El Dorado Hills native son-turned-Nashville performer and songwriter Brian Curtis returns to town this month, playing a series of local shows and reconnecting with his roots before hitting the road on the longest tour of his career to date.
It’s been six years since Brian Applegarth changed his last name to Curtis and moved to Nashville to become a professional songwriter. Though his idea might have seemed lofty and foolhardy at the time, the 30-year-old has managed to make a name for himself as a songwriter, demo singer and more recently the lead vocalist for the country duo “Curtis and Luckey,” with longtime friend and co-collaborator Eric Luckey on guitar and vocals.
The duo is touring in support of its debut album, “The Kurtis Project,” released last year.
“This is the first of three tours we set up,” Curtis said in an interview with Village Life. “We’ll be back in Nashville for two weeks in February then back on the road through late April. We’ve got about 200-plus shows on the books for the year. It’s going to be very fun, exhausting and exciting.”
Curtis and Luckey kicked off their current six-week tour Wednesday night at the El Dorado Saloon. It took the timid weeknight crowd a while to gather the nerve, but patrons eventually made their way onto the dance floor, two-stepping to a mix of original songs and renditions of music from Garth Brooks, Old Crow Medicine Show and more.
“This is really sort of a warm-up show for us,” Curtis said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve had some lineup changes and we’re running our own sound tonight … Powerhouse and The Purple Place should be a lot bigger.”
Curtis graduated Oak Ridge High School in 1998 and went on to study at UC Irvine. After earning his degree, he took a job teaching English to students in Japan.
He joined a local cover band as a singer and cut his teeth playing to amped crowds in small clubs. After his teaching contract expired he traveled to Italy, where he spent a year honing his songwriting skills.
In 2005 he made the move to Nashville, changed his name and hasn’t looked back.
The duo of Curtis and Luckey evolved out of a friendship formed early in Curtis’ stay in Nashville. “We got introduced by Sean Rhem, a songwriter who writes a lot of material for us,” he said. “We had good chemistry and we really get along.
“He was born and Raised in Nashville. I was from the West Coast. His voice is deeper than mine. Our similarities and differences really seem to compliment each other well.”
The pair co-wrote several of the songs on “The Kurtis Project.” They’ve since had the opportunity to record a quartet of songs with famed Grammy-nominated Nashville producer Buddy Cannon. Their most recent single, “Ear Candy,” hit No. 159 on the Nashville Industry “Music Row” chart and has received extensive airplay throughout the South.
The transition from stay-put songwriter to touring performer has been a trial-by-fire learning process for Curtis, who referred to the cutthroat country music scene as “Hollywood with a little bit ‘o twang.” Curtis admits he feels happier now that he’s spending more time on the road than in Nashville.
“It’s a business,” he said. “We live and breathe music. It’s the common thread that holds us together. The road’s rough … going to sleep at 4, waking up early. We’re like a little family. Hopefully one day we can make a living at it.”
Curtis and Luckey will play four more shows in the area before continuing the rest of their tour. Jan. 20 they’ll be at the Powerhouse Pub. Jan. 22 they take the stage at The Wrangler rodeo bar in Elk Grove. Jan. 27 they play at The Stoney Inn Rockin’ Rodeo and Jan. 29 at The Purple Place.
Visit Curtisandluckey.com for more information on the band, including shows, bios and music.