The Bottom Line
If Gene Kurtz hadn't quit the Rolling Stones, his life story would read very differently.
Not those poor boys from London town who wanted to spend the night with girls while Liverpool's Fab Four wanted to hold hands but "more of a singing group than a band, and the first group I ever named" in San Antonio, where Kurtz grew up. The Stones gave way to the Paradons, then Denny Ezba & the Goldens, featuring future Doug Sahm sideman Augie Meyers, but bigger things lay ahead when Kurtz joined up with a San Marcos outfit known as Roy Head & the Traits.
The Traits were one of hundreds of dance bands around the country in the early Sixties, much like the Northwest's Paul Revere & the Raiders, Michigan's Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, or Louisiana's Boogie Kings. They were jukebox bands that knew all the hits of the day; often traveled with horn sections, playing record hops and dances; and always had a charismatic lead singer. Bands like that always needed a good bass player.
"A bass player is the one guy that can't get away with waiting around to see what the chords are," Kurtz asserts. That confidence steered him well over the course of his career. After writing one of the earliest white-to-black crossover hits vaporized and Kurtz left the Traits, he joined up with another Texan, Edgar Winter. The bassist played and recorded on Winter's debut album, 1970's Entrance.
Kurtz's playing drew as much from R&B as it did from rock & roll. Although Entrance didn't make a big splash, it posited him in the Seventies rock arena and provided him his entrance to working with other bands and performers. The names sound more like a music index than credentials: Bo Diddley, Pat Boone, Charlie Rich, Elvin Jones, Kay Starr, Sunny Ozuna, the Mills Brothers, Charley Pride, the Coasters, Andy Williams, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Louise Mandrell, Mose Allison, the Fifth Dimension, and Michel Legrand.
Not your everyday rock-star résumé, and neither is the Austin-dwelling Kurtz's local playlist: Miss Molly & the Whips, James Hand, Mary Cutrufello, Bobby Doyle, and Tony Campise. That steady rhythm landed Kurtz in Dale Watson's group several years ago.
"I've played in bass-player hell," laughs Herb Belofsky, drummer for Dale Watson's Lonestars. "Playing with Gene is bass-play-er heaven."
"We appeared on Friday Night Lights and played [my song] 'Way Down Texas Way,'" points out Kurtz. "It was fun, shot at a local Chevy dealership. I've been on a lot of TV in my time, but I've never quite done anything like that before. It takes hours to set up, and then you're only on for a minute. I'm glad it's been renewed; it's a good show."
Kurtz looks pleased as he recounts the Lonestars' experience and reflects on another professional high point. "To live to see Bob Dylan playing lead guitar on 'Treat Her Right' is pretty amazing, too."
Besides shooting for the small screen and keeping up with Dale Watson's unflagging pace, Kurtz – tall, eloquent, handsome, and fit at age 64 – is stepping back into role of rhythm guitar for the Traits instead of bass. Roy Head and the band are reuniting to be inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame at the end of September in San Marcos. Most of the original Traits he'll play with haven't had the chance to keep up their chops the way Kurtz has, yet he's confident the act's frontman will backflip to the challenge.
"When they see him doing [a backflip] at his age, it's hard not to enjoy it. And if he isn't perfect, Roy will save the day because he's Roy, and it will be a thing of beauty. Roy's one of a kind."