Musician, friend says Curtis Price changed his life
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston musician and business owner Ivor Sheff first met Curtis Price when the two were in high school and Sheff was sent to ask a favor.
Sheff was a junior who served on student council and Price was a 10th-grader who came from Thomas Jefferson Junior High School.
Price, a guitarist, had formed a band in junior high called King Curtis and the Noble Knights.
"Curt was just like James Brown -- he was the king," Sheff recalled.
"I was in a class with four girls, and these girls would always get in trouble because they would sing in class," Sheff said. "They came to me one day and they said, 'Hey, do you think you could get that Curt Price to let us sing with his band?'"
School talent shows were popular at the time and one was coming up. Sheff passed along the request.
"Curt said to me, sort of condescendingly, 'No, man. My band's not backing up some girl singers. But if you want, I will loan you some of my musicians, like a drummer and a bass player and then you just have to find a piano player or a guitar player.'
"I said, 'Where am I going to find me something like that?' "
Sheff calls Price the most influential person in his life, "no question about it."
And here's where it started.
"He said, 'You want me to teach you a few chords on the piano?' And I said, 'Well, OK.'"
Sheff got a list of songs to Price, recalling, "Back then, the songs were so simple. If you knew three chords, you could play them all."
Sheff, the four girls, bass player Kai Haynes and a drummer practiced for the talent show. The girls' mothers made them matching black velvet skirts with white blouses.
"It was so classy," Sheff said. The hastily formed group performed "Stand By Me" and a couple of Supremes songs.
Mind you, Price's band also was competing.
"And we beat them," Sheff said. "And after it was over with, Curt really realized that this was like a production."
The girls joined the band and so did Sheff, who also became the marketing manager.
The band actually recorded a single, "You've Got Soul," that Sheff and Price wrote and which played on local radio stations.
"When it went into production, there was a lawsuit. There was another musician at the time, King Curtis, who was a saxophone player," Sheff said. They had to recall the records and re-do them under a different band name.
The King Sound Interpreters were born. The band toured the country for a couple of summers and played gigs when they could during the school year, until members went their own ways to college and other careers.
Sheff would go on to form The Production Co., which stayed busy with gigs. Price played basketball at West Virginia University and returned to the valley as the youngest head basketball coach for West Virginia Stage College.
When he left that job, he got back into music, playing with Sheff's band. The two also played for a Morgantown singer named Bobby Nicholas.
A short time after, Price was recruited to work for then Gov. Jay Rockefeller's administration heading the affirmative action office. He still played with Sheff on weekends at the Ramada Inn in South Charleston.
"He'd hide behind the curtain if he thought someone from the state was there," Sheff recalled, laughing. Price's next job with the Job Corps took him around the country for the next 20 years.
He returned to Charleston in the summer of 2012 and found his musician buddies.
Price played with The Production Co. at a gig in Summersville just a couple of months ago.
"He had already been given the news that his cancer was back," Sheff said. "He shared that with the band that night. He said, 'It is not curable and I don't know how much time I have, but the one thing I do know is that I want to play music until I no longer can.'
"We had some good talks that night," Sheff said.
Sheff, who also owns Ivor's Trunk in downtown Charleston, credits Price with changing the course of his life. He had never even considered playing a musical instrument until Price made that offer to teach him a few chords.
"It made me realize this is something I love," he said. "How could I ever have thought about being in a band, much less being a leader in a band, before that?"
Sheff said Price was a natural leader.
"He'd tell every single one of us what we had to do, but he gave us the ability to think on our own. We were in competition with The Esquires and everybody else and he taught us not to ever be intimidated by that. He'd say, 'When we go on stage, it's our show. That's our time to shine.'"
Price, who has two daughters, became a Big Brother volunteer when he was in Morgantown, mentoring a young man named Skip.
"He totally changed his life," Sheff said. "I met Skip for the first time during the holidays when he flew up from Atlanta. He's graduated from college and is doing well. That's what happened to people who Curt came into contact with.
"There's a million stories. He will be missed."
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