Rick Kurtz is almost embarrassed that so many people want to help him out. “I am very humbled by it,” he stipulates. “Almost to the point of embarrassment.”
The ace musician that songwriter Mike Duke once described as “Birmingham’s go-to guitar guy” has been off the frets since April, when a stroke took him down and laid him up in Nashville’s Skyline Medical Center for about a month.
Kurtz is taking time off from his convalescence Sunday, August 8, to be feted by his friends during a very special benefit concert at Keith Harrelson’s Moonlight on the Mountain listening room. At some point during the show, Rick may be the one drawing a name from those who’ve entered a raffle to win a guitar autographed by Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, the Drive-By Truckers and guitar greats such as Steve Cropper, Buddy Miller and Reggie Young.
Even Cheetah Chrome of The Dead Boys wanted to sign Rick’s guitar. Mistah Kurtz has a far-flung following.
From late nights at the Nick to the Coke stage at City Stages, from Rock Killough jams to Delbert McClinton concerts, you have likely been entertained by Rick’s riffs at one time or another.
As Duke puts it, “He’s a very smart player. He can do all genres, from country to a little jazzy, but mainly rock and roll. He can play all that stuff.” Duke may have recommended Kurtz to McClinton, “but Delbert knew how good he was. He’s had some great guitar players in that band, and Rick is of that status.”
For my money, Rick made his bones in 1989, when he anchored the pickup band for Chuck Berry at the inaugural City Stages. The old rocker was famous for never bringing his own band to a gig (it would cut into his payday too much) and for never rehearsing with whomever shows up to accompany him. Conducting by telepathy, with scarcely a hint even as to the keys in which he’d play the tunes he called, Chuck gave Kurtz and company the concert equivalent of a rodeo bull ride, but they stayed on top the entire set and even elicited a rare compliment from the rock iconoclast.
I bet Chuck would have signed Rick’s guitar. For $25,000. Cash. Up front. Speaking of money, perhaps you’d like to contribute some toward defraying the impressive stack of bills Rick’s cerebral vascular accident has rolled up so far. We have written of the subject in this space before, but it’s worth repeating: according to surveys cited by Rock Rap Confidential, 96% of all musicians have had difficulty obtaining health care and 87% have played a benefit for another musician in a time of health crisis.
One of the musicians starring at the Rick Kurtz Benefit August 8 knows about this first hand. Scott Boyer, who’ll be performing that night with partner Tommy Talton in a rare reconfiguration of the legendary Southern rock ensemble Cowboy, says, “It’s a matter of priorities. You decide, do you want to have health coverage or do you want to have a better guitar?” When he was beset by peripheral artery disease in 2007, friends like Gregg Allman and Bonnie Bramlett appeared on behalf of Boyer’s bills at well-attended benefit shows in Florence and Birmingham.
“Health care’s tough for anybody in the average musician’s income bracket,” Boyer says. “For anybody who makes as little an amount of money and as unsteady an amount of money. You’re not employed by anybody, there’s no matching funds.”
Talton echoes his band mate. “In the past month and a half, I think I’ve done four or five benefits,” he says. “It’s getting more prevalent the older we get, of course.” Both Boyer and Talton cite as well the importance of contributions from the Grammys’ MusiCares Foundation to the well-being of musicians in financial straits.
About the guest of honor August 8, Talton says, “He’s a wonderful guy, a wonderful friend and a great guitar player, and I’m glad to be able to help out somehow.” The way he and Boyer help is by headlining the bill at Moonlight on the Mountain, upon which Kurtz’s running buddies and excellent musicians Don Tinsley and Lolly Lee will also perform, as will the aforementioned prince of the piano, Mike Duke. What’s very cool is the exclusivity with which organizer Mark Harrelson has imbued the event: there will be only 100 tickets sold for the show, with a $100 donation per ticket, so if you want to experience rock history up close and/or personal, get out your Benjamins. (Philanthropic bonus: do-gooding ticket holders might walk home with some of the rock star swag to be given away at the show, including items autographed by Delbert, Paul Thorn, Huey Lewis, the Truckers and more.)
Should the C-note be too rich for your corpuscles, the benefit performs in a lower key, too. A $10 raffle ticket gets you a chance on the autographed Telecaster copy that’ll be drawn for on the evening of the benefit, and, no, you need not be present to win that. You can see a photo of the guitar that could wind up in your rumpus room by touring the interwebs and stopping off at www.rickkurtzbenefit.com. That’s where you can also find a list of the fine merchants all over Alabama and Mississippi graciously offering these raffle tickets for sale. Just hurry up, already. August 8 is closer than you think.
As he works with therapists at Baptist Life Center in Nashville to regain his formidable dexterities, Rick’s spirit remains intact. Blithely characterizing his stroke as “an illegal alien abduction,” he admits to having been a pill in the hospital at first, but now says, “I’m just a victim of bad luck.” With friends like Cowboy, Duke, Tinsley and Lee, not to mention the Harrelsons and all the organizers, plus those putting that cash in the tip jar, it’s clear that the Kurtz family’s luck is changing already.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to email@example.com.