Award-winning soul, blues and R&B vocalist/harmonicist/songwriter Curtis Salgado will perform at the Cultura Event Center in Tacoma on Sat., Dec. 16. His latest Alligator Records release is “The Beautiful Lowdown.”
With a career spanning 40 years, Salgado is a one-of-a-kind talent whose music is as compelling as his story. From co-fronting The Robert Cray Band to leading his own band (and recording nine solo albums) to helping transform John Belushi into “Joliet” Jake Blues to touring the country with Steve Miller and Santana, he is a true musical giant. NPR calls him “a blues icon” with a “huge voice.”
“The Beautiful Lowdown” is the singer’s most fearless and adventurous release to date. For the first time in his career, he wrote or co-wrote virtually the entire album himself. He co-produced it along with Marlon McClain and Tony Braunagel and contributed to the horn arrangements and background vocal parts. “My heart and soul are in this,” he says proudly. “I worked my tail off and let the songs lead the way.” As for the title, Salgado explains, “During a recent show, I turned to my guitarist and said, ‘Play something lowdown. But make it beautiful.’ Then I thought, ‘Keep that.’”
Born Feb. 4, 1954 in Everett, Salgado grew up in Eugene, Ore. His home was always filled with music. His parents’ collection included everything from Count Basie to Fats Waller, and his older brother and sister turned him on to the soul and blues of Wilson Pickett and Muddy Waters. He attended a Count Basie performance when he was 13 and decided then and there that music was his calling. He began devouring the blues of Little Walter and Paul Butterfield, fell in love with the harmonica and taught himself to play.
By his early 20s, Salgado was already making a name for himself in Eugene’s bar scene with his band The Nighthawks, and later as co-leader of The Robert Cray Band. Salgado quickly developed into a player and singer of remarkable depth, with vocal and musical influences including Otis Redding, O.V. Wright, Johnnie Taylor, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson I and II, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Spann and Magic Sam.
In 1977, comedian/actor John Belushi was in Eugene filming Animal House. During downtime from production, Belushi caught a typically ferocious Salgado performance and introduced himself during a break. Once Salgado started sharing some of his blues knowledge, a fast friendship grew. Salgado spent hours playing old records for Belushi, teaching him about blues and R&B. Belushi soaked up the music like a sponge and used his new awareness to portray “Joliet” Jake Blues in The Blues Brothers, first as a skit on Saturday Night Live and then a best-selling record album (which was dedicated to Salgado) and finally as a major motion picture (Cab Calloway’s character was named Curtis as an homage).
Once Salgado joined forces with his friend Robert Cray and began playing together as The Robert Cray Band, Salgado found himself sharing stages with many of his heroes, including Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland, Albert Collins and Bonnie Raitt. After Salgado and Cray parted ways in 1982, Curtis went on to front Roomful of Blues, singing and touring with them from 1984 through 1986. Back home in Oregon, he formed a new band, Curtis Salgado & The Stilettos, and was once again tearing it up on the club scene, where he honed his band to a razor’s edge before releasing his first solo album in 1991.
On “The Beautiful Lowdown,” the deeply-rooted singer effortlessly blends classic soul sounds and funk grooves with up-to-the-minute lyrics. His full-force vocals, intense and uninhibited, bring an urgency and edge to his timeless, original songs. Blues Revue, describing Salgado’s performance style, declares, “He starts at excellent before segueing into goose bumps, ecstasy and finally nirvana.”