Bobby Curtola – Always, In My Heart


Submitted by Sandy Graham

We have not published for a few months now and the story needs to be told.

For those of you close to Cashbox Canada as well as me personally, you know we have lost our mentor, our friend our Canadian Legend, Bobby Curtola. I am not one to write anything personal but this story needs to be told.

My history with Bobby started in 1990, when I was a dancer/choreographer in the Route 66 Dancers. We were booked to open for Chubby Checker at a fundraiser for the March of Dimes called ‘Back to the Five & Dime’. My youngest boy, Graham, was a few months old and my babysitter cancelled at the last minute and I had to take him to the show. I was standing backstage, in a white skirt, holding Graham a foot away from me, hoping I could stay ‘intact’ long enough to perform my segment of the show. There was a man rolling wires and helping organize the performers so I asked him to hold my son for 15 minutes while I went on stage. He did – and when I came back he handed Graham back to me and said with that big dimpled smile ‘You are welcome. I'm Bobby Curtola and I'm on next.’

This was the beginning of close to a thirty year friendship.

Bobby Curtola DressingBobby Curtola Getting Ready for a GalaYears later, when Graham was a wee lad, Bobby sang ‘Fortune Teller’ to him. Graham, with the honesty of a child, told him he hated that song. Somehow I still kept him as a client. Graham loved Bobby like family and as the years went by they became friends as well.

He was there when my second son, Ian, was born. We brought Ian home and when we were outside on the front lawn, with Bobby holding him in his arms, a leaf floated down and stopped mid-air by Ian’s head. Bobby said he was destined to be something special. What was to be Bobby's last radio interview was at AM 740 with Robbie Lane and that same boy, Ian, was the operator that night. (Ian works at the station and to him Bobby was Uncle Bobby.) Following Bobby was Sam Taylor, accompanied by Pat Kelly. Bobby insisted on going to Sam Taylor's next performance and sit in for a set. During Canadian Music Week, Ian’s band, Ruthless Ones showcased and Bobby showed up to support him. He told the drummer, Nik Robe, that he should dye his hair blonde. After Bobby passed, Nik dyed his hair.This was the effect Bobby had on people.

We launched Cashbox Magazine Television at CMW 2016 and Bobby ‘held court’ at our booth for the whole time we were there. smiling and totally on his game. Stars, fans and industry peers stopped by to see him, and of course, being Bobby, he insisted on singing live at our booth to his own tracks. As always a crowd surrounded him. We will be releasing his segment soon, along with our other lineup of stars.

A few days later Bobby went to a launch party for Beach 1 cerveza for Wasaga Beach Brewing a the Hard Rock Cafe at Yonge & Dundas in downtown Toronto. Bobby being Bobby, dragged over two elevated bar seats and stood on top of them, once again singing to tracks. When he ran out of tracks he then sang Accapella to a few more hits. Bobby could do that - he sang like he was in concert at the ACC. I was on edge as I figured he got up there on those chairs, but how in the world is he going to get down? Once he finished, he jumped off those chairs like a teenager. That day was captured by Pat Blythe who was there, always ready to immortalize a moment in time. Little did we know it would be one of his last times performing for his fans. As always, Bobby never ceased to amaze me. 

Bobby helped to create and present the Cashbox Canada Legacy Award. I was privileged to give him the very first one and he went on to give one to Danny Marks and Robbie Lane. The industry needs to recognize the legacy artists while we still can and he supported that idea. We will continue to give these awards out in the future.

Over the years we grew to be family. We worked together, we laughed together, we cried together. We toured and went on many road trips for pre-promotions. One time in Peterborough we were on our way to CHEX TV to do the live news at 6 pm. We had been on the road al day and so we stopped at McDonald's drive thru. When we went to place our order the woman got so excited and said 'You are Bobby Curtola ! I saw you on CP24 this morning!' Mortified that we were ordering fast food, Curtola ordered a salad. The woman said no charge. As we drove off Bobby saw a Leon's and said 'how about a new sofa? maybe we can get it for free too!" I was his marketing and promotion manager for close to three decades, and I often wondered who managed who in the relationship.

I was privileged to know the real Bobby.  I have so many great stories and memories and I will keep his memory alive by telling them as the years pass.

The ripple effect Bobby had on people was universal and ageless. He could charm a 19 year old waitress then hug and kiss a 90 year old fan. Everyone who met him felt the love of Curtola. He always had a kind word for someone, and as Robbie Lane said he had 200 ideas a minute. I used to say I couldn’t imagine being around him in his youth as his energy was that of a teenager not of a 73 year old.

The sad part of the ripple effect is also what losing him did to me as well as the Cashbox team. They also knew the real Bobby.

Gillian FitzGibbon, (RGD) who was his rock when it came to his graphics, and he adored her, both professionally and personally. Bobby was so excited when he decided to resurrect the Tartan label and Gillian redesigned it in time for the release of his 2015 Christmas CD. Gillian will always be the person who made him look great in all we put forward in graphics and marketing.

Don Graham, my brother, who most of you know is a brilliant songwriter. Bobby was always his champion, and announced him at all the shows to stand up and take a bow, calling him a Canadian legend and one of the best songwriters he had ever heard. Bobby recorded two of his songs, ‘Born to Sing’ and ‘Como Te Queiro’ on one of his albums a few years ago. Just a few months ago they wrote what Bobby thought would be his next hit ‘(1962) – More Than Just a Sound’. Plans were made to record it in the future.

Johanna Carlo who did his last photo session and captured what would be the true essence of a mature Bobby Curtola. That wonderful black and white photo was used for everything in the last 10 months, including his memorials. It will now be the photo that is used to continue to promote his legacy. Thank you Jo.

'Bobby's Girl's' all of the original fan club who still came to every show - thank you for taking us into your hearts and circle. The relationships and friendships that circled around Curtola now have grown into our own new friendships. As he would say 'we are now lifers.'

Our writers, Bill King, Lenny Stoute, Mark Smith, Glenda Fordham, Michael Williams all have their own ‘Bobby’ stories to tell. Bobby always told everyone how great Cashbox Canada was and never missed an opportunity to say so.

So now as Bobby would say the show must go on. Cashbox Canada will continue to promote the legacy artists who made our careers possible and give the new indie artists a chance to be heard.

You will be missed Bobby. Please know that the love and kindness of Bobby Curtola will be with us always. Let’s all try to be a little more like him now.

Editor's Note: Please share your stories with us. Bobby would love that very much.