"I guarantee you one thing, Gene Kurtz is playing bass in the best band in heaven tonight," says Roy Head. Head co-wrote "Treat Her Right," one of the truly legendary Texas hits, with Kurtz, the bassist who passed away late Sunday evening in Austin at age 69.
When Kurtz and his Los Angeles-based publishers sued Head over mechanical royalties to "Treat Her Right" and other songs from the early days of Roy Head and the Traits, the two entered a rough patch in a long friendship that goes all the way back to early 1960s in San Marcos .
"Yeah, Gene thought I was screwing him," says Head. "But the suit was dismissed."
Head swears that he held no grudge against Kurtz, preferring instead to remember the good things from their past together.
"Gene had the greatest dry sense of humor," Head recalls. "We'd be driving down the road and he'd say something and 10 minutes later I'd get it."
As for their monumental hit "Treat Her Right," Head gives Kurtz credit for the idea.
"Man, this is so stupid, but I was raised a country boy and we had this song called 'Talking About a Cow' that was this humorous take on all the attributes of a milk cow," he says. "I don't know how they got it, but Bear Family put it out in Europe a couple of years ago and when I found out I was just embarrassed.
"It had a great rhythm and it was popular with the dancers at our shows, but it really was a dumb song. And one day Gene says, 'Roy, we need to rewrite this and make it about a woman.'
"We were at this joint in East Bernard, Texas, where Joe Ladd [former KIKK disc jockey and longtime Houston music figure] is from, and we went in the bathroom and wrote the song in about 10 minutes on some toilet paper."
Head recently re-cut the tune on his latest album, Still Treatin' Em Right. Another song from the album, "Can't Turn 'Em Down At All," featuring Jeff Chance, rose to No. 6 on the trade magazine New Music Weekly's country chart this week.
"You never know what is going to stick with the public, but that one stuck," Head observes, claiming he had "the first cracker band with a horn section in Texas."
Upon hearing of Kurtz's death, local musician Jeff Chambers emailed us that his band used to work with Head and Kurtz in their mid-'60s heyday.
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"We used to split private party gigs with those guys," writes Chambers. "That is, we played their intermissions, with the same setup they had - drums, bass, two guitars, sax, trumpet, James Brown knockoff stand-up singer."
"My longtime friend Dickie Martin died last November. He composed and played the horn parts on that record. Dickie had been our trumpet player in the Gentrys, 1964-65 until Head and the Traits hired him away from us, just before they cut the song," Chambers continues.
"Two of our guys got the name off a rubber machine at the Deputy Drive-In, summer of '64. Head used to announce us thusly: 'Y'all remember- stay with the Gentrys, and you'll always be safe.'"
On the subject of Kurtz, Head noted that when he learned that Kurtz had cancer, he called his old bassist even though they were in the middle of the lawsuit. He recalls the atmosphere as very cordial.
"I called Gene a couple of times the past few months, but he never returned those calls, so I figured it was getting pretty bad," he says.
"I spent so many hours touring with Gene and he was the best road partner you could ever wish for, just a true prince of a guy. And we both just cracked each other up.
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"But, you know, I've got great memories and this little legal thing we went through isn't going to destroy those."
A memorial for Gene Kurtz will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, November 6, at the Mesa Ranch steakhouse, 8108 Mesa Dr., in Austin.