The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Lynyrd Skynard Story about Friendship and Music


The Ballad of Curtis Loew

The Ballad of Curtis Loew was written by frontman Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins, The Ballad Of Curtis Loew is the story of a young boy who each morning looks for soda bottles and trades them in for cash at a local store The store in real-life  was called “Claude’s.” The young boy takes the money to an old black man named Curtis Loew who plays blues on his guitar for him. The young boy is awestruck by Curtis Loew’s ability to play guitar and refers to Curtis, as

“the finest picker to ever play the blues.”

The ballad mentions that the young man receives criticisms of their friendship, but the boy continues to visit Curtis until the man dies.

The ballad “is based on Claude’s Midway Grocery on the corner of Plymouth and Lakeshore [Blvd] in Jacksonville.” The store later became a Sunrise Food Store and later was a game room before changing to Woodcrest Grocery. After being vacant for a few years, the building was torn down last year in 2021.

Summary of the song

A young boy wakes up early and searches for soda bottles to cash in at the local store. He gives the money to an old black man named Curtis Loew, who buys wine and plays blues songs on his old Dobro guitar for the boy all day. The boy often returns to hear Curtis play, despite receiving beatings from his mother; he idolizes Curtis, seeing him as “the finest picker to ever play the blues”, and scorns the local people’s opinion that he “was useless”. When Curtis dies, no one attends his funeral and the narrator laments his passing: “I wish that you was here so everyone would know.


Origins of the song

The band’s website says that the song is based on a composite of people who actually lived in the Van Zants’ original neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida. Specifically, the country store “is based on Claude’s Midway Grocery on the corner of Plymouth and Lakeshore [Blvd] in Jacksonville.” The specific spelling of the surname comes from Ed King writing the liner notes for the Second Helping and deciding to name the bluesman after the Jewish Loew’s Theatre. Some of the sources mentioned include Claude H. “Papa” Hammer, Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, Robert Johnson, and Shorty Medlocke,[8] the grandfather of Rickey Medlocke, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer during their 1970 tour and one of the band’s current guitarists.

The “country store” featured in “The Ballad of Curtis Loew.” It was located on the corner of Plymouth and Lakeshore [Blvd] in Jacksonville.

Words to Ballad of Curtis Loew

Well I used to wake the mornin befor the rooster crowed searchin for soda bottles to get myself some dough brought ’em down to the corner down to the country store cash ’em in and give my money to a man named Curtis Lowe old Curt was a black man with white curly hair when he had a fifth of wine he did not have a care he used to own an old dobro used to play across his knee I’d give old Curt my money he play all day for me (chours) play me a song Curtis Lowe, Curtis Lowe well I got your drinkin’ money tune up your dobro people said he was useless them people all were fools ’cause Curtis Lowe was the finest picker to ever play the blues well he looked to be 60, maybe I was 10 momma used to whoop me but I’d go see him again I’d clap my hands, stomp my feet tryin to stay in time well he’d play me a song or two then take another drink of wine (chours) play me a song Curtis Lowe, Curtis Lowe well I got your drinkin money tune up your dobro people said he was useless but them people all were fools ’cause Curtis Lowe was the finest picker to ever play the blues on the day old Curtis died nobody came to pray old preacher said some words and they chucked him in the clay well he lived a lifetime playin’ the black man’s blues and on the day he lost his life that’s all he had to lose (chours) play me a song Curtis Lowe, yeah Curtis Lowe I wish that you was here so everyone would know people said you was useless but them people all were fools cause Curtis youre the finest picker to ever play the blues”


Below are some interesting facts about the southern band.

1. In the summer of 1964, teenage friends Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, and Larry Junstrom formed the earliest incarnation of the band in Jacksonville, Florida as My Backyard.

2. The band then changed its name to The Noble Five. The band used different names before using One Percent during 1968.

3. In 1969, Van Zant sought a new name. The group settled on Leonard Skinnerd, a mocking tribute to physical education teacher Leonard Skinner at Robert E. Lee High School.

4. Skinner was notorious for strictly enforcing the school’s policy against boys having long hair.

5. Rossington dropped out of school, tired of being hassled about his hair.

6. The more distinctive spelling “Lynyrd Skynyrd” was being used at least as early as 1970. Despite their high school acrimony, the band developed a friendlier relationship with Skinner in later years, and invited him to introduce them at a concert in the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum.

7. Skinner also allowed the band to use a photo of his Leonard Skinner Realty sign for the inside of their third album.

8. By 1970, Lynyrd Skynyrd had become a top band in Jacksonville, headlining at some local concerts, and opening for several national acts. Pat Armstrong, a Jacksonville native and partner in Macon-based Hustlers Inc. with Phil Walden’s younger brother, Alan Walden, became the band’s managers.

9. Armstrong left Hustlers shortly thereafter to start his own agency. Walden stayed with the band until 1974, when management was turned over to Peter Rudge.

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10. The band continued to perform throughout the South in the early 1970s, further developing their hard-driving blues rock sound and image, and experimenting with recording their sound in a studio. Skynyrd crafted this distinctively “southern” sound through a creative blend of blues, and a slight British rock influence.

11. During this time, the band experienced some lineup changes for the first time. Junstrom left and was briefly replaced by Greg T. Walker on bass.

12. At that time, Ricky Medlocke joined as a vocalist and second drummer to help fortify Burns’ sound on the drums. Medlocke grew up with the founding members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and his grandfather Shorty Medlocke was an influence in the writing of “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”. Some versions of the band’s history state Burns briefly left the band during this time.

13. The band did play some shows with both Burns and Medlocke, using a dual-drummer approach. In 1971, they made some recordings at the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with Walker and Medlocke serving as the rhythm section, but without the participation of Burns.

14. Medlocke and Walker left the band to play with another southern rock band, Blackfoot, and when the band made a second round of Muscle Shoals recordings in 1972, Burns was once again featured on drums and Leon Wilkeson on bass.

15. Also in 1972, roadie Billy Powell became the keyboardist for the band. Medlocke later returned to once again play drums for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Medlocke and Walker did not appear on any album until the 1978 release of First and… Last, a compilation of recordings made during 1971-1972 originally intended to be their first album.

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16. Originally formed in 1964 as My Backyard in Jacksonville, Florida, the band was also known by names such as The Noble Five and One Percent, before finally deciding on “Lynyrd Skynyrd” in 1969.

17. The band gained worldwide recognition for its live performances and signature songs “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird”. At the peak of their success, two band members and a backup singer died in an airplane crash in 1977, putting an abrupt end to the band’s most popular incarnation. The band has sold 28 million records in the United States.

18. The surviving band members reformed in 1987 for a reunion tour with lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of lead singer and founder Ronnie Van Zant.

19. Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to tour and record with co-founder Gary Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, and guitarist Rickey Medlocke — who first wrote and recorded with the band from 1971 to 1972 (before his return to Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1996).

20. Fellow founding member Larry Junstrom, along with ’70s members Ed King and Artimus Pyle, remain active in music but no longer tour or record with the band. Michael Cartellone has recorded and toured with the band as its core drummer since 1999. Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 13, 2006.

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