Danny Coleman Sits Down with Curtis Salgado

Curtis Salgador

First of all, I just thought, I want to make a rock ‘n’ roll record; my kind of rock ‘n’ roll. I like rock’n’roll, I mean, I like all sorts of stuff but rock ‘n’ roll is basically what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll record like The Rolling Stones or Little Richard so, I just started putting songs together in 2017 and just started writing songs,” says guitarist Curtis Salgado ahead of his two recent area shows and whose new album, “Damage Control” is out courtesy of Alligator Records

 “So, I wanted to write songs that were just rock’n’roll and that to me, as I said, is like The Rolling Stones and John Hiatt and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll and of course people like Larry Williams; have you ever heard of Huey “Piano” Smith? Huey “Piano” Smith is the one who wrote “Rockin’ Pneumonia” and The Boogie Woogie Flu” and he’s a New Orleans piano player who was heavily influenced by people like Allen Toussaint and Professor Longhair; they’re all from the Professor Longhair school and Clarence “Frogman” HenryJames “Sugar Boy” Crawford; he did “IKO IKO.”  So, New Orleans is heavily piano oriented and I love that stuff so, I wrote this song called “Hail Mighty Caesar” and then I started writing this song called, “I Don’t Do That No More,” which is kind of like Buck Owens meets Jerry Lee Lewis and there’s a two-part harmony in there; there is a guy singing and then the guy you hear with the high background voice with the lead singing; that’s what you hear there and on “You’re Gonna Miss My Sorry Ass.” “Hail Mighty Caesar” is kind of influenced by Huey “Piano” Smith; you’ve gotta look him up. One of his big hits was “High Blood Pressure;” have you ever heard it? I think John Lennon even covered it and also Larry Williams; The Beatles covered three of his songs but these are all New Orleans piano players. So, I set out to make sort of a rock ‘n’ roll record which to me starts as singer-songwriter and then it just takes form. I don’t really think, I’m going to copy this or that; I just start writing and start hearing songs in my head and the important thing is that I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses so I always get help to make my dream come true.”

With countless recordings and albums under his belt as well as a wealth of experience garnered from years of writing and performing; how does he assemble his “Dream makers” and put his records together?

 “So, I write the lyrics and the songs and with this one, this friend of mine named Michael Finnegan, a superb musician who writes the songs with me along with another gentleman out of Nashville, TN named David Duncan; some of the songs it’s just me and a guitar player or me and a piano player and being a guitar player we don’t do this in the same room. I’ll get together with a piano player and I know what I want, it’s in my head and I can play a little bit to get my point across and then we just start putting it together by hook or by crook and you just work on it. The most important and the hardest things for me are lyrics. I want the lyrics to tell a little story, a little movie; which of course is just songwriting 101; you know? I mean, that’s what John Prine did and he did it metaphorically or just laid it straight out but that’s what songwriting is about. I want it to be like telling a story that has a start to it, here’s this and then this happened and whatever and so on.”

