By Randy Fox
One of America’s greatest television sweethearts and feminist role model, Mary Tyler Moore, passed away on January 25, 2017 at the age of 80. But did you know the connection between Mary, Buddy Holly, The Clash, and Johnny Cash? It’s simply songs written by the great Sonny Curtis.
A native Texan, Sonny was a country music fanatic almost from birth. By the age of 12, he was playing country music with his brothers on radio station KSEL in Lubbock, Texas. In 1954, his musical focus changed when he met fellow teenage musician Charles “Buddy” Holly. The pair hit it off immediately and soon picked up on the rockabilly sound that Elvis Presley was spreading across the South.
In 1956, Holly signed with Decca Records in Nashville. At Holly’s first recording session, Curtis played lead guitar on Holly’s 1955 Fender Stratocaster. The single that resulted from that session, “Love Me,” is believed to be the first time a Stratocaster ever appeared on a rock’n’roll record.
Curtis toured with Holly through most of 1956, leaving to strike out on his own shortly before Holly formed his band the Crickets. Curtis later joined the Crickets in 1959 after Holly’s death, and the group recorded Curtis’ song, “I Fought the Law,” establishing one of the all-time great rock’n’roll outlaw anthems. The Bobby Fuller Four scored a Top Ten hit with the song in 1966, and scores of cover version have been recorded over the years by the Clash, Duck Deluxe, Hank Williams, Jr., The Dead Kennedys, Johnny Cash, Green Day, Bruce Springsteen, Chumbawamba and many more.
By 1970, Curtis was living in Los Angeles writing songs and working as a session musician on jingle sessions, when he got a tip that a new sitcom starring Mary Tyler Moore was looking for theme song. Working from a four page synopsis describing the show, Sonny wrote the song in an afternoon and then took his guitar to the office of producer James L. Brooks to audition it. After hearing the song once, Brooks was sold and television history was made. Curtis’ version of the song kicked off 168 episodes of the classic sitcom and provided the soundtrack for America to fall in love with Mary Tyler Moore.
In 1985, Minneapolis-based punk-alternative rockers, Husker Du paid tribute to the Mary Tyler Moore Show with their cover of Sonny Curtis’ classic theme song.