Dick Curless in the mid-1990s. Photo Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Marty Stuart thinks the time is right for young music fans to discover Dick Curless.

Stuart has been a first-hand witness to country music history over the past 50-plus years, through stints in bands with Lester Flatt in the late 1960s and Johnny Cash in the 1980s. For the past 15 years or so, he’s been performing Curless’ song “A Tombstone Every Mile” at his own live shows. He considers Curless, who died in 1995 at the age of 63, a country music original, someone whose soulful voice and skill as a singer transcends musical trends and fads.

Dick Curless around 1949, when he was known as The Tumbleweed Kid. Photo Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

“There are a lot of kids out there who gravitate towards musicians who are authentic, and those are the kids who are going to discover Dick and love what he has to offer,” said Stuart, 64, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. “He was from Maine, but his voice could take you out West or down South. He had a bluesy, soulful quality.”

Music fans can learn about the music and legacy of Curless right now at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, which is hosting a yearlong exhibit titled “Dick Curless: Hard Traveling Man from Maine.” The exhibit opened Friday and runs through Jan. 7, 2024.

Curless, who was born in Fort Fairfield and had a home in Bangor for many years, landed more than 20 of his songs on the Billboard country charts in the 1960s and ’70s and performed with country stars like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. His career spanned from the late 1940s to the mid-1990s, but his biggest hit was “A Tombstone Every Mile” in 1965, a ballad warning truckers of an icy, treacherous stretch of road in northern Maine.

Dick Curless’ biggest hit,” A Tombstone Every Mile” in 1965, was about a treacherous stretch of road in northern Maine. Photo Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

On Feb. 18, the hall of fame will host an event celebrating Curless, featuring a conversation with acclaimed music critic and writer Peter Guralnick, who was a co-curator of the exhibit, and his son Jake Guralnick, who produced Curless’ last album, “Traveling Through,” for Rounder Records. Chuck Mead, co-founder of the country band BR549 will perform some of Curless’ songs.


An acoustic-electric guitar used by Curless. Photo by Bob Delevante for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

“He sang with a deep-seated emotion, as much emotion as any other singer who comes to mind, and that was at the heart of all his music,” said Peter Guralnick, who spent time with Curless and wrote about him in his 2020 book “Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music & Writing.”

Also on Feb. 18, Curless’ family in Maine will release a new CD of Curless’ music called “The Basement Tapes,” recorded in the early ’90s in Nashville with Curless’ son-in-law, singer-songwriter Bill Chinnock. The CD will be available exclusively through the Maine-based record store chain Bull Moose.


The exhibit was made possible because Curless’ family donated some 1,000 pieces from Curless’ personal collection. The guitars, suits, photos, posters and other artifacts of Curless’ long career had been housed for years in railroad box cars on Curless’ Bangor property, where he had train tracks laid so he could have the old freight cars brought there. He filled them with artifacts of his life and things he just found interesting, like wagon wheels and old train memorabilia, said his daughter, Terry Curless Chinnock.

Curless Chinnock, who lives in Yarmouth, said she had been waiting for the “right time” to part with her father’s things ever since his death.

“I wanted to make sure it would go to a place where it would be archived and saved forever. What better place than the Country Music Hall of Fame?” said Curless Chinnock.


One of Curless’s suits worn on stage. Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Mick Buck, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s curatorial director, said he was excited to travel to Maine and see the Curless collection a few years ago, when he heard the family might want to donate it. He said the collection is helping the museum to share Curless’ story with people who might not know it, which is a big part of its mission.

“He was a true original, an incredible vocalist who never lost touch with his roots,” said Buck. “So many of the people we focus on are Nashville-centric, so this exhibit helps us expand our scope and talk about someone like Dick, who was an incredible talent.”


These custom-made patent leather boots are embellished with Curless’s nickname, “The Baron,” short for “The Baron of Country Music,” a title given to him in the 1960s by his manager at the time, Jack McFadden. Photo by Bob Delevante for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Curless was born in 1932 in Fort Fairfield, in Aroostook County, where his father was a bulldozer operator, a singer and a lover of country music. Besides his father, Curless was influenced mightily by the singing of country music’s first star, Jimmie Rodgers. When he was young, the Curless family moved to the small town of Gilbertville, in central Massachusetts. As a teenager, he was performing with local country singer Yodeling Slim Clark (who later lived in Maine) under the name “The Tumbleweed Kid” and singing on local radio.

He played and toured with Clark and on his own in the late ’40s and early ’50s, then settled in Bangor, got married and had a family. He served in the Army in Korea during the Korean War and had his own radio show on Armed Forces Korea Network, playing records and performing as The Rice Paddy Ranger. After his service, he came back to Maine and performed on Bangor radio and TV. He appeared in the late 1950s on the CBS TV show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.”

Curless started a recording label, Allagash Records, with Dan Fulkerson, a writer and announcer on Bangor TV and radio station WABI. In a Bangor Daily News story from 1965, Fulkerson said he had often traveled Route 2A to the Aroostook County town of Blaine on weekends to see his son, who lived there. Truckers had told him that the road, especially the part that goes through the Haynesville Woods, south of Houlton, was particularly treacherous in winter. So he wrote a country song about a Maine road that had claimed the lives of many a trucker, called “A Tombstone Every Mile.”


“It’s a stretch of road up north in Maine/That’s never ever ever seen a smile/If they’d buried all the truckers lost in them woods/There’d be a tombstone every mile.”

With Curless singing in a deep, smooth voice, the song became a regional hit that was spread across the country by truckers. Eventually the song was bought by Tower Records, a division of Capitol Records, and distributed nationally. It became a top 5 country hit in 1965, and Curless was named Most Promising New Male Vocalist by Cash Box magazine. He signed with Buck Owens’ management firm at a time when Owens was one of the biggest stars in country music who would go on to host the country music TV variety show “Hee Haw.”

Curless harmonizes with his dog, Princess, in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

His other songs that made the country charts in the following decade or more include “Big Wheel Cannonball,” “Hard, Hard Traveling Man,” and “Six Times a Day (The Trains Came Down).”

Curless would go on to record more than 30 albums, never stopped touring and spent time performing in Europe. He lived in Nashville for a time in the 1980s and in Branson, Missouri, which had become a center for country music performance venues, in the 1990s.

While recording his last album, “Traveling Through,” at a studio in Brookfield, Massachusetts, in 1994, Curless was feeling ill. But neither Curless nor his family knew at the time he had terminal stomach cancer, his daughter said. He died in May of 1995.

“There were times during the recording where we’d kind of lose track of what we were playing, listening to Dick. Hearing that voice come through your headphones was kind of stunning,” said Duke Levine, a Massachusetts-based guitarist who played on Curless’ last album. “He was just so happy making that record, so generous and appreciative. He was absolutely authentic.”

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