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Longtime blues star navigates pandemic with same vigor as past, welcoming new album but yearning to perform live.

COURTESY PHOTO: MARILYN STRINGER - Curtis Salgado is yearning to sing and play his harmonica live again.Curtis Salgado's life, along with the lives of about 8 billion other people, changed about this time last year. And, in his now 67-year-old wisdom, he saw it coming. The music industry, in particular, would be on proverbial life support.

Salgado, the longtime Portland bluesman and singer and nine-time winner of Blues Music Awards, played at a full-house gig in Everett, Washington, last February, walked off the stage and heard the news. The coronavirus had reached Washington state. But it didn't stop Salgado, who, along with guitarist Alan Hager, kept a commitment to do a show in Saipan, Japan, in March 2020.

It was on the flight home, and hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdowns and "people freaking out," that Salgado predicted something:

"You know what, this is going to take out show business," Salgado said.

Now, we're in March 2021 and "even with the vaccine and everything else, it's going to be hard for people to get back into the swing of things," he said, until the health of everybody — musicians, bartenders/servers, fans — has been somewhat revealed and documented.

Salgado said, jokingly, his first gigs back could be titled, "Who Sneezed on the Deli Plate Tour?"

Salgado, a Eugene native and Portland resident for years, has been a survivor in the music business, going back to the late 1970s: through his days with Robert Cray and being the inspiration for John Belushi's Blues Brothers character; through his drug and alcohol use; and through medical issues — liver cancer in 2006, lung cancer in 2008 and 2012 — and a heart attack and bypass surgery in 2017.

COURTESY PHOTO: LAURA CARBONE - Curtis Salgado's longevity has been admirable, as the 67-year-old releases his fourth album with Alligator Records, and 11th overall.He's now celebrating the fourth album with Alligator Records, the second in the label's 50th anniversary year, and 11th overall, called "Damage Control." He wrote all but one of the 13 songs. It drops Friday, Feb. 26, via streaming services.

The thing is, Salgado thrives off playing live, and he has been sidelined just like everybody else for 12 months (other than some private shows).

"I'm fine, but I'm bored," said Salgado, who's up for another Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year Award, which he has won five times in the Blues Music Awards.

"I take this stuff well. I'm clean and sober, have been for 32 years, and this is what we're used to … the whole lesson of stoicism, you take it one day at a time. 'God grant me serenity to accept things I cannot change.'"

He jokes again, saying "Ever since I was a kid, I invented power lounging. But it's starting to get to me after a year now."

Salgado has a great relationship with Alligator Records, which he hopes continues — "I couldn't be happier, I'm very lucky to be there." He's living in an age where musicians don't make tons of money from album sales, because it's mostly digital, but Salgado keeps putting one foot in front of the other and relishes in being an active musician.

Salgado says Social Security and unemployment benefits, as well as some royalties, help keep things moving forward — and he has a loving girlfriend.

Live shows will come again, he knows, and it's just a waiting game. He doesn't much care for online performances.

"Watching your favorite singer on a two-dimensional screen is not fully involved," Salgado said. "With Zoom, what is happening, what I see, is they'll say 'I'm watching Curtis back in 2002,' but chat the whole time, and the music sounds like (crap) with no bottom end."

In the meantime, "Damage Control" continues his evolution. He wrote and produced songs — using only Larry Williams' "Slow Down," covered by The Beatles, Williams being "one of my heroes" — and he recorded with different musicians in Nashville, San Jose and Los Angeles.

It's his first full-band album since 2016's "The Beautiful Lowdown."

"I didn't think (Alligator) would take this album, it's an Americana record, not blues, it's my version of a rock and roll album," Salgado said.

"Each song has a different feel, a different approach. … It creates a story and something to talk about. It's me evolving as a songwriter. It's getting easier for me to write songs."

Said Alligator promotions: "Salgado has crafted a soul-searching, street-smart collection of vividly detailed, instantly memorable songs. Salgado's vocals weave, bob and soar, at times jabbing with nuance, and then striking with unlimited power. Of the title track, he 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.'"

The album's defiant opening song, "The Longer That I Live," was originally released as a digital-only single in 2020.

"You can dance to them," Salgado, said of the album's songs, "but the words have to carry the weight."

Salgado enjoys talking about his longevity in the music business, although still saying, simply, that it's what he does, it's how he supports himself, it's what still makes him go — "I don't know anything different."

"If I reach 80, I will have achieved (longevity)," he said. "I gotta eat and pay rent." It doesn't help that the digital world and Internet have changed the music business and "the whole thing affected everybody."

He makes money playing live, the bulk of it in the past 10 years, anyway.

But he appreciates the sentiment that longevity combined with achievement and talent makes for a star musician. And, to overcome cancer and heart surgery only adds to Salgado's story.

"My sordid past, it catches up to you," he said. "I am blessed; I am rich in friends. I got nothing to (complain) about."

For more on Salgado, see http://www.alligator.com/artists/Curtis-Salgado.


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