09/08/12 By Marjorie Savoie
Curtis Salgado at the Iron Horse
Cancer survivor performs just weeks after lung surgery
As fans began to line up outside the Iron Horse on the evening of August 27th, to see Curtis Salgado, it was clear that this would be an intimate, “inner circle” event. Arriving to the line, I was greeted by a group of people who remembered having seen me at Curtis’s show last year, at The Bull Run, in Shirley, MA. One member of the group had seen him perform on numerous occasions, and attended several concerts in Portland, OR, where Salgado currently resides. Conversations all around me were a buzz of excitement; reminiscences of past concert experiences, and expressions of concern about Curtis’s recent surgery. These were not mere concert goers, but die-hard Curtis Salgado fans.
The opening band never formally introduced themselves by name, but were listed on the bill as, “Stewart James and The Juke Joint All Stars”, and Wally “Sweet Daddy” Greaney (also known as, “Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze”). To sum it up, they played their hearts out, and the audience had fun. Front man, Stewart James was very animated, and made good use of humor. A few of the titles they played were, “Lonesome Cabin” (by Sonny Boy Williamson), “See See Rider” (first recorded by Gertrude “Ma” Rainey), “Stagger Lee” (by Lloyd Price, based on the murder of Billy Lyons by Stagger Lee Shelton), and several other well known blues covers. The most impressive member of this group was, “Sweet Daddy”. He is a very engaging vocalist, and created some tasteful solos on both saxophone and harmonica. The drummer and bassist worked very hard setting down a consistent groove, and it was a shame that they were neither introduced nor acknowledged.
This brings me to a few gentle words about what could have been done better in the opening set. A band is a team. There is no member who is more important than another. If you don’t believe this, imagine for a moment what would happen if the drummer and bassist decided to walk off stage and go have a beer during the closing tune. Would it affect the sound? You’d better believe it. So, if every band member is essential to the sound, then every band member needs to be acknowledged. Each member’s name needs to be stated clearly, preferably both before and after solos. Each band member should have a moment to shine during the show. Pro band leaders are never threatened when a member of their team shines, because they understand success of a team member reflects back upon the team leader.
Another gentle suggestion for this opening band is in regard to sound. It’s not uncommon for opening bands to be louder than headliners, because Pros understand that louder is not necessarily better. Most audiences are accustomed to loud music, so volume is really not the issue. But with increased volume comes increased responsibility. Increased volume accentuates imbalances in levels and EQ settings. From a sound perspective, the level on Stewart James’ mic was set too high, overpowering other members of the band, and there was such a dominance of upper frequencies that I found sound quality his harmonica solos, especially when playing in the upper register, to be uncomfortably harsh. Now, please understand, there is a difference between an edgy sound and a harsh sound. With the right EQ settings, a player can sound edgy without sounding harsh. Sweet Daddy’s solos were much more enjoyable, being edgy, but not harsh. So my suggestion is that reducing the level on James' mic, and cutting some of the upper frequencies may create a more enjoyable mix for future performances.
However, one thing that really impressed me about Stewart James is that he demonstrated great humility in ending his set early, in order to give the Curtis Salgado Band more time to perform. I was close enough to read the set list, and he actually cut two tunes in order to give Curtis more time. This was a gracious and unselfish act, and I really appreciated his willingness to do that. They closed with a nice rendition of, “Runnin’ Blue” by Boz Scaggs, and the audience really enjoyed it.
And now, on to Curtis Salgado. There are so many things I appreciate about Curtis, not just as a performer, but more importantly, as a human being. He is a perfect blend of confidence, humility, and wisdom. I don’t know if anybody else caught a glimpse of him during the opening set, or while his band took the stage, but I sure didn’t. He remained inconspicuous, if not completely invisible, until the moment he took the stage. And although the audience was very excited to see him, there were several benefits in his having stayed out of sight. It heightened the mystery and anticipation of the audience for his arrival to the stage, and it allowed the audience to focus on the opening act without any distraction. But the third, and most important benefit was that he gave his band a chance to establish their own credibility with the audience before he ever took the stage. Now remember what I said earlier. When a band shines, it reflects on their band leader. Curtis Salgado was shining through his band before he ever took the stage.
When the Salgado Band first took the stage, there were two new faces I didn’t recognize. The first to catch my attention was guitarist, Vyasa Dodson. Now this is where I must confess a terrible character defect. When I saw Dodson, my first thought was, who is this sharply dressed, fresh faced young man? Road manager? Stage manager for the venue? Surely not a blues player. He looks so young; so…white. But before you condemn me for my thoughts, please know that somebody else at my table spoke aloud exactly what I was thinking, and others at the table laughed as if they had been thinking the same thing. Well, we were all about to shamed!
