Jan Kurtis (Skugstad) immigrated with his family to the United States from Stavanger Norway as a young boy. They eventually settled in Ballard a district of Seattle Washington. Jan was 15 years old when he picked up his first set of sticks. It was a friends snare drum and Jan just started playing. The friend noticed his natural ability and Jan soon joined the school band. Without a set of his own he practiced on the drums at school. During his high school years he would visit the local record shop after school and take Gene Krupa, Max Roach and Buddy Rich records into the sound booth to listen to. Soon the clerk would have records lined up for him when he arrived. She knew he was in no position to purchase any of them.
Jan Kurtis taught himself to play the drums by listening to these records. He had natural talent and no lessons. In no time he was playing in the high school band for dances and in jazz clubs even before he reached the legal age of 21 to enter. While serving in the Army National Guard with the 41st Infantry Batallion, Jan was asked by the Captain of his Platoon if he would lead the Batallion playing his snare drum to a march cadence at the close of the summer camp drill in Yakima Washington. The idea went over so well that Jan was moved from the Infantry to the 41st Infantry Band where he was accepted and passed without reading a note of music. He played in both the dance band and the parade band. It wasn't long before Jan's abilities garnered him positions in performing groups such as Patty Summers, Pat Suzuki, Wes Montgomery and with Jack Roberts and the Evergreen Drifters.
Jan Kurtis was also called whenever anyone coming to town was in need of a good drummer because Jan could learn new material on the spot. When his friend Jack Roberts called Jan to play with Ernest Tubb on tour through Seattle while Ernest's regular drummer was away on a family emergency Jan performed so well he was offered a job. The job with Ernest took Jan out of jazz and into the world of country music and Jan became a member of the Grand Ol' Opry as a Texas Troubadour. He also along with famed session drummer and life long friend Buddy Harman became one of the first drummers to play a full set of drums on the Grand Ol' Opry which at that time was forbidden.
In Nashville Jan continued work with Ernest Tubb as a Texas Troubadour with notable band members, Leon Rhodes, Buddy Emmons, and Jack Drake. Their band backed such artists as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Faron Young, Jim Reeves, and Webb Pierce among many others. Jan then moved, along with Buddy Emmons, on to become a Cherokee Cowboy as a member of Ray Price's band. Other notables in the band included Johnny Paycheck, Willie Nelson, Buddy Spicher , Roger Miller and Pete Wade. With an inquisitive mind, ample energy and a very dependable Norwegian nature, Jan found himself filling the role of road manager in addition to musician. This was a theme that would repeat itself in all his musical endeavors.
A new job offer prompted Jan Kurtis to move to Los Angeles where he became the house drummer at the Palomino club with other noted musicians, Delaney Bramlett, James Burton, Jerry Inman, Glen Campbell, and Glen Hardin. Many of these musicians went on to play with Elvis Presley. Jan did many recording sessions, notably Terry Stafford's, Suspicion and the single Wipeout during his time in LA and was awarded the "Drummer of the Year" by DJ Magazine. It was also during this time that he co produced the Cal Worthington television show "Country Music Time" and led his own band at the Hollywood Bowl staring Gary Crosby.
Turning down an offer from friend and roommate Roger Miller, Jan Kurtis decided to return to his roots in Seattle and apply his musical education to the role of recording engineer, studio drummer and record company owner. He started Camelot Records which became one of the founding labels for the beginning Seattle Sound. He recorded and played with such notable artists as Merilee Rush, Ron Holden, the Fleetwoods, the Statics, Ural Thomas, the Mary Kay Trio, Little Bill and the Blue Notes, Tiny Tony, Ron Buford, Mr. Clean, Larry Lee & the Leisures, the Frantics and Johnny Lewis.
Jan was also one of the few recording engineers to go on location and capture live performances. He recorded John Coltrane both live and in his Camelot Studio and the recording became Coltrane's OM and Live in Seattle albums. Perhaps the finest recording of Ernest Tubb ever made was Jan's live recording of his performance at the Spanish Castle. The quality of sound is unbelievable for a live performance and nothing has captured the character of an ET performance like the resulting Ernest Tubb Live 1965 recording. The Camelot release of this recording contains the only full drum solo performed on a country album. Jan Kurtis also recorded Joe Williams, Ray Price, the Mills Brothers, Johnny Paycheck and commedian Dick Gregory.
Eager to get back to live performance, Jan joined the Judy Lynn Show of Las Vegas. The Judy Lynn show was the top country act in Las Vegas and Reno playing in Caesar's Palace, Harrah's, etc. At this time Jan was offered jobs with Tom Jones, Wayne Newton and Bobby Goldsboro. Jan hit it off best with Bobby and being familiar with Nashville and liking the music scene there he chose to join Bobby. Bobby offered him a position as a drummer in his band and soon Jan was on his way back to Nashville. Jan soon became Bobby's personal manager as well, a union that lasted over 9 years.
