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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Story Behind The Theme Song: Mary Tyler Moore

Sonny Curtis is probably a name most people have never heard before. But he is responsible for one of the most recognizable songs that anyone my age knows. Since I gave away that mystery in the title of the blog, follow along if you want.

Sonny Curtis was born on May 9, 1937 in Meadow, Texas, which is 40 miles outside of Lubbock, Texas. He knew Buddy Holly growing up in Lubbock and was a member of his band the Crickets after Holly died in a plane crash in Iowa in 1959. He never actually played in The Crickets with Holly.

Curtis started out playing with Buddy Holly in the early 50's then left him and began playing with Slim Whitman and then the Everly Brothers before he took up writing songs for a living.
He worked with The Crickets for 5 years as their lead singer, replacing Holly and going on the road with Waylon Jennings.

On the Crickets first album after Holly's death, the Crickets recorded two of Curtis's most famous pop hits.

It was made famous by Bobby Fuller.

This was the other one, which Curtis recorded but was covered more famously by Leo Sayer.

More Than I Can Say was originally recorded by Bobby Vee, who was the first act to play in the place of Buddy Holly on the tour he was on when his plane crashed.

 Just after he joined The Crickets to replace Buddy Holly, Curtis was drafted into the Army. While serving for 2 years, he wrote this song, Walk Right Back by the Everly Brothers and later covered by Anne Murray.

 After his discharge from the Army, Sonny moved to Los Angeles. In 1965, he decided to devote more attention to songwriting and developing his career as an artist.

 Throughout the 1970's, Sonny applied his songwriting skills to rock, pop, country, television and radio commercials. Along with friend and songwriting companion Don Piestrup, Sonny wrote numerous nationally known jingles for clients such as McDonald's, Buick, Western Airlines, Honda, Bell Telephone, etc.

In 1987, Curtis wrote the  Country Song of the year recorded by Keith Whitley.

But the song he will always be remembered for, even though nobody remembers that he wrote and sang it was the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore. show. Curtis told the Austin Chronicle how he came to write the theme song.

“I had just bought a house in L.A. and I was at home, just sitting around pickin’ one morning. This friend of mine, Doug Gilmore, who worked for the Williams & Price agency, called me and said, ‘They’re doing a sitcom with Mary Tyler Moore and they want a theme song. Would you be interested?’ I said, ‘Ah, man, sure.’ That was about 11 a.m.

The rest of the story is in the link above. After he got the deal for the theme song, Curtis built it into a longer album version, of which he released a single in 1973 that didn't chart and then on his album in 1980. It never really took off as a single, like many of his other songs have, but it became an iconic 70s sitcom anthem still heard today in every city in the world in reruns. 
As with his other hits, nobody knows his name, but everybody knows his songs. 

The longer version is the same song, sung the same way, but very much more of a country feel, which is where Sonny Curtis's roots and most of his songs were written from. He still makes his home in Nashville to this day, the home of Country Music. Even though he made it on the stages of the world and in the songwriting cities like Los Angeles, Sonny Curtis always was happy to make it after all in the Country towns of his roots.
Buddy Holly never made it but Sonny Curtis did. It didn't seem like that was the way it was going to go in the late 50s, but that is the way it ended up turning out due to fate.
Curtis wrote this song when he saw the Hollywood version of The Buddy Holly story, which was not very accurate.

Paul McCartney saw that and decided to do a documentary film based on the song. There is lots of info about Sonny Curtis and many others who were associated with Buddy Holly in that documentary. Many famous artists including McCartney and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones credit Holly with what they went on to do later.

I watched the whole thing and I urge you to do the same if you have a couple of hours. There was a lot more to Buddy Holly than meets the eye, and as well you can get a sense of where Sonny Curtis came from before he found his way to glory with the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show, by accident.

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Daily profile about a specific artist,their life, their work and their impact