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Enjoy Magazine

Curtis Salgado to Perform in Oroville

04/26/2017 11:00AM ● By Phil Reser

The Beat Goes On

May 2017
By Phil Reser
Photo courtesy of 

After some forty years of touring, singing and playing the blues harp, Curtis Salgado has earned a reputation for high-intensity performances and a repertoire inspired by his encyclopedic knowledge of music.

Born in Everett, Wash., his family moved to Eugene, Ore., where his early days included a house full of music, creating the perfect environment to nurture a young singer. 

“I grew up around music, mostly black music,” says Salgado. “My parents were hip. They listened to Ray Charles and Count Basie, and boogie piano players. I was getting a full-meal deal on the vocalist side of things, too. There’s Joe Williams singing. There’s Jimmy Rushing, ‘Mr. Five by Five.’ I mean, you’re hearing Ray Charles at the age of 9 years old? It hits ya. It moved me.”

His dad enjoyed pointing out the finer aspects of the music. “He’d go, ‘Listen to this right here, how Count Basie utilizes space in his piano solos,’” Salgado says. “And there was my older brother and sister, so all those little Elvis Presley 45s are in the house. And Wilson Pickett comes along. Aretha Franklin. Some great country and western. My brother had the jazz albums. He was deep into it, they were passionate for it, and, of course, it spilled over to me.”

By his teens, Salgado was into the Rolling Stones, and from there, he got turned on to Paul Butterfield. “That was the huge one. Wow! It was just mean music. And I read the liner notes: ‘So Paul Butterfield, hmmmm: Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. Well, if Paul’s into it, let me check it out.’ Bingo. That was it.”

Salgado became a part of the burgeoning Northwest blues scene starting in 1972 with a band called Three-Fingered Jack. Eventually he hooked up with up-and-coming guitarist/vocalist Robert Cray and recorded the album “Who’s Been Talking.” In six years with Cray, the higher level of visibility enabled him to sit in with the likes of Muddy Waters, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Albert Collins and Bonnie Raitt.

In 1979, when John Belushi was in Eugene filming Animal House, he caught Curtis’ act and liked what he heard and saw. Curtis took the actor under his wing and schooled him on blues and R&B history, which Belushi soaked up like a sponge, and used a good portion of Curtis’ show as the basis for the Blues Brothers act he and Dan Aykroyd put together. The first Blues Brothers album was dedicated to Curtis.    

He left the Cray band before it broke through nationally, and from 1984 to 1986, he fronted Boston’s Grammy-winning Roomful of Blues before settling in Portland where he formed The Stilettos with bassist John Mazzocco, a veteran of John Lee Hooker’s Coast to Coast Blues Band. The Stilettos dominated the local music scene, and began to establish a national audience by touring extensively as an opening act for groups like the Steve Miller Band, Doobie Brothers, and appearing at major blues festivals nationwide. He even did a stint as lead vocalist with Santana in the ‘90s.

He kicked off his own solo recording career with the record release, “Curtis Salgado & the Stilettos,” in 1991, following it up with “More Than You Can Chew” in 1995. 

In 2006, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and underwent treatment that included a transplant. Without health insurance to pay for the procedures which were estimated to cost half a million dollars, a series of fundraising events with the support of fans and musicians across the country helped make the life-saving procedures possible.  Two years later, he was found to have lung cancer, and following treatment, he was declared cancer-free in time to release his album “Clean Getaway” in 2008. 

In the fall of 2011, Salgado signed with legendary blues label Alligator Records, and his first album for Alligator, “Soul Shot,” appeared in 2012. That same year, doctors found another cancerous growth on his lung, resulting in surgery, and again a diagnosis of complete recovery. 

While in recuperation, he wrote songs in earnest and upon re-entering the studio in 2015, he was armed with 17 originals. He pared the set
back to 11 of his own tunes plus a cover of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Hook Me Up,” producing last year’s popular recording “The Beautiful Lowdown,” a blend of classic soul sounds and funk grooves.

“I put my heart and soul into this record,” Salgado says. “I worked my tail off and let the songs lead the way.” As for the album title, he explains, “During a show one night, I turned to my guitarist and said, ‘Play something lowdown. But make it beautiful.’ Then I thought, ‘Keep that.’”

Curtis Salgado at Blues & Brews Festival

May 28, Feather Falls Casino in Oroville

1 pm the Guitarsonists: Chris Cain, Daniel Castro, Mike Schermer 2:45 pm, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood 4:15 pm, Curtis Salgado Band 7 pm, The Yardbirds