By Don Sikorski
You won’t find many musicians who can claim ties to both teen sensation boy bands like The Backstreet Boys and a heavy metal rock guitar icon the likes of Ritchie Blackmore. But Bob Curiano meets those criteria.
“I’ve been playing music since I can remember,” said Curiano, who now who began touring during the late 1970’s as the bass player with the band Mink De Ville. The Manhattan-based band was categorized with the new wave movement of the era, along the lines of performers like Blondie and Billy Idol. “We (Mink De Ville) were more of a cult band, touring in Europe a lot,” recalls Curiano of those early days. Mink De Ville headlined shows all over Europe and opened for performers like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Carlos Santana. Curiano was with Mink De Ville for a decade before moving on to pursue his own musical interests of writing and producing. It was those interests that led Curiano to his next claim to (almost) big-time fame. “A friend of mine (Lou Pearlman) called and said, ‘I found these kids. Can you come down to Florida?’ They were these nice little kids, but they couldn’t really sing harmonies very well,” recalls Curiano of that initial meeting with the teen band calling themselves “The Backstreet Boys”. “I spent about a week telling them what notes to sing, helped formulate the sound, and wished them luck. Who would realize that a few months later, they would be selling platinum.” In the beginning, the Backstreet Boys were actually performing Curiano’s work. “When Jive Records entered the picture, they cleaned house, brought in their own people, and I sort of got lost in the shuffle,” recalls Curiano. “That was one that got away. You learn how to have a sense of humor in this business”.
Although Curiano wasn’t actively seeking a band to join, in the music business, people know each other. And when a guitar god calls, people answer the telephone. “You play gigs, people see you, take your card, and eventually things get around and you get a phone call,” said Curiano of how he landed a job playing bass alongside on the rock’s greatest guitar players ever. “The Manager (of Blackmore’s Knight) had seen me playing somewhere. I had quit the road and started a family. When I got the call, I said “with who?” That Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple? Sure. I thought it might be a good reason to go out and have some fun again. And I did it for six years”.
A diverse bass player, Curiano relished the opportunity to play with a guitarist of Ritchie Blackmore’s status. Curiano first met Blackmore at the Normandy Inn, a Long Island tavern. They talked music over a few pints and subsequently played music there, earning Curiano the stage name “Sir Robert of Normandy”. As a bass player, Curiano’s biggest musical challenge was performing alongside an artist as diverse as Blackmore, who’s hard rock and classical roots from his Deep Purple/Rainbow days have matured into the medieval and English folk style of Blackmore’s Night (featuring vocalist Candice Night). “He could pick up the strat and go full tilt and the next song, pick up and acoustic and play something completely different,” said Curiano of Blackmore’s playing. Curiano also doubled on bass and guitar in Blackmore’s Night. “Being a hired gun, I’m pretty adept at a lot of different styles, although I don’t consider myself a master at any one of them,” said Curiano. “When someone says let’s play some Brazilian, or let’s play some Rhythm and Blues, or let’s play some Classical, I can pretty much go in and play that stuff.” Curiano himself prefers “old school” music, rhythm and blues, and funky jazz. “I have a lot of roots that relate to (Ritchie) Blackmore; that’s why I went out (on the road) with him,” said Curiano. “He was sort of a mentor to me in some ways”.
Just last month, Curiano left Blackmore’s Night and returned to his passion of writing music. He and Mr. Blackmore have parted on good terms and remain friends. “The road can be sometimes disrupting,” said Curiano of his reasoning behind the decision to leave the band. “I also wanted to be open to pursuing some other thing with my career that was put on hold when you go out to tour.” Curiano now resides in Ridgefield, CT and has delved back into writing, working on specialized music for film and television, and continues to play locally. While most people were in awe of a guitar god of Blackmore’s status, Curiano related to Ritchie Blackmore on a personal level. “I just related to him, and it was the best thing in the end,” says Curiano. “He’s a British guitar player. He likes soccer, he likes to have a few beers, and he likes to play guitar. We’re still good friends”. And as far as future opportunities, Curiano is leaving the door open. “If you have a passion for something, you just go on,” said Curiano. “If something interesting comes up, I’d love to do it. I still like to play.”