When the band began to play, with Vyasa Dodson on lead guitar, the first thing I noticed was that their overall volume was significantly lower than that of the opening band, but their power was through the roof! Dodson’s technique is so masterful. He plays with wisdom beyond his years. I have since been informed that he is older than he looks, but let me tell you, that baby-face is his secret weapon. His disarming smile makes you think you’re going to be hearing some inexperienced kid, fresh out of college, and then, BAM! He hits you with licks that you haven’t heard since the untimely passing of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Keyboardist Craig Stevenson, who is also new to the group, quickly established himself as a solid player, with great chops. Equally impressive, but not at all surprising, were drummer Brian Foxwood and bassist, Tracy Arrington, both of whom who played with Curtis last year, at Bull Run. These two are memorable not only for their outstanding instrumental skills, but also for their showmanship. These two are absolutely priceless in their facial expressions and sense of humor!
Then, as the audience was still reeling from a one-two punch of professionalism, Curtis Salgado appeared, as if from thin air. It amazes me how he manages to be so inconspicuous at one moment, and such a commanding presence on stage the next.
He opened with a tune called, “What You Gonna Do?” which was originally recorded by Bobby Womack. His voice, despite recent surgery to remove a tumor in his lung, is more powerful than ever. I will never cease to be amazed by the complexity of his tone, and the things he does with his voice. Tracy Arrington and Brian Foxwood added some rich, full vocal harmonies to this tune, and the vocal arrangement was absolutely gorgeous! This tune and the four that followed it are all featured on Curtis’s new CD, “Soul Shot”.
Curtis moved into a funky, soulful rendition of O.V. Wright’s, “Nobody But You,” which featured some nice keys by Craig Stevenson. This was followed by, “Strung Out”, which was originally written by Johnny Guitar Watson, and performed by Little Frankie Lee. Curtis’s passion on this tune filled the room, and his voice just soared. The band made powerful use of dynamics on this tune. I also loved the way Vyasa Dodson allowed for space within his solos, just as a thoughtful conversationalist pauses to breathe, or to reflect.
Next was an original, written by Curtis Salgado and David Duncan, entitled, “Love Comfort Zone”. This tune is also featured on, “Soul Shot”, and it’s one of my personal favorites, not only because it carries such a positive message, but also because it’s so relative to the lives of real people. This, to me, is the essence of great American songwriting, and a great reminder of the simple blessings in life for which we must always be thankful. His performance of this tune was magnificent.
Curtis followed this tune with a fun, high energy Otis Redding tune entitled, “Love Man”. This is probably the best known tune on his new project, and he does a phenomenal job with it! The audience really had a blast with this one, and many got up out of their seats and started dancing, as there was plenty of space around the tables.
From here, the band moved into a blues groove, and we had a chance to hear a true master at work on harmonica. His soloing was exquisite! He followed this up with an ardent rendition of “Born All Over”, from his album, “Strong Suspicion”. This is another O.V. Wright tune, and has certainly been a great song choice for Salgado. His phrasing, intonation, vocal inflections, and articulation create for a powerful delivery. He doesn’t just sing this song; he preaches it.
This created the perfect transition into an original gospel style tune entitled, “A Woman Or The Blues”, from his new project “Soul Shot”. Salgado co-wrote this tune with his writing partner, David Duncan, and it is SO much fun! It felt like being in down South, at a revival service, and the place was on their feet, clapping and yelling, “Amen!”
Following this tune, Salgado graciously thanked his audience and band, and they exited the stage. But, of course, the audience demanded an encore! So they came back with a phenomenal rendition of, “Getting To Know You”, which was originally recorded by Parliament, on “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”. Once again, the arrangement on this tune was very well written and performed. This is not an easy tune on any level, either vocally or instrumentally, and they did an unbelievable job with it. The energy on this tune was explosive, as Salgado created and shaped his own audience choir, singing, “Baby, baby I love you! Baby, baby I love yo-o-ou!”
Salgado took time to greet his fans with a signing session, warmly thanking each person who took the time to come out and hear him play.
Many thanks to the management of, The Iron Horse for hosting this event. I hope they will consider inviting Salgado back annually. This is one show that is continually evolving, and worth coming back to see again, year after year!
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