Coming out of the Texas Tenor tradition of honkers, Curtis Amy was of the same generation as Booker Ervin, David Fathead Newman, James Clay and Wilton Felder, but his time in the jazz spotlight was brief. Amy had a beautiful sound and a style that was both brawny and lyrical. The major influences on Amy's style were the tenor saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Although he had a long and successful career in his transplanted home of Los Angeles, much of it was spent doing high profile studio work and working with his wife, the extraordinary vocalist Merry Clayton.
Born in 1929, Amy had taken up the clarinet when he was a child, and in 1946 enrolled at Wiley College, in Texas, to continue his studies. He dropped out, and then worked as a postman before joining the US Army in 1947.
He took up the tenor saxophone while in the Army. Afterwards Amy resumed his studies and at 19 he was awarded a scholarship to Kentucky State College. He achieved his bachelor's degree, and then taught music in a high school in Tennessee.
In 1955 he moved to Los Angeles, where he put together a quintet with the trombonist Melba Liston. He went on to join the rhythm and blues group led by the pianist Amos Milburn and led a variety of groups of his own, using such outstanding local jazz musicians as Carmell Jones, Roy Ayers, Victor Feldman and Kenny Barron.
In 1960 Dick Bock, the head of Pacific Records, gave Amy a contract and, by 1962, his band was making television appearances. He also began to teach music privately, an occupation that was to sustain him over the lean years ahead.