Clifford Curry

How did Knoxville singer Clifford Curry go from Smoky Mountain soul man to a shaman of "the shag," revered by the Carolina Beach music scene? The credit goes to his pulsating 1967 Elf Records tour de force, "She Shot a Hole in My Soul," which rose to #45 on the R&B charts and #95 in pop. But it's been a long and winding road for the baritone singer who got his start with his high school band the Echos and later joined the Five Pennies. Having backed Faye Adams on her R&B smash "Shake a Hand," before Curry joined, the Five Pennies then had a minor hit on the Savoy label with the Curry-penned "Mr. Moon" (1955) and also waxed "My Heart Trembles" (1956).

Curry then joined the Bingos and headed to Nashville to audition for Ernie Young's Excello label; with their name changed to the Hollyhocks, the group recorded two songs on Young's Nasco label. Next, Curry logged several years with the Bubba Suggs Band in Clarksville, Tenn., before going solo to record as Sweet Clifford for both Nasco and Excello.

As Sweet Clifford, he cut four tunes in 1963: "Just a Lonely Boy"/"Baby! Just What Is Wrong" and "Things Gotta Get Better"/"Baby Kiss Me Again." Unfortunately "Things Gotta Get Better" was mistakenly credited to "Clifford Sweet" – not a very sweet mixup, in Curry's estimation.

Next for Curry came membership in the Fabulous Six, with fellow members Louie and Dewey Guy, Bob Adams, Jerry Johnson, and Wayne Cronin. With Dewey Guy on the 45 label as apparent leader, the Fab Six cut "Rock A While" backed with "Can't Stand to Be Alone" on the tiny Ridgecrest label of La Grange, Ga., followed by "Mr. Dee Jay" on Blue Sky Records in 1965 – this time recording under the name the Contenders. Curry also cut "Kiss, Kiss, Kiss" and "Crazy for You" on the same label.

Curry then forged a songwriting partnership with Knoxville DJ Rob Galbraith, who introduced him to Buzz Cason, who would become one of the key forces behind "She Shot a Hole in My Soul." Having served in the Casuals, known as Nashville's first rock 'n' roll band, Cason also worked with members of the Jordanaires and sang backup for Elvis Presley and Kenny Rogers, among other feats. But Cason's greatest success as a songwriter came with the song "Everlasting Love," written with Mac Gayden. The song was a U.K. smash for the group Love Affair in 1968 but took off in the United States in 1974 when recorded by Don Robey protege Carl Carlton for the Back Beat label, reaching No. 6.

But back to "She Shot a Hole in My Soul." In blogger Red Kelly's opinion, "Cason's production of this Gayden composition is simply untouchable, and is one of the hottest R&B records to emanate from Nashville in the 1960s. I'm lovin' Clifford's 'Help Me Somebody!' there, right before Mac kicks in with an early example of the 'slide-wah' style that he would later lend to records like J.J. Cale's 'Crazy Mama.' Great Stuff, y'all!" Backed with "We're Gonna Hate Ourselves in the Morning," "She Shot a Hole in My Soul" would make #45 R&B, and become "a huge favorite on the 'beach music' scene down in the Carolinas, where Curry still makes a living off of it, appearing regularly at clubs throughout the region." Curry would record several more tunes for Elf, but none as powerful as his Elf debut. Other notable versions of Curry's hit have been recorded, including ones by the Box Tops as well as Louisiana legend John Fred.

By 1980 this revered Beach music vocalist finally recorded a song containing the word "shag": "Shag With Me" backed with "Let's With Have a Party" on Woodshed Records. Don't miss this chance to do the shag with Clifford Curry at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp. You're risking a big hole in your soul otherwise …

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