 “So, I just started writing in 2017,” he continued, “I had a few songs put aside and then 2018 came around we started to put together a record and here is what it is in this business; it’s the media now and you need to have your music talked about and if you don’t have a record out, even the promoters won’t hire you unless you have something new to put in the newspapers or to draw an audience to a festival or to the theaters and I’m sure of it; if you don’t have something current out, it’s harder to get work and that’s the bottom line and it’s a vicious circle. I have 11 records out and I could put a new show together every time without putting out a record but no; you’ve gotta put a record out so that they have something to talk about and by doing radio, television, Internet podcasts, news or whatever so that they have something to talk about and unless you have that, then you know that they’re not gonna hire you. I’ve literally had a promoter say; “Do you have any new records coming out?  I’ll tell you what, I will have you back when you have a new record.” So, everybody is caught in this sort of circle, you’ve got to record, tour, record, tour and that’s just the business. So, I sat down 2017 and started writing songs and in 2018 I have my songs together and we started recording them and I paid for it myself and how I paid for it is; when I go out, I’ll do a series of dates and put money aside and then I’ll go into the studio record four songs and then I’ll go out and do this wash, rinse, repeat thing and go out and do a series of gigs, put some money aside and when I’ve  got enough for another four songs I’ll record those. So, that took from about 2018 to 2019 and I did it with three different studios and three different rhythm sections and one of them is Kevin McKendree in Nashville TN and then Johnny Lee Schell in Los Angeles and then Ken Anderson out of Sacramento. So, that’s three different rhythm sections and the rhythm section was consisting of bass, drums, piano, guitar and I knew what songs these guys would knock out of the park. One rhythm section could have done fine but I was figuring each one of these groups with each group doing four songs except in Nashville where they actually did five; I added one extra there. We brought out a Larry Williams tune just for the hell of it and it ended up on the record; anyhow there was Nashville, four songs in Sacramento, four in L.A. and then I went down to Louisiana and cut vocals. So, that’s four rhythm sections and they knocked it out of the park and the reason they did is because they’re the best in the biz; you know? Down in Nashville, you just say, here is the melody, here’s the chord changes and then with a little staring, everybody contributes and says, I know what you want I know what this is and so that’s how it comes together. The title song, Damage Control,” Michael Finnegan is brilliant. Sadly, he’s no longer with us, he died about a year ago but he was one of the greatest there ever was and he was the baddest man in the room. He stepped up on stage and every musician knew it. Vocalist, he could out sing him and out play everyone; he was just a bad mosquito (laughs). So, he wrote this piece of music and there it was, all laid-out and I got together with a friend of mine named Brian Waters who was from the Prince camp and we both started writing. I wrote the title “Damage Control,” that’s what life is, life is damage control and may I say that none of this was happening during COVID; none of it. This was 20 17 and 2018 when the lyrics came about and in 2019, I recorded it and it was finished. So, then COVID hit and they had put the record up on the shelf for a full year so it didn’t come out until 2021. I mean, it wasn’t mastered, it was completely mixed and finished and everything I wanted and I produced it but I’ve gotta give credit; I’m a sideman groupie. I like sidemen, the musicians, I admire them and who they are and what they add. I’m just a music freak, I love music and for me, what I’m good at is piecing together and planning it out in my head but I need somebody to make that come to fruition to come into being, to help me put it together and these musicians;  I had Gerry Jemmott who’s the bass player on “The Thrill Is Gone” and he’s the bass player on some of the best Freddie King songs, he’s been a bass player with Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin for Christ’s sake. Here is this guy sitting in the studio and I have to look at him knowing that he has been in the studio with King Curtis, Aretha Franklin and Jerry Wexler and now he’s sitting there staring at me and he’ll do whatever I ask because he’s a professional and I’m afraid to ask him anything because I admire him so much (laughs). I mean, this guy is one of the greatest bass players in American Music! He’s up there with Chuck Rainey, he’s up there with James Jamerson and he’s here and I’ve got Kid Anderson and I’ve got Kevin Hayes and in Nashville, Kevin Mckendree, George Marinelli from Bonnie Raitt; I said, I’m thinking of making a rock ‘n’ roll record and would you like to write a song with me?  So, that’s basically how I asked and there is a soul tune on the album and there’s a good ballad on there and there are some Blues on there; I make what pops out of my head and then sit through it and try and make a cohesive statement and in this one I mean I was thinking damage control and what I was going after is the whole shit-storm that America has turned into. Before COVID, you got Donald Trump and then everybody following this guy who is not really a very good ship captain. I mean, it is not all his fault, it’s just everything, the Internet; it’s the perfect storm happening and the fix is in baby and it’s always been that way. I’m not a politics guy but my political views shouldn’t be mentioned, good, bad or whatever it is; I just want people to get along and there used to be a time when people could actually agree to disagree but now everybody is trying to grab their piece of pie it seems and it has nothing to do with us; the people. I don’t feel rather Democrat or Republican or anyone in politics is really caring about us on the outside. I mean, it’s all about them and they’re little issues, let’s get together and go out and make a living, that’s all. Let’s make a living by pulling together instead and the biggest thing is the Internet. The Internet has just sucked; I’m not a political person and I don’t wanna get on a soapbox but that’s what the record was, that’s why I called it “Damage Control” and if you listen to the lyrics and just keep your head down, slowly breathe in; that’s how I deal with the damage control. That’s how I made the record, I put it together; I make records by hook and by crook. I get a hook, I get a melody, I get a group going with no word sweat and just start hammering it together.” 

Salgado bristles a bit, like many others when asked about genres or being labeled but his straightforward response is a true breath of fresh air in a day when many artists have gone stale. 

“There are so many people out there that I admire and I’m trying to be a songwriter, trying to be a singer-songwriter and I just like music. Look, you know what Blues is, you know what Soul is, you know it’s a combination of everything and if asked; what are you, Curtis? A Blues singer or Blues man or a Soul man? I say, it’s all labels. I’ll ask you this; Billie Holiday is a jazz singer; correct? I always thought jazz but she’s in the category of Jazz yet Billie Holiday is one of the greatest blues singers which also sounds pretty believable to me and would you say she could sing the Blues? That’s my point, that’s it right there and Hank Williams singing the Blues; “I’m so lonesome I could cry,” one of the most beautiful songs ever made. Sam Cooke is a soul singer but so is Pavarotti; when he sings one of his Arias and stuff like that, you don’t even know the language and you can tell he’s hurt. So, it’s labels to sell the product and you have to put everything in a category and that’s what music is but not to me; it’s like there is two kinds of music, Duke Ellington and good or bad and that’s it and you either like it or you don’t and it depends on who it is. I mean that’s how I made the record and the credit goes to these people who are putting in the muscle, the nerve system, they’re putting in the heart, they’re putting it in and I’m responding. I don’t go in and say, that’s great, let’s move on. They pound it into shape and we do four or five songs in the studio in a day and then that’s what I need because I don’t have billions of dollars to take seven weeks or five months to make one song. It’s not like it used to be back in the old days, I have to be prepared; here’s the chord changes, here’s the lyrics, I get the rhythm section and then I move on. I take good musicians, I’ve always had somebody that understands and they all know the genre; they all know what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to do is this; this is the Curtis Salgado show and if you’re in the car and you’re going down the street, you know I’m doing Rhythm and Blues that’s what I do. You know going in that everything is; here’s a soul tune, here’s some rock ‘n’ roll, here’s some blues or here’s some jazz. I pick guys that can play so, I’ve got a great band and solid new drummer; it’s just solid band to layout some tunes and it’s not the same thing every night. The songs are there and you know someone’s gonna play a solo different because nobody plays the same solo every night. With me, they’ve got a template to work with and I’m going to hire musicians who are very competent who are that good and that’s it; they’ve got to know the genre.”  

To discover more about Curtis Salgado, “Damage Control” or the upcoming shows, please visit https://www.curtissalgado.com/

originally published: 08/11/2022 on www.NewJerseyStage.com Rock On! This Week’s Sound Bites