Bobby Curtola is more than a 1960s teen idol. He is rock ‘n’ roll history, a Canadian singer who topped the charts with hit after hit and became part of an elite circle that embraced Elvis Presley, The Dave Clarke Five, Paul Anka, The Beatles and the infamous Rat Pack.
Curtola, 67, who is still active in show business and now splits his time between Canada and Las Vegas, performs at the Arden Theatre on Friday, Sept. 3 in a special Knights of Columbus benefit concert dubbed Bobby Curtola Rocks the Knights.
Curtola is one singer that keeps right on truckin’.
“My voice works. It’s still fun and still magical,” he said in a phone interview from his Nova Scotia home.
After 51 years in the entertainment industry, he’s accumulated bushels of wisdom and humility. “I was a witness to it all and I was lucky to be along for the ride.”
As an unknown, Curtola recorded his first song, Hand in Hand in 1960. It shot up the Canadian charts and made him a star. Just 16 at the time, he went from working as a gas-pump jockey in Thunder Bay to appearing on The Bob Hope Show.
“I got lucky. People liked me. I sounded enough like all the Frankies, and Tommies and Bobbies that I fit right in,” he laughs.
Chaperoned by managers, the high school kid boarded trans-Canada flights on Fridays, lugging his homework and jetting off to concert destinations across North America.
“I ended up making a great deal of money. That attracted lots of people, and not all of them were nice. At times I felt like a bird in a gilded cage. But I was so simple-hearted and excited by the entertainment business.”
When Curtola released Fortune Teller in 1962, the mega-hit stayed in the Top 40 for about 44 weeks and reassured him a spot in rock ‘n’ roll history.
A string of hits followed — Alone and Lonely, It’s About Time, Mean Woman Blues, Makin’ Love and Walkin’ with My Angel.
After a gig with Louis Armstrong in 1969, his people arranged a junket to meet the Howard Hughes Group, an enterprise developing Vegas hotels. After some negotiations, he was booked at the Gold Cup Lounge where Frank Sinatra got a foothold.
“I was the first Canadian to get a multi-million dollar open-ended contract and I could do whatever I wanted.”
It was a casual spot where big names sitting in the audience often joined him on stage. Joey Bishop liked to stop by. Desi Arnaz agreed to play conga. The duo formed a conga line and “people were dancing on tables.’
Count Basie, sax icon Lock Jaw Davis and even the infamous vaudevillian Jimmy Durante shared the spotlight with Curtola. “One night I was singing Candy Man and Sammy Davis came on stage and said, ‘Kid, let me show you how to do this.’”
But all this success niggled at Curtola’s conscience. “At first you don’t think the money is yours. You feel like you’ve robbed a bank. After a while you can’t justify it.”
Quietly he began donating to charities and raised millions in telethons for muscular dystrophy — something that earned him the Order of Canada.
Invited to partner with the Knights of Columbus by close friend and St. Albert resident George Amyotte, Curtola’s Arden gig will take us back to the ‘60s.
“I’m going to sing songs about love and the way we wish the world would be. I’m going to give an overview of the fun we had. I’ll be like a host at a house party.”