth.  He told me about being pulled over for suspected inebriation one particular time.  The officer asked him to say his ABCs.  Curley sang the ABC Song for him.  He laughed, “They really hate that.” 

Curley went on to become the “go to guy” for Appalachian and Folk Music.  He worked at Roanoke’s Explore Park as a living history re-enactor.  He lectured at area colleges on the subject, including Hollins University.  He performed in Mill Mountain Theatre’s production of Woody Guthrie’s “American Song”.  He pursued photography, exhibiting his excellent work at galleries. 
We were label-mates on Clayton Ellers’ Encrypted Records in the late 90’s.  Ellers had the foresight to produce Curley’s album “On the Job”.  Reviews on the project were unanimous.
  "These are beautiful songs. They harken back to old values. Music that feels good." 
                                    Dan Taylor, Entertainment Reviewer Omaha Sun Newspaper
"I like the honesty about it, the truthfulness in it. It's the music of the people. It's not canned. It's human, it's live. It's like a work of art." Jeff Bahr, The Lincoln Star, Nebraska
Like many area musicians, Curley often traveled to perform.  He played at the New Orleans Jazz & Blues Festival.  While touring, he shared the bill with the likes of John McCutcheon, Asleep At The Wheel, David Bromberg, John Hammond, Richie Havens, Jean Redpath, Tom Paxton, and Mike Seeger
Ennis was also the consummate “wedding singer”.  Many of us were lucky to have him bless that special day with his voice, a perfect song, and his easy-going manner.
Always, Curley had his children in view when making plans.  He took the responsibility seriously doing the single dad routine in a little country house on Ruddell Road.  I have no doubt that these three Ennises are the spittin’ images of their Dad’s kind and gentle spirit.
I propose we establish the Curley Ennis Memorial Music Gazebo in Elmwood Park.  Curley was the pioneer here in the current Roanoke Music Scene.  Know his name, dear Roanoke, for Curley Ennis once played here.
“Looking back along the road I've traveled,
The miles can tell a million tales.
Each year is like some rolling freight train,
And cold as starlight on the rails”

(Bruce “Utah” Phillips, Starlight on the Rails)


  1. Sitting here listening to Curley's CD at work right now. Typed his name into the google machine and it led me here. What a lovey tribute, Jane.

    1. Thank you for reading!!! I hope you will visit more often!!