Curtis Salgado is one of my very favorite blues/soul singers -- and I happen to think he's also one of the best.
So it was just my good fortune that Salgado turned up as part of the lineup at the Clearwater, Fla., Sea-Blues Festival in Coachman Park on Saturday. He wasn't the headliner -- Buddy Guy held that position -- but for me, Salgado's soulful power was the highlight.
The man can be soulful, bluesy, torchy, or just plain testify. And he plays the harp as well. A mean harp. A very mean harp.
Too many times at festivals and concerts, a singer's voice get lost in the mix, or can't hold its own against a noisy backdrop. Salgado is not of those. His vocals, backed by a crackling band and punched out by a super-crisp sound system, reached out and grabbed you, so, you know, somethin's got a hold on you.
Salgado played and sang till you thought he couldn't possibly hit another note, but he hit them all. My favorite was a jamming, extended version of a song he wrote called "Too Loose." It featured a mini-harp festival built into the middle, and a hair-raising duet with drummer Brian Foxworth trading soulful vocal lines with Salgado. They could make a concert out of just that song.
I was the best musical hour I've spent in a long time.Earlier in the day, two fine guitarists and singer-songwriters turned in a sparkling performance, combining some sharp electric blues and some fine mandolin blues.
Rich DelGrosso is the mandolin man, one of few around, and adds gruff, tough vocals.
He was paired with John Del Toro Richardson (both out of Houston), who brings serious electric chops and a keen Texas blues sensitivity to their work.
They played great songs like a mandolin-driven "Walking Blues," "Sloppy Drunk," and an elegant little version of "Sittin' on Top of the World," which Richardson said he learned from the late Hubert Sumlin, and paid Sumlin a nice tribute, calling him the "sweetest, kindest" man he ever met. The song sounded good, too.
And if you've never seen a slide used on a mandolin, check out DelGrosso. He makes them sound like they were made for each other.
Then there's Buddy Guy.
What can you say about a legend? I don't think that very many people who are still alive deserve the "legend" label, but Guy has to be one of them. He's been there, seen that, done it in the blues.
Guy's concerts have almost stopped being concerts, if you mean the kind of an event where an artist plays/sings some songs, tells a few little stories, and collects the applause. For a number of years now, Guy has turned his appearances into little mini-festivals of their own.
He jams, he riffs verbally and musically, he improvises, he plays to the crowd, he plays in the crowd -- and he, and the crowd, all seem to have a hell of good time. Just when he seems to be incapable of getting through a song without a few asides to the audience, he'll play a beautifully straight version of the thoughtful "Skin Deep." And with only one little variation -- he's now 75 -- Guy offered a hearty rendition of "74 Years Young" from his last album, "Living Proof."
And then, saying he wanted to show that he can play the music, he turned John Lee Hooker's classic "Boom Boom" into a screaming medley of Hendrix-Clapton-Cream electronics.
There there was a quiet, almost jazzlike version of "Fever" that I'd rank with the best of them.
So yes, Buddy Guy still has all his chops. His voice cracked a little here and there, but he can still work a lyric like few others (check his last few albums). And his guitar work is tough and supple, whether he's in a classic blues or his Hendrix mode, working the wah-wah pedal furiously.
It's always great to be able to see a living legend who puts on a great show.