Nick Curran, a nationally known guitarist and singer from Sanford who played with the Texas rockabilly legend Ronnie Dawson, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and numerous other bands, died Saturday after a three-year battle with oral cancer. He was 35.
Curran, who was known for blending punk, blues and rockabilly, was a frequent performer in Portland but spent much of his career in the Austin, Texas, area.
Curran grew up in Sanford and started playing drums when he was 3 years old. By the time he was 9, he was learning to play the guitar.
As a teenager, Curran played with his father’s band, Mike Curran & the Tremors. He entered Portland’s music scene with talent beyond his years.
He made a big impression on Maine musicians such as Matthew Robbins, a guitarist and vocalist for King Memphis.
Robbins remembers the days when Curran would stand outside Gritty McDuff’s in Portland and peer through the window to watch Robbins’ band play.
“He was young and extremely talented,” Robbins said. “Nick was like a sponge. He could see someone play something and play it right back. He was pretty amazing.”
Curran was a regular at The Big Easy in Portland during its popular open mike nights.
Jimmy Junkins, lead singer and guitarist for Jimmy Junkins and the Soulcats, said he would sneak Curran into the bar and get him up on stage to play.
He compared Curran’s talent Monday to that of music icons Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“He was devastatingly talented,” Junkins said. “There was a level of maturity in his playing at 16 that most guys my age had never accomplished. … The music community is really turned upside down right now. It’s a tremendous loss to the music world and a tremendous loss to Maine.”
Sean Mencher, another musician who moved from Maine to Austin, said Curran played with authority and conviction.
“It’s a tragic loss to the global American roots music community,” he said.
When he was 19, Curran got his first big break and left Sanford for Austin to tour with Ronnie Dawson.
He then toured with the Texas rockabilly singer Kim Lenz. He played with her band, the Jaguars, for two years, including on Lenz’s 1999 CD, “The One And Only.”
He is also featured on Lenz’s 2009 CD, “It’s All True.” He toured with her in the summer of 2009.
Curran played in other bands including Deguello and the Lowlifes. He was also a member of the blues rock band the Fabulous Thunderbirds, from 2004 to 2007.
In 1999, Texas Jamboree Records issued Curran’s debut solo recording, “Fixin’ Your Head.”
He recorded four more albums — all using vintage recording equipment to achieve the sound of old 45 and 78 rpm records.
Curran performed four songs in the 2008 HBO Series “True Blood.”
Later that year, he formed the rock ‘n’ roll band Nick Curran and the Lowlifes, and in 2010 he released his fifth and final album, “Reform School Girl.”
Billy Horton, who played bass with Curran and produced all of his records, described “Reform School Girl” on Monday as “Little Richard meets the Ramones.”
“He wanted the record to sound like your record player blew up,” Horton said. “He loved punk, blues and rockabilly. … He was able to bring in all of those influences he loved and (make) a weird Nick stew. Only he could do that and make it work.”
Curran was a powerhouse in Austin’s music scene and beyond. He lived in Austin, but returned to Maine to visit his mother and play at Portland venues including Empire Dine and Dance and The New Venue.
He was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010.
Since Saturday, thousands of his fans have turned to Facebook, Twitter and other social media to express their sadness and share memories of him.
He is survived by his mother, Carole-Ann Labbe, and her husband, Mark Labbe, of Shapleigh.
Curran’s father died two years ago.
Curran’s mother said late Monday that she has received an outpouring of love and support from her son’s friends and fans throughout the country.
“Nick made a mark on millions of people’s lives,” Labbe said. “He had fans all over the world and was well respected by musicians. He had a wonderful life in the short time he had on this earth. I’m thankful for that.”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: