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Keep On Rockin', Baby

Guitarist Shannon Curfman brings something new to the teen craze. It's called talent.

Curfman's own whiz-kid talents caught the attention of Jake Walesch, a manager in the Twin Cities area. "What initially impressed me," Walesch recalls, "was that she was very raw but had great vocal potential and was an amazingly good guitar player for a twelve-year-old. And she had a confidence about her, that star quality." Walesch signed on as her manager and immediately put Curfman in touch with some of the Twin Cities' best songsmiths. Kevin Bowe (a songwriter who has written for Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd) and longtime local hero Bruce McCabe helped her flesh out her own material and brought in ideas for collaboration. The three spent a summer honing songs before entering the studio to record Curfman's debut. In the meantime, her family relocated to Minneapolis. Tom Tucker, a Paisley Park/Prince veteran, was brought in to engineer and produce the record. "The big key," Walesch says, "was surrounding Shannon with really great people, musicians, engineers and producers. We went in with the full intention of producing a major-label-quality record that could compete." The effort paid off. Two weeks after shipping copies of Loud Guitars to his A&R contacts, Walesch was entertaining label offers. Six weeks after the recording's release, Curfman was inked to Arista.

But Walesch points out that it took a lot more than his connections to lift Curfman from her status as a rock-and-roll prodigy to the majors. "I have the relationships to put people in front of Shannon and have them give her a listen," he says. "But if she doesn't deliver, it doesn't work." At her final industry showcase before signing, Walesch notes, "Shannon performed before $30 million in executive talent, and she completely delivered. She does not get nervous."

Although Curfman can't explain her under-pressure cool, she credits her management and divinely supportive parents for much of her success. But she bristles at suggestions that her bottle-rocket rise was powered by the older talents whose names appear in her disc's liner notes. "I guess I can see how people would think that," Curfman says, "but that's completely ridiculous to me. I write my own music, and I put my name on it. I'm not going to lie about it. That wouldn't be right or truthful, and it's not something I believe in at all. If people really understood what I'm in this for and why I'm doing this, they wouldn't question my part in it."

As for her supernatural sense of musical self, Curfman attributes it to distilling her favorite tunes through her own filters. "When I first started, I would sit down with records and learn songs," she says. "But I wouldn't learn every song on, like, ten Stevie Ray Vaughan records. I would just learn the basic outline and not try to cop everything." Lyrically speaking, Curfman's tunes tread on the familiar adult ground of heartbreak, lost love and busted dreams. But, she says, the fact that she hasn't experienced these things firsthand doesn't mean she can't sing about them. "It's just a matter of putting yourself in the place of the person telling the song," she says. The kicking-my-man-outta-the-house theme of her album's closer, "Coming Home," came straight from her soul. "We were in a songwriting session one day," she recalls, "and I said to the guys, 'I want to write a song about how guys just suck, plain and simple. About guys that are complete dorks.' Oh, yeah, that was my idea."

And so is staying out on the road, says Curfman, who's not sure why her predecessors ever grumbled about life on the highway. "There's lots of stuff to do on the road," she enthuses. "It's fun going to different places and being in a different city every day. I can swim, shop, Rollerblade. I can do my own thing, play my music and make a living at what I love to do. I love everything about it. You just have to watch what kind of people you surround yourself with and make sure you're in a healthy environment," she adds. "We made sure the people here are serious about this and want to go as far as we can."

Curfman's added to her touring pleasure with a puppy she bought while gigging in Lubbock, Texas. ("I'm thinking I'll name her 'Austin,'" Curfman says, referring to another Lone Star town. "I just love that city.") Mary Curfman makes it clear that the financial payoff for her daughter's efforts all go to Shannon. "This is her thing; we don't have anything to do with that," she says. "She has her own business manager and an entertainment attorney. She's very interested in the business side of things. When you're a mom, you just want your kids to be happy. I think it's great that she's able to do what she loves doing. And I'm glad I can be here to support her."

Shannon says she hopes that someday questions about her age will stop and people will focus strictly on her music, something she's not willing to compromise. "I'm not after some number-one hit just so I won't have to ever work again," she says, "and even if I was completely loaded with cash, I would still be doing this. I'm always going to be doing this. I just want a career. I really try to ignore the age talk, because it's not something I think about. This is something I'm going to be doing whether I'm fourteen or forty."

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