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January 24, 2013
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A wavering music career, now taking hold

ASPEN - Looking back at the music that surrounded his formative years, in the early '70s, Tom Curren sees the output as heavyweight material, the product of serious effort. "There were five or 10 albums you'd always hear," Curren said, and went on to name some landmark achievements: the Who's "Who's Next," the Beatles' "White" album, Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," Stevie Wonder's "Innvervisions," Steely Dan's "Can't Buy a Thrill" and Three Dog Night's "Golden Bisquits." "As history has shown, they're landmarks, a really big deal in pop music. To be exposed to those - that was an incredibly high standard. I am fortunate to have been exposed to that. I thought, 'Boy, you had to be really good.'"Certainly Lennon & McCartney, Townshend & Daltrey and the rest weren't treating recording as a hobby, something to mess around with in their spare time. But Curren gave it a try. For much of his life, Curren's main gig has been surfing. After being taught by his father, Pat, a notable big-wave surfer, on the coast of his native Santa Barbara, Curren went on to a career that included a handful of world championships and a reputation for being as much of an artist on a surfboard as an athlete, his style widely emulated.But from the time he was a kid, Curren had a parallel passion for music. Surfing, and the traveling that went with it, allowed a decent amount of time to learn instrumental technique, write some songs, even get some hours in a recording studio. To create something on the level of Curren's heroes, though, or to achieve the musical equivalent of what Curren was accomplishing on a surfboard, was probably going to be an exercise in futility."With anything, if you're trying to do two things at the same time, one of them suffers," Curren said by phone from Hawaii. "For me, I was strong-willed when it came to putting time into my music projects. So it was a little awkward at times. I suppose, mostly, my interest in music may have been taking me away surfing in some degree or another at times."Curren had been a drummer as a kid. "I played every day. In my little teenage world, I thought I was pretty good," said Curren, who played mostly on his own, and never was part of a band. In his early 20s, he got serious about emulating his idols, including James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Carole King. He practiced guitar as much as possible, and eventually took up writing his own tunes."It was a hobby. But I was motivated," he said. "I was a huge fan of singer-songwriters types and very passionate about music. I wanted to be good enough to perform. It's something ingrained in me." Within a few years, Curren got the itch to learn studio techniques, and began to explore how to record different parts of a song and put them together. "I just wanted to create something cool, not be limiting, come up with ideas that might be unique."Still, it wasn't till the mid-'90s, when he was 30-something, that Curren released his first album, and even that was less than a fully formed effort. "Ocean Surfaces" was a jazz album, and from the way Curren describes it, more sketches of ideas than complete ideas. "It was chord progressions and a few melodic parts," he said. "I had some songs I was working on, and wasn't sure about the lyrics. It was groove-oriented, with other players taking solos, jamming."Nearly a decade later, Curren released a self-titled, song-oriented album. This past October, he released a four-song EP, "Summerland Road," that seems to hit what Curren has been aiming for. The songs, in a singer-songwriter vein with an occasional touch of country-rock, are polished and distinctive; three of them are based around ukulele.Music and surfing are still intertwined; Curren's performance schedule revolves around surfing events. When we spoke, he was in Hawaii, participating in a masters event and watching his son in a competition. Curren has a few shows next month in Australia, and a run of West Coast shows in April. He performs tonight with a small band at the Wildwood Snowmass, a show timed to coincide with the Winter X Games. "It really helps to do shows within the community," said Curren, who also skis and snowboards.At 48, Curren has struck the balance between his passions. "It's taken years, but now I can justify doing music events, rehearsing," he said. "I've seen a lot of improvement in my playing, my performing. And I'm still usually able to catch the good swells."stewart@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 25, 2013 09:59AM Published Jan 24, 2013 06:34PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.