published Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Curtain Call: Roy Curry pulls off a flatpicking hat trick

Roy Curry recently won his third national flatpicking guitar championship.
Roy Curry recently won his third national flatpicking guitar championship.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ROY CURRY

Hometown: Warren, Ohio.

Age: 56.

Wife: Kim.

Education: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Vocation: Industrial monitoring technician.

Roy Curry's Winning Set List

Preliminaries

"Dixie Hoedown"

"Remington Ride"

Finals

"Bill Cheatum"

"Alabama Jubilee"

Only three people have ever been crowned three-time national flatpicking guitar champions at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan., so Chattanoogan Roy Curry is in rarefied air already.

When you consider that he completed his hat trick last month at age 56, his victory is even more special. Throw in the time spans between his wins, and Curry becomes something of a freak, in the best sense of the word. Curry also won the competition, which requires winners to abstain from competing for five years, in 1980 and 1991. He finished second last year.

"I was already the oldest finalist, and now I'm the oldest winner," he said. "I was the only one there with an AARP card for sure."

Curry joins Steve Kauffman and Chasen Shaw as the only three-time winners of the competition, which also crowns fiddle, mandolin, banjo and fingerstyle champions.

Flatpicking is a melodic style of guitar-playing often associated with bluegrass and old-time country music.

Curry said winning this year was especially sweet because of his age, but his main reason for competing has always been more pragmatic than for any sort of ego boost.

"Honestly, they give away free guitars for first, second and third," he said. "The cheapest is around four or five grand. I've won 21 guitars over the years in different competitions. I could not afford to buy those."

While Curry said he has a nice collection, he keeps only the ones that he will actually play, especially with his group The Lone Mountain Band. The others he sells.

At the Winfield competition, judges sit in a trailer and listen to the performers through a monitor. They are never told who is even registered to compete, and they never have any idea who is onstage, unless they recognize a particular player's style or phrasing.

"They can't tell who has pigtails and who is cute. Nothing. It's a pure way of judging who is playing the best that weekend," Curry said. "It gets pretty technical. You have to include triplets and cross-picking, for example, almost like compulsories."

Forty contestants compete at Winfield, and they each play two songs in the first round. Five finalists move forward, and they play two more songs. Curry said he had a really good weekend of playing and that luck and timing have a lot to do with winning.

"I just about did not make a boo-boo, and I can count on both hands how many times that has happened -- and never on all four songs."

He also believes his inclusion of both softer and louder segments won the competition for him.

"One of the judges told me afterward that he really liked my dynamics," he said. "A lot of guys just play really fast and really loud."

Curry said he has about eight or 10 songs he performs at competitions. He's chosen them for their interesting chord changes and "because I like them."

That last characteristic is important because of the hours he spends practicing them.

"My wife deserves a lot of the credit," he said. "She listened to them every night on the couch. I asked her to go with me, and she said, "I believe I've heard those enough.' "

Curry said it's hard to imagine returning to Winfield in five years, but the idea of winning as a 61-year-old is very appealing.

"That would be something, but right now I'd just like to find a good country gig. I'm totally content with being lucky this year and just really fortunate to have picked a good weekend to play better than I have at any other time this past year."

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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