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Thursday, February 22, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sound Check

Justin Curtis' Rockabilly: Music For The Fast Lane

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

The members of Justin Curtis & the Continentals:

Justin Curtis, lead vocals, guitar, harmonica

Shades Jacoby, bass, vocals

Criss Crass, drums, vocals

Kimball Conant, lead guitar

Pop in Justin Curtis' most recent CD, "Rock-a-billy in 3-D."

Whoa!

Your CD player's just gone from 0 to 90 mph with the first notes of Curtis' songs.

Try to catch up as the music races and careens. Hang on as Curtis' smooth, deep voice runs and growls over the instrumentals like an eight-wheel truck mowing down the highway on Porsche-quality engines.

You can see why the album has the name it does. This is rockabilly (a combination of hillbilly music and R&B that started in the 1950s with artists like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley) so energetic, so elemental, that its presence can almost be touched.

"I started playing country music at 14," Curtis says. "But playing rockabilly was harder for me. Because I was shy, playing slow country ballads was easier - I could hide behind the music. But when you do an upbeat rockabilly song, you have to put yourself into the music, and really perform for the audience."

He's long since overcome the shyness. In 1987, the Alberta, Canada, native traveled to Nashville, where he worked his way into the local music scene and earned a business degree in music management at Belmont University.

He formed a trio called Justin Curtis & Two Fast, which won the 1991 Entertainer Indi-Association's Most Promising Band award. Local radio stations, cafes and nightclubs played the band's music.

"But the problem with Nashville was that there weren't many places to play live," Curtis says. "There's the Grand Ole Opry, but that's about it. It's a music biz town. Everyone's signing things in their offices or playing demo tapes, but people don't go out."

So Curtis took his talent and experience back to Calgary and formed a four-piece band called Justin Curtis & Outerlimits. From playing on street corners to entertaining in clubs, the group rapidly built a hot reputation. Its June 1992 single, "What's Her Name," debuted at No. 9 on "Top of the Vox," a chart based on the amount of airplay on a Calgary radio station.

Last August, Curtis moved to Seattle and formed his current band.

"Seattle's not known for rockabilly," he admits. "But there's always been a rockabilly scene here. Rockabilly and roots rock seem to be growing all the way up and down the West Coast. And Seattle's always been a breeding ground for great new music."

Where to check out Justin Curtis & the Continentals: Tomorrow at the Tractor Tavern; March 30 at Second Time Around. "Rock-a-billy in 3-D" is available by writing to P.O. Box 23071, Broadway Station, Seattle, WA 98102. CDs $15, cassettes $10, includes postage and handling.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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