Curtis Salgado has the voice " and the ears |

Curtis Salgado has the voice " and the ears

Tim Parsons
Lake Tahoe Action

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The voice is usually what most people mention about Curtis Salgado. But his ears are just as impressive.

“Curtis has absolutely amazing ears,” said drummer Andy Worley. “It’s all about the ensemble and the sound.”

Coming from a musical family, Salgado learned how to listen at an early age.

“My mom and dad had all the great records,” Salgado said. “I’m talking about Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, Pete Johnson, Albert Hammond. Count Basie was played practically every day.”

When he was 13, Salgado already knew who was in the band when he saw Basie in concert.

“When I was a kid I could go, ‘That’s Buck Clayton on trumpet; that’s Walter Page on bass; that’s Jo Jones on drums; that’s Freddie Green on guitar; that’s Count Basie on piano; that’s Lester Young on tenor saxophone; that’s Eddie “Lockjaw Davis on tenor saxophone.’ So I knew who was who.”

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Salgado would take his 78 RPM records and write reports for school. He was part of the white America that, because of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, discovered the blues in the mid-1960s.

He said he would study album liner notes and marvel at the covers. He remembers Elvin Bishop chewing on a toothpick and Sam Lay wearing a pair of gold shoes that looked like they were spray painted. He was curious about the songwriters, wondering who were Walter Jacobs (Little Walter), McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters) and Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf).

The more he learned, the more Salgado appreciated the blues pioneers. His sister bought him albums such as “Hoodoo Man Blues” by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, “Stand Back” by Charlie Musselwhite and “Sail On” by Muddy Waters.

“The thing that really put me over the edge was ‘Hate to See You Go’ by Little Walter,” Salgado said. “It was the toughest damn blues album ever. After that, Paul Butterfield kind of drifted out of there.”

Salgado picked up harmonica and in high school joined a band called the Genetics. He went on to front the Nighthawks, which was this inspiration for the movie “The Blues Brothers.” Salgado also had a band called the Stilettos, and for a while sang for Roomful of Blues. He’s released numerous solo albums, including “Clean Getaway” which came out July 8.

Bass player Tracy Arrington, who joined Salgado in 1997, said it’s challenging to play in the band.

“It’s a wide range of styles,” Arrington said. “We go from 1958 B.B. King, then jump to Muddy Waters’ Chicago blues, then to Sly Stone funk. You have to know the little idiosyncrasies. That’s what makes it fun for me.”

Worley, a recent jazz school graduate, is a part-time drummer for the band.

“He told me what I needed at this level,” Worley said. “He was cool about making sure I knew. He wasn’t a jerk about it, but there’s no beating around the bush. It’s been an amazing learning experience.”

Salgado is best-known for his voice: “When I joined the band, my grandma said, ‘He may be white, but he sounds just like B.B. King,’ ” Arrington said.

Slide guitar great Roy Rogers brought Salgado onstage for a song during June’s Coloma Blues Live! “Curtis is looking great and playing great,” Rogers said. “He’s got one of those golden voices.”

Tommy Casto also performed at Coloma.

“Curtis is one of the tope five soul singers in the world,” he said. “He’s up there with Solomon Burke and Otis Clay.”