Born in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ont in 1944, Bobby Curtola grew up listening to the developing pop sounds of the day. Even while working at his father’s garage, he was performing at high school dances.
At the tender age of 15 he formed his first band, Bobby and the Bobcats. He caught the attention of brothers Basil and Dyer Hurdon, who owned Tartan Records. They wrote his first single, “Hand In Hand With You,” and with his band The Martels, (named after Curtola’s manager, Maria Martell), released it in January, 1960. Within a month the song was topping charts, and soon after he was opening for Bob Hope in Winnipeg, the first of many dates with the comedian.
By that summer, a tour with Barry Boyd (who was also one of Edmonton’s top DJs) and his band The Frantics had Curtola playing across western Canada, including one date in Winnipeg where he opened for Bob Hope. From there more dates ensued, establishing the first cross-Canada tour circuit in the process. The Hurdons by this time had also formed The Bobby Curtola Fan Club to milk his growing popularity and ‘boy next door’ persona. His debut album, HITCH HIKER was released that summer, which featured songs that were for the most part written for him, as was the custom of the day, including “Rainshowers,” “Sugar Lips,” “Northern Star,” and “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy.”
He was signed to an international recording contract with RCA, and was shipped him off to Nashville in the spring of ’61 to work with producer Bill Porter. While there, he met local DJ Red Robinson (also instrumental in bringing Elvis to Canada). He was so impressed with Curtola’s new single “Fortune Teller” (and the flip side “Johnny Take Your Time,”) he sent it to radio stations throughout the US, which led to a Stateside deal with Del-Fi Records. The song became his first gold single in Canada (50,000 units), and peaked at $41 in the US, and within a year had sold 2 1/2 million copies worldwide.
He also became the first Canadian solo artist receive a gold album for MR PERSONALITY in 1961. ‘Curtolamania’ had begun, and saw a run of seven consecutive number one albums in Canada, three of which he was apparently so busy touring he didn’t realize he was wearing the same sweater on the album jackets. His fan clubs filled with pig-tailed girls who wanted to be with him and slicked up boys who wanted to BE him. Curtola was invited onto practically every music variety show on the air at the time, including “Hullabaloo” and “Shindig,” but his biggest exposure at the time came when he was invited onto “American Bandstand.” From there he was asked to tag along with Dick Clark and his Cavalcade of Stars, an ongoing tour with some of the biggest names in music at the time in rotation, including Bill Haley & The Comets, Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, The Crew-Cuts, and dozens of others. He also popped in on radio shows across the continent, including Wolfman Jack’s, Don Webster’s, and Kasey Kasem’s.
While on tour in England in ’62, Curtola met The Beatles, and that connection led to his appearance on the famous British TV variety show, “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” Less than two years later at home he was hosting the number one show of his own, CFTO TV’s “The After Four Show,” and was hosting his first of many Canadian beauty pageants over the years.
In June of ’64, he signed a marketing deal with Coca Cola, where he recorded a promotional album along with The Four Seasons, Jan & Dean, and Roy Orbison, and Curtola wrote the commercial’s jingle “The Real Thing.”
Throughout the ’60s, he dominated the singles charts with “Aladdin,” As Long as I’m Sure of You,” “Alone and Lonely,” a cover of Floyd Robinson’s 1959 hit “Makin’ Love,” Indian Giver,” “Mean Woman Blues,” Forget Her,” “Three Rows Over,” Corrina Corrina,” and “Destination Love.” In total he would score over 20 times with gold singles throughout the decade. He became one of Canada’s first artists to receive the RPM Gold Leaf Award (forerunner to today’s Juno) in ’66 for Top Male Vocalist, the same year he won an RPM award for being the first Canadian to have a gold album. He also played a pivotal role in the formation of Crowbar. Then called The Ascots, Curtola used them as his backup band for a year or so in the late ’60s.
