Law Alumnus’ Alternate Personality Comes Out in Music

OXFORD, Miss. – When Thurston Wilkes III, known to friends as Tad Wilkes, thought about seeing his name up in lights, the name on his birth certificate just didn’t seem quite right for a country musician.

He decided a pseudonym would be the way to go and settled on the appropriately down-home Moon Pie Curtis.

“I thought it was boring to go by my real name,” Wilkes said. “I was inspired by Hound Dog Taylor, and I liked three-nickname blues artists. When you put Moon Pie Curtis on a flyer, it’s more memorable.”


Tad Wilkes

Wilkes said he started playing “goofy” songs in high school in Oxford, then learned to play and write in college and got more serious about songwriting later.

After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1994 with a journalism degree, he worked briefly at Oxford Publishing Co. and then the Ramey Agency in Jackson before he decided to attend law school.

After graduating from the UM School of Law in 2000, he moved to Hilton Head, S.C., and worked as an attorney for two years, but he never abandoned his musical interests.

“I had this growing, nagging desire to do more with songwriting, and I thought of going to Nashville to pursue that dream,” he said. “But I knew my style wasn’t commercial enough, and I had bills to pay. So Oxford seemed like a good place for a career and to work on music. I loved Hilton Head, but the only music going on there is guys covering ‘Margaritaville’ in tourist bars – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I missed the liveliness and creativity that’s in this small little community here in Oxford, and it keeps you inspired.”

After moving back, he returned to Oxford Publishing and took the Mississippi bar exam in 2003.

“I didn’t feel rushed to look for a legal job yet because I enjoyed what I was doing at Oxford Publishing with national trade magazines and working with a creative group.”

While there, he worked as vice president of publishing and stayed out of the field of law for seven years, but the country’s economic downturn has had some unexpected side effects. Questex Media purchased Oxford Publishing and then laid off about 60 people at divisions around the country. Wilkes was one of them. Since then, he has done freelance work and worked as the part-time managing editor of Hotel Food and Beverage trade magazine.

Now he has decided to return to the world of law and has opened his own practice.

“I’ve missed doing legal work, and I missed the rewards of helping people with problems,” he said.

But he is not hanging up his guitar yet. “I realized when I turned 30, when I left law, that in order to make a living as a musician I would have to tour, but I knew I wanted to start a family.”

Wilkes said that, at heart, he’s a homebody.

“Oxford is a good fit for that; I could work and still play solo somewhere in town. I didn’t want to be a touring artist. I just wanted to be a songwriter and play bars to try out my songs.”

To help hone his craft, Wilkes recently attended a songwriters workshop in Nashville.

“It was something I couldn’t have found the time to do in my old job, so it worked out for me this summer when I had some free time.”

The feedback he received on his John Prine-like country style was positive.

“I write for myself, and I try to keep improving on the craft of telling a story in a song,” Wilkes said. “I like having a career that is satisfying, and then I can be creative with writing. I don’t have to pay the bills with it.”

Even though it will be a challenge to return to law, Wilkes said he is excited about it, and he believes his time in law school was well spent.

“I had great professors who were passionate, and that passion transferred into learning the nuts and bolts and nuances of the law. It also prepared me in life because I started to approach everything by looking at every contingency and being prepared.

“I don’t think I’m a rock ’n’ roll lawyer so much as a songwriting lawyer,” he said with a smile. “But the fun of it is that, even if you play in Oxford on a Wednesday night, it’s still show business and you’re still involved. That’s the way I like to look at it.”