Country Strong: One group defines a new country genre
The five-member Sean Curtis band gives new meaning to Rocky Mountain country.
The group was the brainchild of Jason Downing in 2013. At the time he performed as Jay Lee.
The Colorado native was born in 1974. As soon as he was old enough to hold a guitar, he started his life as a self-taught musician.
After mastering a myriad of instruments throughout his childhood, he switched from guitar to bass in the early 1990s. Following a brief stint as a professional pilot, Downing took a short break before he started his pursuit of his longtime country music dream.
Vocalist Sean Curtis was the first to respond to Downing’s Craigslist ad seeking band members. Curtis excelled and Autumn Ruiz, Bob Benson and Tim Elliott joined the band soon after. They play a style of music called Rocky Mountain Country, a brand of country music all its own.
Downing said the Rocky Mountain Country direction appeared during an original piece rehearsal. The band members agreed they sounded different than anything they’ve heard. They have a collected range of styles, from Iron Maiden to George Strait to RUSH to Eric Church. Together, the separate members’ styles merged to create their sound.
“It’s not Red Dirt,” Downing said. “It’s not Country Western. It’s not Nashville. It’s not Country Rock either. It’s Rocky Mountain Country. We love being different. It’s what makes music, music.”
Curtis was a country-raised boy was born in Fort Morgan, Colo., and raised in Cheyenne, Wyo., where he and wife, Amy, still reside. He was influenced by music greats like George Strait, Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton, Curtis competed in contests for radio’s 97.9 Big Country. He won 2012’s Big Country Idol and its version of “The Voice” the same year at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Also that year, Curtis showed up to “American Idol” auditions on a whim in Casper, Wyo. He made the cut and advanced to Hollywood, where he finished in the top 80.
That accomplishment inspired him to search for musicians to perform with, which ultimately led him to Downing’s ad.
After the successful “American Idol” run, the 33-year-old’s name retained relevance within the regional musical community and, by unanimous decision, was selected as the group’s name.
“I feel blessed to have found the group of people that make up the Sean Curtis Band,” Curtis said.
The group’s sole female, Ruiz, is a Cheyenne native. When she was five, she started to sing in her church. She grew up playing piano and clarinet, and also performed in theater arts and musical productions. The 40-year-old single mother of three teenage sons tried out for “The Voice” and won Big Country Idol 2012. The Sean Curtis Band’s background vocalist owns All For Fun Karaoke, which provides entertainment to Wyoming venues including Alf’s Pub, Amvets and The Knotty Pine Saloon.
At age 12, Benson relocated to Fort Collins, Colo. with his family from Omaha, Neb., the town he knew from birth in 1971. As a little boy, he’d listened to borrowed LPs and 8-tracks featuring Bob Seger, Led Zeppelin and others. He paid for his own musical education, which endowed him with skills needed to advance to jam nights, parties and then as lead guitarist with the Sean Curtis Band.
Percussionist/vocalist Elliott is the ‘elder statesman’ of the group. Born in 1964, he started playing drums in seventh grade and progressed to professional bands including Seducer (which included singer Jeff Scott Soto, who went on to groups such as Journey and Trans-Siberian Orchestra). Elliott spent 10 years with three different rock bands, opening on regional tours for Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat, Molly Hatchett, Pat Travers and more throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey. Colorado’s mountains drew him home in 1997. The Loveland resident and his wife, Sherri, perform with ‘80s metal tribute band Audible Clique. Elliott is also the Sean Curtis Band’s drummer.
IN THE INDUSTRY
To help expand their genre’s sound, the group came together with other local Rocky Mountain Country performers.
Chancey Williams, The Younger Brothers Band, Southern Fryed, Brand 307, the Randy Burghardt Band, Shawn Wright and the Tribe and individuals including Bryan Thomas are just some of them.
“A lot of places around the country don’t have a good working network among local artists,” Downing said. “Seems like most bands look at other bands as competition instead of an opportunity to build something together that benefits all involved. We don’t want that here.”
Downing admitted the band didn’t originate Rocky Mountain Country, but they’re making it their own.
“…Thus far, to our knowledge, we are the first group to ever push it as a separate style from the norm and as a sub-genre in and of itself,” he said.
The most recent Sean Curtis Band album, “Kind of Like Wyoming”, has eight tracks, four of which were cuts from external writers. Curtis and all other band members wrote the other four.
The next record will be only original songs.
The group has about 30-40 venues they’ll perform at this year.
“We have things in the lineup for Cheyenne Frontier Days, festivals and opening for some phenomenal national acts,” Downing said. He also acts as the band’s general manager. “We also plan on tightening up the next record and getting it ready for the studio.”
Regardless of intense schedules and travel, all the members of the Sean Curtis Band said they believe it must be family first.
“Our ultimate goal, is to make as many people happy as we can through our music,” Downing said. “Nothing can replace connecting to people that way and watching someone you don’t know sing a song you wrote on the couch at home. We are on the back end of structuring the songs we want to cut on the next record as well. We are all pretty excited at how much we have grown in only a year and how that reflects in our new material and we can’t wait to release it.”
As their website says, “Get you some Rocky Mountain Country!”❖
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