Chris Curtis: That’s me. I used to come home and my mum would say, “Take those clothes off, you stink”, and I would be sopping wet.
SL: Well, the song you have picked from “The Iron Door Sessions” is “Rosalie”.
Chris Curtis: That’s John McNally singing and I thought he did a really good job on that. He swings on rhythm guitar too, he plays the best rhythm guitar in the world.
SL: So you all took lead vocals?
Chris Curtis: Yes, that was one of the advantages of going to Germany. Manfred Weissleder and Horst Fascher realised we could play for a long time. I would sing “What’d I Say” and the audience would go absolutely nuts.
SL: Whereas Gerry Marsden in Gerry and the Pacemakers was their only vocalist and he was ruining his voice.
Chris Curtis: Yes, but he was doing an impression of Tony Sheridan. No one gives that man enough credit. He was great. He was the man who instigated “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (sings). Gerry must have heard him sing it. If you impersonate someone singing, it is never the same as your own throat doing the job.
ROSALIE – THE SEARCHERS
SL: You said you were at the Star-Club. St. Pauli was very seedy but people have told me that you went to this church that was in the midst of the strip clubs. Is that true?
Chris Curtis: Of course. We finished at five or six o’clock on Sunday morning and it was a good way of winding down. It was a convent church and there were a lot of nuns there. It was great.
SL: And what did you think of the area itself?
Chris Curtis: You said the word ‘seedy’. It was awful. There were transvestites standing in the doorway of the seedy clubs, and because I had very long hair, a lot of people thought I was a tranny, and I wasn’t.
SL: Very few people had long hair then.
Chris Curtis: Manfred Weissleder, who was a great bloke, and Horst Fascher, who did the announcing, would ask me why I had my hair like that, and I said, “Because I use it in the act.”
SL: But when you started having hit records, presumably somebody told you to have it cut.
Chris Curtis: No, I told myself. (Laughs) I thought, If you want to be as successful as Cliff, it will have to go.
SL: You only heard this Star-Club album the other day.
Chris Curtis: Through your good aegis. I was surprised by its quality. We had been back in England and we had got well known here, and we had a contract to go back. We were told that we didn’t have to do it, we could be bought out of it, but we said, “They paid money to see us before we were well-known, so we will return the favour.” They really appreciated it. Look at the crowd on the front of that album. They went absolutely nuts for us.
SL: Everybody did “What’d I Say”.
Chris Curtis: Yes, but nobody did it like me. Johnny Hutch of the Big Three did it first on Merseyside and he could drum better than anyone.
SL: You mentioned going to church at the Star-Club and this leads us onto another of your favourite artists, Big Maybelle.
Chris Curtis: Oh, I love her, she’s brilliant. Nobody knows about her in England, and she did covers of the Beatles’s songs. (Sings “Eleanor Rigby” like Big Maybelle.) I thought it wasn’t a woman at first, but it was Big Maybelle and she sings brilliantly.
NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN – BIG MAYBELLE
WHAT’D I SAY – THE SEARCHERS
SL: And there’s some German in there.
Chris Curtis: Yes, that was to get them to join in.
SL: Not many people were singing lead vocals and playing drums until Levon Helm in the late 60s.
Chris Curtis: Oh, wasn’t he brilliant? That’s what I tried to do with the Searchlights, as I call them.
SL: Tell us a bit about your repertoire at the Star-Club.
Chris Curtis: Well, we would start with a speedy number to get them up dancing. That way the club would sell more beer. They called it “mach schau”. We would race around and I would shake my head and they really liked that. For some unknown reasons, the Germans liked me better with short hair and I thought it would be the other way round. I looked like an ordinary English chap when I had my hair cut.
SL: And Astrid Kirchherr took your pictures.
Chris Curtis: No, she didn’t. That was another AK, my girlfriend, Annette Kuntze,she came over to London to live with me in Knightsbridge. She took wonderful snaps and she did some of the Pye covers. She would tell us to stand still and not smile, and we would be all sullen.