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Soulful Salgado

Fri., July 13, 2012

One of the great soul singers in history brings his signature voice – and one surprising new sound – to the Wallace Blues Festival

Curtis Salgado is one of the great soul singers of his generation, a masterful interpreter and passionate performer. But one of the tracks that stands out on his new CD, “Soul Shot,” features his own songwriting and a much different style than the rest of the CD.

“He Played His Harmonica” has him talking in pitch, with his all-star Los Angeles session band toning it way down so his words stand out.

Don’t worry about the rest of the album; he does his signature big-voiced belting on plenty of tracks. But this particular song shows another side of the singer.

The art of restraint often is accessible only to the journeyman. And Salgado, about two-thirds of the way through his nine cool-cat lives, has a few nifty tricks up his paw, and shows them all off on this new release.

With the Eugene geography reference to Four Corners as the tipoff, “He Played His Harmonica,” takes place in the singer’s old stomping grounds. It is based partially on true events.

Salgado grew up in the same west Eugene home right through his teens, when he started to become well known there in the early 1970s club scene. Later that decade, when John Belushi was in town to shoot the 1978 comedy classic “Animal House,” it was Salgado who inspired the actor to create the Blues Brothers characters.

But back to the new song.

Salgado said he took poetic license with a 20-minute interaction at the railroad yard near his home. He was about 11 years old when he met a man in a suit on a sidetracked train.

“They weren’t bums back then,” Salgado said. “They were hobos, and he did a tap dance and played his harmonica.

“He called me Buckshots.”

Funny the things that stick with you over the years. At this point in the interview, Salgado slipped into the melodic rap at the heart of the song; if he had had a harmonica at hand, he might have busted out the solos right there on the phone.

Legend status in Oregon

It’s no secret that Salgado is over-the-moon excited about this new CD. He self-financed it before getting signed to the premiere blues label in the country, Alligator Records. It’s a relationship that has made Salgado feel quite blessed and lucky.

“He Played His Harmonica” is one of the coolest songs I’ve heard in a long time. Not only did it make me think Salgado was that much smoother — the hippest cat — it made me feel good too, as though I was hip by association just by listening to it.

Salgado said he thinks “Soul Shot” is his best CD ever, and many critics who review soul and blues tend to agree.

During our conversation, during a tour stop in San Diego, he said what he really wanted to do with the release is make something people could dance to.

Cancer changes perspective

The 58-year-old Salgado began a very public battle with liver and lung cancer starting in 2006, and he had a star-studded fundraising concert in Portland that helped pay his bills.

To this day, thinking of the concert almost makes him weepy; from the fact the Rose Garden was donated to the large number of people who gave performances and fought with him after he was given six months to live.

Salgado said he used to be driven by a desire to capture fame and awards. But after dodging the grim reaper, he feels the ability to continue make one recording that tops the last to be reward enough.

“Cancer is a very strange thing. It’s horrifying but it’s fascinating. …

“I haven’t written any songs about it.”


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