Stay Human: Interview with JC Curleigh of Gibson

Videos by American Songwriter

“If the world could understand to walk in someone else’s shoes just for a little while, I fundamentally believe the world would be a better place.”

Those simple words capture the essence of visionary entrepreneur James “JC” Curleigh, president and CEO of Gibson Brands in this Stay Human exclusive interview.

Curleigh, who host Michael Franti calls a “visionary,” dives deep into his philanthropic ventures—including “Gibson Gives”—developing a thriving culture, the connection between music and sports, creating the ‘Gibson Experience” in Nashville, persisting even in the face of adversity (i.e. Covid), and staying human.

Rebuild the brand, engaging with guitar dealers, and the music community is just the beginning of what Curleigh has done with Gibson. Since taking the rein at one of the most iconic musical brands in 2018, he brought the nearly 120-year-old company out of bankruptcy and back to present through unique campaigns and approaching everything as a start-up.

Based in Nashville, Curleigh’s resume goes back nearly 30 years before Gibson, when he led major brands, including his role as president of global brands and EVP at Levi’s Strauss & Company, and previous positions helming companies like KEEN and Salomon.

Always living by the adage, “If you pursue your passions long enough, good things might happen,” Curleigh’s career as an entrepreneur, fashion icon, musician, and beyond all started with candy… M&Ms.

Always a fan of the iconic candies as a kid, Curleigh serendipitously landed his first real job at Mars working in brand marketing. After pushing the company to sponsor the Winter Olympics—even pushing the color-coated sweets as an “energy food” for the athletes—he learned that if you dream big and can back it up with a good idea, anything is possible. Everything led him deeper into fashion leading Salomon, then KEEN, and on to Levi’s in 2012, helping innovate the century-old company, again, by returning to that start-up mentality.

In describing his success, Curleigh has always approached each position as if he were going to be there forever. “I start every position with this passion, professionalism and perseverance,” says Curleigh.

Born in Virginia, Curleigh had a unique childhood growing up with an identical twin brother, a free-spirited Canadian mother, Top Gun Navy pilot father, and lived in five different countries and attended 11 different schools. The family’s common denominator: music.

Everything comes full circle.

Now back to his musical roots, Curleigh is engaging, inspiring, and will make you want to go out and make your dream reality—now. Warning: You may want to pick up a guitar in the process.

“Reimaging and rethinking about what success looks like shouldn’t be defined by where you started,” says Curlegih, “but where you can take it.”

Listen to the full episode here.

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