During this time they made numerous appearances on the Tonight Show, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore and Mike Douglas. Jan was instrumental in landing Bobby his own television show, the Bobby Goldsboro Show. Jan served as the talent coordinator for this show and assisted with production and in negotations. The range of talent featured on the show was vast and included: Johnny Mathis, Bobby Gentry, the Lennon Sisters, Jerry Reed, Jim Nabors, Lynn Anderson, Paul Williams, Mac Davis, Roger Miller, Ray Stevens, Bobby Vinton, Kenny O'Dell, Ferlin Huskey, Jim Stafford, B.J. Thomas, Seals and Croft, Doc Severenson, Burt Reynolds, Bobby Russell, Vickie Carr, Burl Ives, Henry Mancini and Vickie Lawrence. Jan was featured on most of Bobby's albums as well.
After a very succesful career with Bobby Goldsboro, Jan decided to venture out into new territory. He became the personal manager and booking agent for such artists as: Vern Gosdin, Eddy Raven, Charlie McCoy, Barefoot Jerry, Larry Jon Wilson, Johnny Carver, Tommy Overstreet and Frizell and West. He worked closely with Fred Foster of Monument Records helping to produce and manage Monument artists during this time. Jan was hired by Mervin Conn of London England to manage talent in the States for his yearly Wimbledon Country Extravaganza. Jan managed George Hamilton IV, Carl Perkins and the Everly Brothers.
Jan also went back to good friend Ray Price and became his exclusive booking agent and co-manager with Ray's wife Janie Price. He was responsible for negotiating Ray's inclusion in the Clint Eastwood movie "Honky Tonk Man". He continued his studio work and production work including co-producing the Four Freshman with Pete Drake and Vern Gosdin with Gary Paxton.
Seeing an opportunity to explore the growing Seattle music scene and feeling a bit nostalgic for his hometown, Jan Kurtis moved back to Seattle and established his own production company and resurected Camelot Records. Jan hooked up with Ironwood Studios for a four year stint as in house producer, producing local talent. At this time Jan's recording of Ernest Tubb Live was released on Rhino Records to tremendous success. Time Magazine called this recording the Desert Island Album (the one album to have of Ernest Tubb if stranded on a desert island). While producing local talent Jan produced a single Civil War recording for the 125th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg by vocalist and songwriter Dave Mathews. The single was included in a movie to commemorate this anniversary and the response to the song was so strong that it prompted an entire album of original material by Mathews. The song Road to Gettysburg was discovered by famed music director David Franco and producer Ron Maxwell of the major Hollywood movie Gettysburg and although the song did not make it into the movie itself it will be released on a compilation album produced by Franco and Maxwell of favorite Civil War songs. The complete album title is "Shades of Blue and Gray". The recording became a featured item at the Smithsonian Museum and the Museum of the Confederacy. The recording developed a cult following among historical enthusiasts and Civil War reenactors around the world. This recording spurred the development and production of a series of Civil War recordings. Video was the new artistic product to complement music and Jan decided to jump in and teach himself the process of filming and video production. Jan began producing videos on the Civil War that complemented the recordings and the series became a mainstay of libraries and schools across the States. During this time Jan produced an album on the Jazz Police and long time partner and vocalist Susan Jacobson that won the best produced album of the year at the NAMA awards in Seattle.
Currently Jan heads up Camelot Records now Camelot Media with his partner Susan Jacobson. They have added a full video studio. In addition to video production Jan still produces music and performs. As Gene Krupa once told Jan to "swing" and so he does.
Jan became one of the first Pearl drum artists to receive a sponsorship. Walt Johnson of LD Heater, a Pearl drum representative, approached Jan while Jan was working with the Judy Lynn Show in Reno, Nevada. It is a sponsorship that has lasted to this day. Jan was instrumental in helping re-design the Pearl drum line into a competetive drum line. While in Nashville with Bobby Goldsboro he introduced many recording studios to the great Pearl sound and was responsible for the sponsorship of the following noted drummers with Pearl: Larrie Londin, Buddy Harman, Louis Bellson and Ed Shaughnessey of the Tonight Show.
Jan Kurtis still uses Pearl in his West Coast recording sessions and Pearl has become the permanent recording drums of Paradise Sound and Ironwood Studios in Seattle where Jan still produces and records. Jan still promotes Pearl through clinics and in his travels abroad to Europe.