Curtis Salgado is a cool dude. So cool that he was the inspiration for the Blues Brothers, schooling John Belushi in hipness through his R&B record collection while Belushi was shooting Animal House.
Salgado and Robert Cray were in a band called The Crayhawks in Eugene, Oregon, close to where the movie was being made, and they got Belushi up one night to do his Joe Cocker impression. Dan Aykroyd and Belushi acknowledged Salgado’s contributions on The Blues Brothers’ debut album, 1978’s Briefcase Full of Blues, which was dedicated to Salgado.
But Salgado didn’t need help being hip. He was a Roomful of Blues vocalist for a couple of years in the mid ’80s and did a summer tour in the ’90s as Santana’s singer, but has led his own bands ever since.
Salgado is a tough guy as well, still pumping out raw, muscular soul in spite of bouts with liver and lung cancer and a heart attack. There’s no sign of weakness in his latest release for Alligator. Recorded in three studios with three different stellar musical casts, Damage Control showcases Salgado at the peak of his powers.
The singer even tries his hand at zydeco on a vocal duet, “Truth Be Told,” with the help of singer/ accordionist Wayne Toups that blurs the lines between zydeco and Tex-Mex with a smidgen of Doug Sahm stirred in. Toups invented his own term for his sound he calls Zydecajun and has contributed to country hits by Alan Jackson and Mark Chesnutt, but the country here is all rooted in Louisiana soil.
On the title cut, “Damage Control,” Salgado comes across like Ray Charles and Mose Allison and Dr. John whirling around soulfully in a blender.
The Beatles made “Slow Down” their own, but Salgado’s cover is the wildest, most frenetic take on the record with Delbert McClinton alumni Kevin McKendree tearing it up on piano like Little Richard, Salgado whooping and blowing spit bubbles as he rips through the Larry Williams (“Bony Moronie”) classic at breakneck speed.
“I Don’t Do That No More” is a rollicking, Chuck Berry-flavored confessional about Salgado’s self- medication cessation after his heart attack, liberally sprinkled with McKendree’s Johnnie Johnson-style piano licks.
“Hail Mighty Caesar” sounds like an Allen Toussiant tune rendered by Jon Cleary, a second-line celebration good for any occasion.
Salgado is back, cool as ever. Dig in.