Back in March, musician Curtis Salgado didn’t think the slight but nagging pain he felt was a big deal.
written by Ben Salmon
“It was an uncomfortable feeling in my back, kind of like a pulled muscle,” the veteran blues singer-songwriter said months later. “It wasn’t anything alarming. It was nothing.”
But it was enough for his manager to direct Salgado’s tour convoy into an emergency room somewhere in Vermont, where doctors discovered his heart was “barely hanging in there.” Salgado canceled the rest of his tour and underwent quadruple bypass surgery at a hospital in New Hampshire.
“I told the band, ‘I’ll be back in twenty minutes.’ And I never did come back,” he said. “I went into the ER, and I never saw the band again until just recently.”
Salgado rested and recovered for a few months, and his comeback show was a big one: a prime-time main-stage set on July 4 at the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. During his time off, he won three 2017 Blues Music Awards, one of the genre’s highest honors.
One of those awards was for Soul Blues Album of the Year for The Beautiful Lowdown, Salgado’s ninth album and second for blues super-label Alligator Records. Packed with eleven Salgado originals and one cover, the album showcases the man’s highly listenable take on the blues, where melody and modernity aren’t qualities to be avoided but embraced.
“You’ve got to try for that so the people walk away … humming a tune,” Salgado said. “That’s what you want! That’s what Motown did. That’s what the Beatles did. That’s always what I’m trying to do, and that’s what writing a song is all about.”
For years, Salgado has been best known for three things: His big voice and commitment to the blues, beating cancer three times, and exposing John Belushi to the blues while Animal House was filming in Eugene and inspiring Belushi’s Blues Brothers character. Salgado also spent time leading Robert Cray’s band before embarking on a solo career in the early ’90s.
Nearly three decades later, he’s a blues icon and an elder statesman of the genre, but Salgado speaks like a man who’s still scrapping for respect on the way up.
“I keep putting out CDs and getting more and more out there. I have a bigger fan base now. I have a strong record company,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. I’m trying to get my (music) played. And I love the idea of songwriting. It’s hard to do. It’s a craft. I’ve had to work at it. I’m a late-bloomer is what I’m saying. And I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone on.”