Man changes dream into search for music (video)

Jan. 15, 2013 at 7 p.m.
Updated Jan. 15, 2013 at 7:16 p.m.

Curtis Price smiles as he talks about reviving his career as a singer. Growing up in Corpus Christi, Price began singing in a Miller High School talent contest that would eventually take him to the Big Apple.

Curtis Price smiles as he talks about reviving his career as a singer. Growing up in Corpus Christi, Price began singing in a Miller High School talent contest that would eventually take him to the Big Apple.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

He stood in the middle of his apartment, eyes closed for a moment.

In his head, he was hearing the music, the instruments backing him up, supporting him on his imaginary stage as he listened for his cue.

"Oh, my love, my darling, I've hungered for your touch a long, lonely time."

Curtis Price, 59, sang with his head tilted back, a sweet, rich baritone coming from his throat.

You couldn't listen to him without feeling the magic of that voice. Midway through the second verse, his voice cracked. Price stopped, snapping out of the dream.

He knows his voice is a little rusty. He needs rehearsing, but he's still got it, that way of making people feel what he's feeling, the emotion he's pouring into a song. All he needs is the band.

Price, born in Woodsboro, fell in love with music the way so many did, singing in the church choir. Shy as a kid, he could sing if there wasn't an audience, but standing in front of the congregation, his confidence would ebb, fading away as so many pairs of eyes stared.

Forget those people out there, his cousin told him. The trick was, she said, to just look up and over them. Look past the audience and sing.

He was a shy kid, but something came alive in him when he was singing. He hated to be stared at, but at the same time he had this hunger in him to be known. He was going to be famous, he told all his friends. They would laugh and nod, but he thought it would happen.

When Little Richard performed in Corpus Christi, Price and his friends didn't have enough money to get in and see the great entertainer, but they crept in through a hole in the fence and Price, with that unshakeable confidence of a 16-year-old, made his way back stage to meet the famed artist.

He was a singer, too, he told Richard.

"Well, let's hear you sing something," Richard said.

He sang the song that had won him the high school talent contest: "The Sweetest Letter."

Richard was impressed, inviting Price to his hotel for a brunch the next morning, but Price got scared and didn't show up.

Soon after, he left home, taking off with some friends to Florida looking to play in a band and make it big. It was always about "making it big" back then.

He ended up stranded in Florida and had to hitch a ride home. But after arriving home, he didn't stay long. The drive to be somebody sent him back out on the road to Hollywood. His uncle dropped him off on Hollywood Boulevard with $21 in his pocket and a plan to be famous. He was going to sing or act, and people would know his name.

It was the 1960s, and he fell in with some hippies living on the roof of a building. He lived there, too, taking odd jobs and depending on luck and the kindness of strangers to get him through until his big break came.

He was a handsome kid, average height but slim with a good build, toffee-colored skin drawn over high-cheekbones and patrician nose that made up a face that caught you in its latent beauty.

He had never acted much, but he thought he could, and he knew he had a voice. It was just a question of finding his way in.

The door didn't open in Hollywood, but he found himself in New York City and soon he was working as a model, being photographed by some of the great fashion photographers of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

That led to auditions and some acting roles - a part in an off-Broadway play, a big role in a play put on in Harlem.

He auditioned for "Sanford and Son," had people telling him he was going to make it big. He was working as a model and the kind of money he had never seen growing up in Texas was pouring in, and he spent it like water.

He got a small part in a blaxsploitation film and a larger role in the film "Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes."

This was going to be his ticket to the big time, but the film was an unmitigated flop. If anyone made it through the project, they probably didn't walk away talking about that handsome man with that small role - a character who was going to make it big in illegal gambling.

Price kept at it, making appearances on "The Dick Clark Show" and making money doing photo shoots. He was in advertisements, smiling and modeling a cream-colored bell-bottomed jumper in one photo, a sweater in another. His face was like a sculpture and he wasn't lacking work.

Life hadn't gone the way he had expected, but he still hoped it would turn around, that his big break would come.

Then his portfolio was stolen, every material he had that would get him the jobs and prove he had worked with some of the biggest names in fashion.

He had never really doubted that his dream would come true. Not when his father grew angry and heavy handed with him. Not when he was hungry and alone in Florida or floating from place to place enjoying the world of the counterculture movement of the 1960s.

He had left the portfolio in an office waiting room while he ran upstairs to talk to a photographer about their next gig. With a jolt, he realized he'd forgotten the case with pictures of him and Michael Jackson, him in the background of a photo of Diana Ross in "The Wiz," the only things he really had to show for his years of work.

He ran back downstairs, but it was gone.

Maybe he could have continued working, but he lost the will to keep trying at it. A few months later, he got enough money together to make it home to his mother's house in Kenedy. He thought his dream was over, but the itch would come over him every so often, and he'd start thinking about getting his money together and heading back to Hollywood for one more try at fame and fortune.

He went a few times, but he always came back home, done with the whole idea, until the dream would come back to him and he'd start saving his money for one more try at Hollywood.

All the while, music stayed with him. Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding - he listened to the greats and learned to sing like them. The voice mattered, but what he loved about music, what singing was for him, was a chance to pour it all out - all the heartache and disappointment, the pain and joy that life served up that was only expressible in those sparkling, glittering moments of perfect sound.

When it all became too much, when the disappointments stacked up too high and too often, he would retreat to that world of sound where the things in his heart that he didn't have words for would come out in the songs made famous by Redding and others.

Slowly over the years, his dream of being a famous movie star went through a change, or maybe that longing in him just shifted back to its original form. His mother died a few years ago, and he was left without a safety net, struggling to find a place he could afford to live on a fixed income. He found his way to help and stability, settling in Victoria a few months ago.

He moved into his little apartment, and immediately a list of songs was written on a dry-erase board and hung on the wall. He got out his keyboard and started practicing every day. He can see it in his head, just the way he used to see himself making it in Hollywood or being so famous people would stare as he walked down the streets of New York.

He wants to start a band, to get with a group of musicians who love the music he loves and who want to play shows to give people a chance to get back to that world of music, of longing and love and sitting on the dock of a bay. All he needs is the band.

"I'm able to go within myself, to express what is in me. Some of the hard times, it all comes together, and it's expressing to the audience some of the things I've been through. I can give that to people, and that's what I want to do," he said.



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