By Elmer Ploetz
(Sitting in for Bob Paxon)
There’s a movie waiting to be made about these guys. Hollywood just doesn’t know it yet.
Dixie Dee, Wade Curtiss and crew are some of the more interesting characters of old-time Buffalo rock ‘n’ roll.
Let’s start with Wade. Or Ted Russell. Or Duane Theodore DeSanto, or whatever you want to call him. They’re all the same guy.
Wade was a force of guitar nature, despite being in a wheelchair with arms turned in so he couldn’t hold an instrument normally. He had a guitar adapted to be played like a steel guitar and learned to fire off killer solos anyway.
While many of his songs were instrumentals, he was joined eventually – and on this one by Dixie Dee, otherwise known as Rich Derwald – a local professional wrestler.
Together they made some of the coolest records to come out of Buffalo in the 1957-61 era. This song was recorded at Howell Recording on Delaware Avenue and was released in 1958.
The story on this one is that the Vibraharps – one of Buffalo’s first rock ‘n’ roll recording groups – provided backing vocals on the song, but I don’t hear them on this version – reissued as a 45 by New York City’s Norton Records a few years back. Norton released a great compilation of stuff from Wade, Dixie & friends in 1997. Much of the information in this post is from the CD booklet.
Wade Curtiss & the Rhythm Rockers essentially played from 1957 to ’61, according to Derwald. They were booked indefinitely into the future in ’61 when Curtiss abruptly decided to move to Nashville.
In Nashville, Curtiss continued his music career in both the business side and recording. According to Norton’s CD liner notes, he was responsible for getting the legendary cult figure Hasil Adkins into the studio for the first time in the 1970s.
On top of that, he went into professional wrestling, serving as a manager with multiple identities and eventually working with a bevy of grapplers, chasing rival scalawags in a motorized wheelchair and whacking them with his jewel-encrusted cane.
He died in 1993 of congestive heart failure at age 50.
Derwald, meanwhile, quit rocking, but eventually returned to fitness — and wrestling. He and his son, Richie, were eastern professional wrestling tag-team champions in the 1980s as Mr. Fitness and Son of Fitness. Rich went on to a career in fitness and personal appearance and eventually became Erie County’s senior fitness coordinator.
In the late 1990s, I put him in touch with the Irving Klaws – a Buffalo rockabilly-garage-punk-trash band – who did “Voodoo Mama” with him at the Americanarama Festival at Buffalo’s Mohawk Place. It was a great to get to hear the song come alive again.