Hello everyone: It never ceases to amaze me the talent that is around the Kansas City area. This interview is another example of talent from Steve Gouge, known to many of us as “Curly”. I just know you will enjoy reading his musical journey. Steve is a wonderful musician and a great person as well with a very interesting background and I thank him for sharing it with us.
BB: When did you get started in your musical journey?
Curly: My father was the music minister in our church and my mother played piano, so music always filled our home. I started playing the trombone in 5th grade. I did very well with the trombone, sitting first chair in school and even winning a few medals at State competition. However, by the time I was 14 or 15 I realized that the trombone wasn’t much of a “chick magnet” so I began playing guitar.
BB: What happened after that?
Curly: In my early 20’s I was introduced to bluegrass music by some over-zealous friends that invited us to go to the Walnut Valley festival in Winfield, Kansas. One of those over-zealous friends
was Karla Peterie and her husband Mike Roark. Karla is the daughter of Slim Peterie, the long time bluegrass player in the Kansas City area. I told my wife that we should go to this “Winfield” thing one time to shut them up about it. The love affair with bluegrass began at the festival, so much so that we have now attended the Walnut Valley Festival 26 of the past 28 years.
BB: Where did you go from there?
Curly: My interest in bluegrass music continued to grow and I began taking flatpicking lessons from Rick George, son of Bob George, at George’s Music Service on North Oak. I practiced very earnestly for hours every day trying to get better at playing bluegrass. But for some reason, flatpicking never really “clicked” for me. So I decided that I would try playing some bass because we always had too many guitar pickers in the jam sessions and no one played bass. So I bought an inexpensive upright bass from a friend.
BB: What happened after the next?
Curly: Even though I was playing a lot of bass with various groups around town, I still played guitar. My mother and stepdad were members of a Good Sams camping club in Dallas and we would occasionally take our camper to Oklahoma or Texas to join them on one of their monthly campouts. When we would go to camp with them, all the guys in their club that played music would bring their instruments so that we could jam. One of those men was a very dear man named Pop Penrod. Pop was originally from Beach Creek, Kentucky, right smack in the heart of Muhlenberg County. He asked me if I had ever tried to play “Thumbpicking” style, like Chet Atkins or Merle Travis. I immediately told him that I didn’t think I could EVER play like Chet. He said that he saw something in my style of playing the guitar that made him believe that I might be able to play like that. So I told him I would try it. Well, from the first time I strapped on a thumb pick, I was astounded because I was indeed able to play that style. I think what amazed me most was that it felt so natural to me and that I didn’t have to work at it nearly as much as I had flatpicking.
BB: How did you get into Bluegrass/Old Time/Other Music?
Curly: As I continued to progress in playing the thumb picking or finger picking style, I began to explore the idea of taking some of the popular bluegrass tunes and creating my own arrangement of them in the finger picking style. Attending numerous bluegrass jam sessions around town helped immensely with that regard. It gave me an opportunity to sit down with some great musicians and learn these songs, melodies and chord progressions. Then I would go home and work out my arrangement of those songs.
BB: What is your favorite Bluegrass Band or Artist? and who influenced you the most?
Curly: Obviously Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Mose Rager influenced me heavily but I have also been influenced by Rhonda Vincent, New Grass Revival, Tony Rice, Dan Crary and Doc Watson. Doc Watson is one of the few guitarists I’ve ever seen or heard that has the ability to flatpick or fingerpick and make it sound fabulous. I really like Doc’s music.
BB: How many songs have you written?
Curly: I’ve only written a hand full of songs. Songwriting is something that never really came very easy for me. And I’ve found that there are so many great songs that have already been written that I want to learn, so it feels futile for me to pursue writing. So many songs, so little time!
BB: What advice would you give to young people wanting to get started in Bluegrass?
Curly: Like to shoe commercials say, “Just DO IT”. Get an instrument and get started. Sadly though, most folks buy an inexpensive instrument to get started since they don’t know if they will like it or not. But those inexpensive instruments are the hardest to play and often times discourage people from continuing to learn simply because they hurt the fingers so much. So my advice would be to buy the best instrument you can possibly afford to learn on. And practice EVERY day. Even if you can only find 15 or 20 minutes a day. Just make sure to spend some time practicing every single day. The internet offers tons of free material to learn from or you can find yourself an instructor to help you along the way.
BB: Anything else you want to say to wrap up this interview?
Curly: My wife Carol and I were part of the staff of the Santa Fe Trails Bluegrass Festival that was held locally for several years. We had the pleasure of meeting and hearing some of the best bluegrass musicians around, including Ricky Skaggs, Vassar Clements, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Rhonda Vincent, Brian Sutton and so many others. Our experience there just strengthened our love of bluegrass music. In fact, one afternoon at the festival, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Bob Redford, the founder of the Walnut Valley festival in Winfield, Kansas. I told Bob “Thank you for changing my life”. He gave me one of those deer-in-the-headlights looks and I could tell he was puzzled by my comment. I explained to him that our friends had introduced us to his festival, and that after attending his festival we returned home to Kansas City and began to get involved in the local bluegrass jam sessions. Through those jam sessions we have met so many absolutely wonderful folks, many of whom we now share holidays with, just like we do our own flesh and blood relatives. The friends we have through the music circles ARE an important part of our family now. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.