Listen to her play guitar; a sizzling combination of grace and fire. Then hear her voice, a stunningly mature instrument that growls and purrs and soars with the best of them. Now try to picture Shannon Curfman in front of her birthday cake earlier this year, blowing out the candles – all 14 of ‘em.
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Straight out of Fargo, North Dakota, but recently relocated to Minneapolis, this teenage sensation is turning heads across the country with her music – a potent mix of rock, blues, and funky R&B that may seem out of place in the Great White North. Still, it comes quite naturally to the determined young artist. Shannon has only been playing for three years, but has always had her ears open.
“My heroes are people like Stevie Wonder, Santana, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Rory Block, Robert Johnson, Dwight Yoakam, John Prine, Chaka Khan – I could go on,” Shannon says with a laugh. “My goal is to be like Sheryl Crow, who is such a big part of her music – she writes, sings, plays a lot of the instruments, produces. It’s cool going in the studio and just observing, seeing what’s happening, but I’m definitely a hands-on person, I like doing stuff myself.”
Strong and self-determined in spite of her years, Shannon co-wrote 7 of the 11 songs on her debut album, “Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions”. The album boasts such notable writing cohorts as guitarist David Grissom (ex-John Mellencamp, Joe Ely, Storyville), Twin Citians Kevin Bowe and Bruce McCabe, and the Grammy-winning writing team of Tommy Sims, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Gordon Kennedy. Curfman renders her world in vivid colors on the rockin’ first single “True Friends,” the tough-minded “Few and far Between,” the bluesy “No Riders,” and “Never Enough,” a yearning ballad. “I love all the songs on the record, but especially the ones I had a chance to write,” Shannon says. “They’re not photographs of my life at that time, but I’d like to think they’re about subjects and experiences that people can relate to.”
Shannon also got the chance to work with her long-time friend and inspiration (and fellow Fargo native) Jonny Lang, four years her elder. Lang co-wrote the bold “Love Me Like That,” and plays guitar on 3 songs on the album. Shannon has enjoyed following his progress up the charts. “We wound up going to one of his concerts once, bought his CD, bought all his posters and hung them up on the wall. I was just mesmerized by him.”
With the release of “Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions,” Shannon can finally take Lang off that pedestal. Now she can take her place alongside him in the growing list of young artists who are rejecting the heavily produced, videocentric fluff being made by many teen groups these days, in favor of music with a classic sound and a respect for the history of rock, blues, and R&B.
Shannon describes herself as a “natural ham” who was always putting on shows for her parents and her friends. She made her stage debut singing at a local talent show at age 7, and by age 10 was singing in local coffeehouses. Treated to guitar lessons by her grandmother, Shannon took to the instrument obsessively and practiced for hours on end. At the Fargo Blues Festival, she met and jammed with blues-rock virtuoso Jeff Healey. “I played with him on his bus for several hours, and then told my mom and dad, ‘Uh, I want to start a band, okay?’”
She did just that and became such a regional hit that a move to Minneapolis was necessary. It helped her secure wider access to gigs as well as the indie release of “Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions.” Shannon’s dad, an engineer for the Burlington Northern Railroad, secured a transfer. “My mom,” Shannon says with a prideful laugh, “works for me.”
Through it all, Shannon has retained a hold on what most of us would think of as a normal life. She’s been home-schooled, but says she lobbied for that long before her career took off. “I always thought they wasted a lot of time in school, where you finish your assignment in 10 minutes and then have to sit there for another half hour,” she says. “At home, I can get a day’s work done in four to six hours. I love home schooling, so I continue to go right through the summers. I’m guessing I’ll graduate a year, maybe two years early.”
Despite her knowing lyrics, which detail adult relationships with startling clarity, Shannon has yet to begin dating. “I can’t until I’m sixteen,” she says. “Then my parents say they’ll consider it. What’ll probably happen is that, if they like the boy, they’ll say okay, you’re mature enough, and then a week later they’ll change their minds. I don’t really care right now. I have other things to do.”
That she does. Shannon spends hours on her laptop computer, which she describes as her lifeline to family and friends while she’s on the road. While she continues to pursue her music, she figures the rest of life will work itself out. “What’s more fun than this?” she says. “This is what I want to do with my life. It’s cool being young and knowing what you want in life. I still have time to go to college if I want. I love every part of this – traveling, meeting people, and playing music, of course. Just as long as I’m playing music, I’m happy.”
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