The beginning of the ’70s was a transitional period, having outgrown being a teen idol. He did it while becoming the highest paid entertainer in Canada, and one of the top paid stars on the strip, when he signed a five-year multi-million dollar deal with Walter Kane from the Hughes Hotel chain. From there he became a Las Vegas staple for the next 20 years, often sharing the stage with the likes of Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr and Desi Arnez in impromptu performances.
With the albums CHANGES in 1970 and CURTOLA a year later, he stretched into a more contemporary sound while, charting in the country top 40 in Canada with “Jean” and “Way Down Deep.” Top 40 singles kept coming, with “Songman” (#32) and “Oh My Marie” (#36), from STICKIN’ WITH BEAUTIFUL THINGS in 1976. That album also produced some of his most critically acclaimed work, with covers of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” and “Tie A Yellow Ribbon.” He also found time during time away from The Strip for his second TV show at home, “Shake, Rock and Roll” on CTV.
He continued to stay active on the scene throughout the ’80s, and in a strange marketing move, dropped one of the b’s in his first name. But raising a family took precedence in life, though he was still performing – just not as often. He also hit the top 40 again in 1984 with “Have You Ever Really Been There?”
He ushered in the ’90 with CHRISTMAS FLASHBACK, a mix of church traditional favourites and other festive classics. Through the digital age, Curtola was re-born with a new audience, as well as a friendly visit to some old friends that had been loyal to him for over three decades at that point. He hooked up on the growing Princess Cruises world circuit, literally playing on The Love Boat” for over a decade. And now on RCA, more compilations went through the system. As well, much of his back catalogue was re-released with bonus tracks. These included remixes of some classics, a duet with Buddy Miles and “Precious Memories,” a song he wrote in memory of The King.
In 1996, Toronto City Council proclaimed April 26 Bobby Curtola Day, and he’s also ben awarded the keys to the city for Edmonton, Brandon, Calgary, and Hamilton. A year later, he was inducted into the Coca Cola Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Vegas.
The mid ’90s saw the return of the sock-hop, and with it a new record from Curtola. TURN THE RADIO UP was a critic’s fave – simple melodies and straight forward fun, featuring new spins on old classics like “New Orleans,” “Rockin’ Pneumonia,” and “Dream Lover.”
In Bali, India in 2000, he was working with Corrina, one of Asia’s hottest rising phenoms. Slowing down only slightly, he carried on throughout the rest of the decade by racking up more frequent flyer points, touring France, Italy, Switzerland, and England, as well as extensive dates in North America.
Bobby Curtola has also been recognized for his incredible philanthropic accomplishments over his career. He keeps busy at many charities, telethons (including those by Jerry Lews and for Camp He Ho Ha near Edmonton), and sock hops in Canada and the US. He’s also lent a hand to countless causes abroad, including Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Japan.
He also started up his own foundation for Ecuador’s children, for which he was awarded the Gold Metal of Merit. He was awarded the country’s highest honour – the Order of Canada in 1998, as well as being inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, as well as th Italian Walk of Fame in a ceremony in Toronto. Sept. 14 of 2009 was declared “Bobby Curtola Day” in Toronto, and a street was also re-christened Bobby Curtola Drive. He continued to play to packed houses around the world as the new millennium was in full swing, and also played The Citadel stage in his now hometown of Edmonton during a production of “Grease.” He’s also played a pivotal role in the earliest Canadian content rulings, which eventually evolved into the CRTC (Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission).
Unlike Paul Anka, who became a naturalized American citizen, Bobby Curtola remained in Canada, although he admits he’s enjoyed getting out of the cold once in awhile. Showing that homegrown talent doesn’t always need to leave the nest to soar has paved the way for many of the following generations of the country’s stars.
Aside from his music career, Curtola has also been a successful business entrepreneur throughout his career, stemming back to his pitching Coke products in the ’60s. He’s marketed a successful brand of Caesar cocktail, as well as a pyrogy company. He’s also CEO of Home Farms Technologies, a Canadian-based company which is attempting to develop an environmentally friendly waste management system for hog waste.