During the 58th annual Grammy Awards in February, a tribute to the late B.B. King, King of the Blues, was performed by Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr., and Bonnie Raitt. Holding the rhythm together on bass was a Morehead State graduate, J.T. Cure.
“It was very nerve-wracking, but a dream come true,” Cure, 36, said about the performance. He thinks of Raitt as an idol and playing on the same stage with her added a new layer of stress. “We showed up that weekend and after playing through the song a few times, everything calmed down and I could really enjoy the moment.”
Cure got started in music while attending grade school in his hometown of Elkhorn City. He played brass instruments in the middle school band but switched to electric bass during high school basketball and football games. In 1998, he started at Morehead State University with plans to pursue a degree in performance. He graduated in 2003 with a degree in accounting.
“I changed my major around like everyone does,” Cure said. “I was still active in the jazz program, though.”
Cure was also active in Morehead’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music and played in the Jazz Ensemble with Jesse Wells, the archivist, instructor and studio supervisor for the center.
“It’s amazing to see someone you know with all that talent and potential reach stardom,” Wells said about both Cure and Grammy-winner Stapleton, a Paintsville native who played the local music scene before moving to Nashville.
“We played music all the time,” Wells said about Stapleton, who he shared a house with in Morehead. “We needed a bass player and that’s where J.T. came in. He spent more time in that house than his dorm room back on campus.”
While attending Morehead State, Cure sought out Ray Ross, a guitar instructor.
“Ray really developed J.T.’s musicianship,” Wells said. “He didn’t have musical borders and it allowed us to explore different music styles.”
Cure, Stapleton and Wells played bluegrass versions of “old rock and roll” like The Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Cure’s musical style “comes from a lot of different places”, a mixture of love for bluegrass, old-time music, classic country and rock and roll. “I was a huge Beatles fan,” Cure said. “All of it somehow gets mixed together and it comes out (in the way I play).”
In 2007, Stapleton asked Cure to play in a rock-and-roll band that he had started in Nashville. Cure would commute to the Music City on the weekends to practice and later that year moved there. He got a day job working as an accountant for the Vanderbilt Hospital while pursuing his career in music.
“He was very smart,” Wells said. “Cure made all the right decisions, but he also made a gamble — like every musician does.”
Stapleton released Traveller in May of 2015, featuring Cure on the bass. The album was named Album of the Year at the 2015 Country Music Association Awards and Best Country Album at the 2016 Grammys.
And on April 3, Cure will join Stapleton at the Academy of Country Music Awards where Stapleton is up for Male Vocalist of the Year, his single, Nobody to Blame is up for Song of the Year and Traveller is up for Album of the Year.
“I’m just as proud as I was when we went in and recorded it as I am now after all the awards and hoopla that kind of happened around it,” Cure said about Traveller. “The most successful experience I’ve had in the studio was when we recorded it.”
The road to stardom came quickly to Cure and it was never in the plan. Originally, the plan was just to make a record that he could be proud of.
“It’s currently morphing into something we’re not really sure where it’s headed, but we know there’s another record.”
Raymond McLain is the director for the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music. And though he wasn’t director when Cure was in school, McLain is still enthusiastic about the success of Morehead students.
“It’s important for students to learn to live their lives as artists, to remember why we wanted to play and sing in the first place,” McLain said. “Perfecting our skills not only playing and singing well, but really connecting with the audience and building our abilities from the group up. Then we have a solid platform on which to create a career.”
And while Cure is touring out West with Stapleton to support Traveller, the accounting graduate works the numbers online in the tour bus.
Jordan Simonson is the managing editor of The Trail Blazer, the Morehead State University newspaper.
The 51st Academy of Country Music Awards will air at 8 p.m. April 3 on CBS- TV.