Thursday, July 31, 2008
By 1980, The Blues Brothers were a household name. What started out as a Saturday Night Live skit starring comedians John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd had developed into a real touring band with a double-platinum album titled Briefcase Full of Blues and a popular 1980 movie called The Blues Brothers. But a lot of the credit for the look and sound of the act could actually be attributed to Oregon-based musician Curtis Salgado, who visits Seaside this Sunday for the latest installment of Blues in the Park.
Salgado says he first met Belushi in 1977. The comedian was in Salgado’s hometown of Eugene, Ore., where he was filming the comedy Animal House. One evening, Belushi stopped into the Eugene Hotel Ballroom where Salgado was performing with The Nighthawks and The Robert Cray Band.
Following his performance, Salgado was approached by the comedian, who loved the show. During the next few months, while Belushi was in town filming, the musician turned the comedian onto classic blues artists including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Floyd Dixon. Belushi also caught Salgado’s performances every Monday night at the Eugene Hotel while he was in town.
One night, Belushi hopped up onstage and joined Salgado for a version of Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender.” According to Salgado, the comedian sang the whole number like he was impersonating Joe Cocker. Following the performance, Salgado was compelled to give Belushi some musical advice. “With the blues, you gotta be yourself,” Salgado says.
Later, Belushi debuted The Blues Brothers act on Saturday Night Live and included some humorous lyrics that Salgado had added to his own version of the song. From there, The Blues Brothers’ popularity skyrocketed. Belushi made sure Salgado was mentioned in a lot of early press for The Blues Brothers and even dedicated Briefcase Full of Blues to the musician, but Salgado couldn’t help but feel a little bitter at his protégé’s success. “They were so popular that they could fart into silk, and it would sell,” he says.
Still, Salgado is thankful that The Blues Brothers helped spearhead a resurgence of interest in the blues. “I am a piece of that puzzle that rejuvenated the blues in the ’80s,” he says.
After his chance meeting with Belushi, Salgado did stints in Roomful of Blues and briefly was Santana’s lead vocalist. In 1991, Salgado released his solo debut, Curtis Salgado & The Stilettos.
Throughout the ’90s and into this decade, Salgado continued to record albums and tour frequently. Then, in 2006, the musician was told he had liver cancer and had eight months to live– unless he could secure a liver transplant. With no health insurance, Salgado began to panic.
Some of Salgado’s high-profile musician friends came to his aid. He says Bonnie Raitt paid his rent while he was in the hospital. In June of 2006, Steve Miller, Taj Mahal, Everclear, The Robert Cray Band and Little Charlie and the Nightcats performed at a benefit concert for Salgado in Portland’s Rose Garden. Salgado says the show raised $250,000 for his medical expenses.
Salgado eventually received the liver transplant. Now, the musician says his new lease on life has shifted his priorities. “I don’t care if I win a Grammy,” he says. “I already won the lottery.”
With a new album titled Clean Getaway, where he wraps his expressive vocals over tight soul blues songs, Salgado says he will continue to plug away at doing the only thing he knows how to do: music.
“It’s either this or hard labor, but this is hard labor anyhow,” he says.
Curtis Salgado plays Seaside’s Blues in the Park, 1pm Sunday, Aug. 3, at Laguna Grande Park, across the street from City Hall on Canyon Del Rey Boulevard, Seaside. Free. 899-6270.