Washington born and Oregon raised Curtis Salgado can officially be referred to as iconic. He has fronted some of the biggest name bands in blues, soul and rock, was the influence behind John Belushi’s character in The Blues Brothers, and has released 10 albums to date, collectively earning him multiple Blues Music Awards—for B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year, Soul Blues Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Soul Blues Male Artist Of The Year. Now, in 2021, he releases what he himself considers to be his best album yet; Damage Control via Alligator Records.
The song titles on Damage Control read like a premature eulogy. “What Did Me In Did Me Well,” “You’re Going to Miss My Sorry Ass,” and “Always Say I Love You (At the End of Your Goodbyes)” caused me a bit of concern. Is Salgado trying to say something here? Well of course he is. He’s saying the world ain’t always rainbows and sprinkles on your ice cream, but through determination and grit, it’s survivable. Salgado has crafted a soul-searching, street-smart collection of vividly detailed, instantly memorable songs.
From the very first tones of piano and organ, Curtis takes us to church with the words, “Let me testify a little bit. Yes. Yes.” Then the funky, syncopated “The Longer That I Live,” kicks in straight with no chaser.
What is the meaning of life/well I can’t talk philosophy/I know every new sunrise the more it dawns on me
I may be gettin’ on/But I sure ain’t done yet/Cause the longer that I live the older I wanna get
Salgado does on Damage Control what Salgado does best. He reaches into into his multi-genre bag of tricks bringing out the best in blues, soul, rock, and more. His vocals weave, bob and soar, at times jabbing with nuance, and then striking with unlimited power; from the singer-songwriter vibe of “Precious Time” to the 50s sock hop feel of “Count to Three.”
Damage Control is no fly-by-night release. The album was well-planned and exceptionally executed. Produced by Salgado it was recorded in three studios with three different groups of musicians, featuring some of the very best players in the business. At Nashville, Tennessee’s Rock House Recording, top-notch support included guitarist George Marinelli (Bonnie Raitt), keyboardist Kevin McKendree (Brian Setzer, Delbert McClinton, Tinsley Ellis), singer Wendy Moton (Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton) and special guest Cajun accordionist and vocalist Wayne Toups. At Studio City, California’s Ultratone Studios, guitarist/bassist Johnny Lee Schell (Otis Rush, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt), pianists Mike Finnigan (Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon) and Jim Pugh (B.B. King, Etta James, Robert Cray), drummer Tony Braunagel (B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt) brought the goods. And at Greaseland in San Jose, California, guitarist/bassist Kid Andersen (Rick Estrin, Charlie Musselwhite), bassist Jerry Jemmott (B.B. King, Aretha Franklin) and drummer Kevin Hays (Robert Cray) added their fuel to the fire.
Born in 1954, Salgado grew up in Eugene, Oregon with music all around him. He attended a Count Basie performance when he was 13 and decided then and there that music was his calling. After getting his hands on a harmonica, Curtis began devouring the blues of Little Walter and Paul Butterfield, and taught himself to play.
By his early 20s he was already making a name for himself in Eugene, Oregon’s bar scene, first as the vocalist/harmonica player of The Nighthawks, and later as co-leader of The Robert Cray Band. 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, and opening for the Steve Miller Band in 1992. In 1995, he spent a short stint as the lead singer for Santana. All the while Curtis was honing his craft, and writing original songs.
Curtis’ passionate and insightful songwriting shines through on 12 of the 13 tracks. The only cover on Damage Control is the diametrically titled “Slow Down,” a Larry Williams hit previously covered by The Beatles. This hard-charger closes the album, leaving the listener breathless and wanting more.
Other standouts on the release include the blues story-telling of “The Fix is In,” the Cajun flavored “Truth Be Told,” the autobiographical “I Don’t Do That No More,” and the mid-paced title track of which Salgado says,”“Life is all about damage control…trouble and then some. It’s about dealing with what gets thrown at you and saying, ‘I ain’t finished yet.’”
For all of his successes, Salgado is no stranger to adversity. During his career, he has overcome multiple health challenges, battling back from liver cancer in 2006 and lung cancer in 2008 and 2012. In March 2017 he underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He’s not only come back stronger, he’s become one of the genre’s most prolific songwriters, shining that brilliant light on this album.
Curtis Salgado is the personification of grace under pressure. Taking everything that life can hand him and throwing it back like a World Series pitcher, he’s powered forward, performing his personal Damage Control. “I want people to relate to the songs,” he says. “You can dance to it but the words have to carry the weight. I know if a song hits me, it’ll hit others just as hard.”
Damage Control is set for release on Friday, February 26, 2021 via Alligator Records.
*Feature image photo credit: Jessica Keaveny