Sonny Curtis Reflects on Opening for Elvis Presley and How He Inspired Them

by Jennifer Shea
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Sonny Curtis is a Texas-bred singer-songwriter who played a part in the birth of rock ‘n roll and wrote the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And among the many noteworthy points in his bio is this: his band once opened for Elvis Presley.

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Curtis reminisced about rock ‘n roll’s inception and what Presley was really like backstage.

“Well, I guess we were right there sort of at the beginning of rock ‘n roll,” Curtis said. “[Elvis] was just an ol’ boy.”

That was the second time Presley had showed up in Curtis’s town. But the King managed to teach them something about rock ‘n roll during his brief initial stop there that Curtis never forgot.

“The girls were going nuts,” Curtis said of the reaction when Elvis came to town. “That really got our attention… We thought, ‘This not only involves music, this involves pretty girls.’”

Sonny Curtis Knew He Had a Hit on His Hands with Mary Tyler Moore Theme Song

Curtis’s songs, including “I Fought the Law,” have gone down in rock ‘n roll history. But the singer-songwriter also went down in television history when he wrote and performed the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Curtis was living in Los Angeles in 1970 when he got a call from a friend asking him to write a song for a new sitcom that was slated to air soon. Going off a bare-bones description of the show, Curtis wrote a song for Moore’s character.

“I honed in on the part where she [had] rented an apartment she had a hard time affording,” Curtis recalled. “And I wrote, ‘How will you make it on your own?’”

Shortly after he sent the song in, producer James L. Brooks asked Curtis to come in and perform it for them at the studio.

“I got my guitar out and I sang it to them,” Curtis recounted. “He said, ‘Sing that again.’ And I had to sing it about ten times. Before I left, the room was full of people, standing all around the walls. And I thought, ‘I believe I got a shot at this.’”

While Sonny Curtis’s performance at the studio that day was a hit, the producers initially didn’t want him to sing his own song during the intro to the show. Much as they liked the song, they envisioned someone else performing it. But Curtis stood his ground.

“I said, ‘I want to sing this,’ you know,” Curtis said. “And I was probably more pushy than I should’ve been, if I’d’a known better, but fortunately I didn’t know better at the time.”

Then, when the show made it to its second season, Brooks asked Curtis to write a new version of his song with updated lyrics. Curtis obliged, and the result is familiar to generations of television viewers.

Watch CBS’s interview with Curtis here:

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