A road to Juneau: Highway 101

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2000

Highway 101 with opening act Bobby Bare, 7:30 p.m. Monday at Centennial Hall. Tickets are $27.50.

First it was Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, then Buffalo Springfield and the Eagles.

Growing up in Southern California, Highway 101 bassist Curtis Stone had the best of rock'n'roll and country music. He brought elements of both to Highway 101, the band he co-founded in the mid-1980s. The band proved to be a success and has scored 16 top-10 country hit songs and videos in its 14-year history.

Highway 101 brings its contemporary country music to Juneau for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Centennial Hall. Country singer Bobby Bare will open the show, which is a benefit for the Alaska Peace Officers Association.

``My father was in the music business,'' Stone said. ``He discovered Tennessee Ernie Ford, and worked with Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. He was also a television producer and I was around all that.''

Growing up, Curtis played guitar and sang in rock bands. When his dad saw he was serious about a career in music, he offered a bit of advice.

``My dad said if you want to do this for a living, he said you should quit playing rock'n'roll and start playing country - and switch from guitar to bass. There's more longevity,'' he said. ``He was right. There's a lot of country bars, and it's harder to do with original rock and roll.''

It helped that Stone liked country music, especially the blend of folk, rock, pop and country that Southern California introduced to the world in the early 1970s.

``It was a great time for music, there were some great records. J.D. Souther, the Eagles - everything had melodies and words,'' he said.

Stone worked as a bass player for recording sessions in Los Angeles, and was in bar bands throughout the 1970s and '80s. In the mid-1980s, the band Highway 101 came together, named for the road that runs up the Pacific Coast from California to Northern Oregon.

Highway 101 scored three hits with its 1987 debut recording, including the number one singles, ``Somewhere Tonight'' and ``Cry, Cry, Cry.'' The band's nine albums feature such hits as ``Whiskey, If You Were a Woman,'' ``Who's Lonely Now'' and ``Just Say Yes.''

Stone said writing and recording hit singles became a double-edged sword over the years. As a musician and writer, Stone didn't want to adhere to a formula or a format that restricted his work, making every song sound like another popular song. After a while, he felt like the band was making music for record company executives.

``If there were 10 songs on an album, maybe two or three were for us. The rest were hit-driven singles. That's very constricting in a lot of ways. If we wanted to do a tune and the producer didn't want us to, we just wouldn't do it,'' he said.

Highway 101 switched management and record companies, and went through some changes in members as well. In addition to Stone and Moser, the band now includes acoustic rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Chrislynn Lee and lead guitarist Charlie White. All four band members sing.

Stone is delighted with the new lineup, the musicality of this band, and their new CD, ``Big Sky,'' which was released this week.

``On this record, we did what we wanted,'' he said. ``It was very inspiring.''

When Highway 101 comes to Juneau, he said the band will do more with the songs than just play them like the records.

``We improvise with this version of the band, which is how we get inspired every night. We're really playing. We have our parts, but if you want to stretch out and do something different, you can,'' he said. ``For about six or seven years, we were locked into playing the versions very close to the records. Now (each show) is more of a journey than the night before.''

Bobby Bare will open the concert with a 45-minute set of music with his own band. Bare is probably best known for his song, ``500 Miles Away From Home.'' He also had hits with ``Detroit City,'' ``Numbers,'' and ``Marie Loveaux,'' and recently has been working with Waylon Jennings.

Bobby Bare and Stone go back a long time, Stone said - his dad used to be Bare's manager.

Highway 101 will play for about an hour and do about 18 songs, Stone said.

``We still do all the hits, plus the new stuff,'' he said.

The band is playing dozens of dates in a half-dozen states this month, and it will be a while before it's back home in Nashville. But Stone said it's not a gruelling schedule.

``We like what we do,'' he said ``The gigs are the easy part. Getting to the gigs is the work.''

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