(Ray) Curley Sanders, from Star Talent bop to teen Rock’n’roll (1949-1958)

Ray Sanders

Curley Ray Sanders was born in 1935 in St John, KY. he was a DJ on WCTO (Campbellsville, KY) in 1956, and on WBRT (Bardstown, KY) in 1958. WBRT is where he recorded with Joe Brown on San Records, possibly paid for by Curley. He was a regular on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance (KY) in 1958.

I may not know much about Curley but I found quite a few records by him. He  shows up in about 1949/50 on Star Talent from Dallas, TX (#749 – Last On Your List / Penny For Your Thoughts). There was a Curley Sanders (assuming it’s him) appearing on the Saturday Night Shindig over WFAA (Dallas) in the early 50’s. Then I find two discs on Imperial (#8197 – Love ‘em Country Style / My Heart Is Yours Alone – Mid 53), (#8226 – Too Much Lovin’ / I’m Reaching For Heaven – Dec 53/Jan 54).

Cash Box June 11, 1953

star-talent sanders list

imperial sanders country

Cash Box, Jan 24, 1954

By 1956, Curley’s obviously incorporated some « Cat Music » in his repertoire and he’s found here hollering for all he’s worth (well, not quite hollering, but there’s an urgency in his vocals). The A side I’ve yet to hear. Flip « Brand New Rock And Roll », (Jamboree 590) is a stop/start rocker with cool lyrics and some fine accompaniment by his band (who I presume are the Santones.) I think there’s an under recorded mandolin or something playing through the solos but the guitar is drowning it out. Anyhow, it’s a fabulous track, reviewed by Billboard April 27, 1957. Almost awesome! [Malcolm Chapman, Starday Custom Series]

jamboree sanders brand

concept sanders dynamiteconcept sanders bluesCurley springs up on the Concept label twice after the issue here and records another disc on Jamboree (which isn’t pressed by Starday). (Concept #897 – Dynamite / You’re Smiling (I’m Crying) 1957 – Elizabethtown, KY), (Concept #898 – Walking Blues / This Time – 57/8), (Jamboree 1833 – Heartsick And Blue / I’ll Obey My Heart – 57/58 – still located in Buffalo, KY and featuring the Kentucky Rangers).

jamboree sanders heartsick

Joel Ray Sprowls, owner/producer of the Jamboree, recalled that his first meeting with Sanders, from Cecilia, was at a talent show Sprowls emceed at Buffalo School in May 1954.

The Kentucky Rangers band won the contest and Curly was their featured singer,” Sprowls said. 

When Sprowls started his Jamboree [label] the following September, he added Sanders as a featured singer.

Curly, who got his nickname because of his curly hair, was around 6-feet-tall, muscular, had a smooth voice and was good looking,” Sprowls said. “He played a flattop guitar, and I remember his big song while at the Jamboree was ‘Rose Marie‘.

With Sanders’ looks and talent, Sprowls didn’t think the entertainer would remain in the local area very long. 

He worked as a DJ at WBRT-AM radio in Bardstown, but I knew he would move on if the opportunities arose,” Sprowls said. “He was only at the Jamboree for about two months.”

Sanders performed at Renfro Valley and debuted on the Opry in 1959 which led to his big break in 1960 when he signed with Liberty and recorded “Lonelyville,” a record that rose to the top-20 country songs that year. 

During a long career, he had 26 Billboard charted songs, winning the Academy of Country Music’s most promising new male artist award in 1968. His recording of “All I Ever Need Is You” stayed on the charts for 16 straight weeks in 1971.

He spent two and a half years on the road singing harmony for Ray Price, including Price’s signature recording of “Heartaches by the Number,” and was a cast member of Hee Haw 1971-73. 

In 1977, he became the house act at the White Sands in Riverside, Calif.

I lost touch with Curly years ago, but I understand he played the night club circuit, then moved to Hawaii,” Sprowls said. 

According to an online press release, he toured with many of the great names in music including Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings, Connie Smith, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Johnny and June Carter Cash, plus he had several hit songs in Europe.

Jo Jones, an Elizabethtown resident whose late husband Bob played steel guitar at a performance with Sanders and Price in Owensboro, met with Sanders while she was on vacation in Hawaii in 2006.

He didn’t say if he was still singing or not, but he did say that he was a representative for a vitamin company and did demos at local pharmacies each Saturday,” Jones said. “He was living in Waimea at the time, but said he was thinking of moving to Honolulu.”


from an article by Ron Benningen (Dec. 29, 2011) in “LaRue”, Kentucky newspaper. Infos on Jamboree 590 from Malcolm C. Chapman site “Starday Custom”. Music from various sources: my collection or Internet. Does someone have “Heartsick and blue” on Jamboree 1833? Unable to find it. Thanks Drunken Hobo, who provided the sound to it. It’s a fair hillbilly rocker, lotsa rockabilly guitar, even a mandolin, and Sanders in fine vocal form.