Photo: Bill King
Photo: Bill King

Canadian Music Hall of Fame Profile 1: Bobby Curtola

Bobby Curtola’s career began at age 15 with Bobby and The Bobcats in Port Arthur, Ontario. In 1960 Curtola rode the Canadian music charts with Hand in Hand With You. Curtola went on to record hits such as Indian Giver and his biggest chart-topper Fortune Teller in 1962, selling over 2.5 million copies internationally. Over the years, he gained 25 Canadian gold singles, twelve gold albums and an RPM Gold Leaf Award for Best Male Vocalist in 1966. In 2011 Curtola received a star on the Italian Walk of Fame in Toronto. Bobby was a businessman and one of those rare entertainers to hang with the Rat Pack in Vegas during the most exciting times for singers, comics, and every kind of stage entertainer.

Bobby’s longtime partner Karyn Rockford perished in a car accident in Nova Scotia in 2015. Curtola died at home in Edmonton in 2016. Curtola is celebrated for his contributions to Canadian music in a ceremony on October 27 for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. I caught up with sons Chris and Mike for this conversation.

Bill King: There have been many campaigns on Bobby’s behalf to get him recognized as a pioneer in contemporary Canadian music. How would Bobby have reacted to being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame?

Chris & Mike Curtola: He would be very humbled and grateful.  He knows it's not about the awards for his career, but it would have brought a big smile and a, “Wow!  Thank You!”.  The number of people behind the scenes that were pushing for him to get this award is truly amazing.  People like Anne Murray, Allan Reid, Larry Leblanc, and the committee of Tom Wilson, Doug Chappell, Gary Muth, Al Mair, Dave Charles, and Roger Ashby were big champions of this. 

B.K: What do you see as his legacy?

Curtola: As much as the music and million sellers are his history, his real legacy was how many lives he touched in Canada, and around the world.  My brother and I are consistently reminded by not only fans, but regular people that got to meet him on a plane, or at a charity event, and how profoundly he touched them.  That indeed was his gift and his legacy.

B.K: Bobby had remarkable energy and a way of connecting with people. What kept him engaged in each day?

Curtola: He did!  He was just an all-around positive guy; he enjoyed people and lived in the moment.  We used to have to haul him away from autograph lineups after the show because he would stay for three hours and sign for everyone.  At times we’d have a plane to catch and have to pull him away, but that was him. He enjoyed it and was engrossed in that conversation with that person.  He knew he could have an impact, and he made sure he did.

B.K: What was he like when away from the stage and fans?

Curtola: He was the same guy, very positive and fun - always smiling.  He loved movies, and we would still sneak away to some matinees when we were together.  Dad always had his pop with no ice!  He loved Italian food, and I think just the family part of getting together for a meal.  We still did that on the road, the meal before a show and the hotel room party after. It was always about the people.

B.K: What interests did he pursue outside of music?

Curtola: He loved cars!  He had many over his life, so driving and buying and selling cars was one of his passions. His favourite was the 1963 Grand Prix he got early on in his success. Then it would be his 1960 White Hardtop Convertible Corvette.  His other interests were his family, spending time with his kids and grandkids.  The business was also a passion, as well as giving back to numerous charities like the Variety Club, and Wounded Warriors. 

B.K: Did he have a favourite recording in his catalogue he thought showed him at his best?

Curtola: He loved them all, he realized these songs gave him such an incredible life, and he never got sick of singing them.  He would tell us Fortune Teller put him where he is, and everyone wants to hear that song, and he was gonna sing that song precisely as they remembered it.  Later in his career, he enjoyed the odd cover song that meant a lot.  He did a fantastic American Trilogy to close out his first set that was very emotional.  Also Wonderful World, by his good friend Louis Armstrong - a beautiful rendition

B.K: What did he listen to for his pleasure?

Curtola: You know what he didn't “listen” to music for pleasure. He didn't look at it like that; he was busy doing other things. But what an ear.  I would play him songs sometimes and get him to listen to albums, and he would always pick out the hits.  I remember once I played him the entire Daft Punk record, Random Access Memory, and he said, “that’s gonna win Album of the Year,” and he was right!

B.K: Bobby was a great storyteller. Is there one that stands he shared with family?

Curtola: One that stands out was from the Vegas years.  He was singing in the lounge at The Sands, the Rat Pack was in the showroom, and Elvis was over at the Hilton.  He said one day, a hefty heavyset guy came in with two beautiful models on his arm and sat down for one of Bobby’s shows.  As he does, he roamed the audience with the mic a lot and noticed it was Elvis in disguise, had a pillow in his shirt and a big wig and glasses.  He gave him a salute as he snuck away - but there were so many of those.  He spanned the decades and got to meet and perform with so many artists. That and the early golf games with the Rat Pack starting at 6 a.m. to wind down the night!

B.K: When he suddenly passed, it was a shock for all who knew him. How is the family coping with loss?

Curtola: We are doing well, but it was a great shock and loss.  He always said he wanted to go quick, and we are thankful that it was, but there isn’t a day that we don’t think of him, speak to him, or hear his music or a sweet story reminding us of him. For our family he was Dad, Pops, Nono. His spirit and love are deeply missed. But we are fortunate to have had him for so many years and even more lucky to be reminded of his amazing life and legacy through this award. 

B.K: What do you think his legacy will be?

Curtola: As a Canadian music legend, his legacy will be his music, but for those who knew him, or even got to meet him just once, his real legacy is that he made this world a better place, he did his best, gave back, touched people, he loved and was loved. He put his fingerprint on the world and did it with passion.

A partial jukebox of Bobby Curtola hits

Fortune Teller

Three Rows Over

Hitchhiker

Indian Giver

Aladdin

Walking with My Angel

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