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That ol sweet struggle

Curtis Salgado and Lloyd Jones ready to shake it again for Blues Fest
by: Jeffrey Basinger, Longtime friends Lloyd Jones and Curtis Salgado (right) will be performing together at the Waterfront Blues Festival on July 4.

Details fade through the years, but Curtis Salgado remembers attending a concert at the University of Oregon Erb Memorial Union in the early 1970s. He was there to watch Charlie Musselwhite, but the teenager came away quite impressed with the opening group, Brown Sugar, with the incomparable Paul deLay on harmonica and a long red-haired guy on the drums.

It was Lloyd Jones.

'Brown Sugar killed me,' Salgado says. 'I had never heard of them, and I've been a music freak my whole life. I saw them as much as I could.'

The two later met and collaborated in a terrific blues band in the early 1980s called In Yo' Face, and circumstances drove them apart as each embarked on more lucrative careers - Salgado mostly with his own band, and Jones becoming more well known for his guitar playing and songwriting with his Struggle. But, 2010 has brought a reunion.

With another guitarist leaving the group, Jones has stepped in to play guitar for the Curtis Salgado Band, a highlight being an appearance at the Waterfront Blues Festival, 9 to 10 p.m. on Sunday, July 4. Scores of Northwest and western U.S. gigs are also on the calendar. And, it's pretty apparent watching the two engage each other that these ageless Portland bluesmen have something special between them.

'I'm the biggest Lloyd Jones fan,' says Salgado, 56, who's feeling better after a well-publicized bout with liver cancer. 'I christened him Lloyd 'Have Mercy' Jones. He's a very good songwriter, to the point where it irritates me. I'm serious. It just comes to him.'

The thing is Jones, 60, and going strong with his own band, needed time to learn Salgado's songs. He still isn't up to speed on some of them. It's not as easy as one would think.

'I'm not a hired gun,' Jones says. 'To be a hired gun on somebody else's material is a huge challenge. But I dig working with this cat so much … what he's doing with these songs, why he plays this kind of material, it ain't nothin' but good to broaden your horizons. I like his style.

'Then, I go back to my own band, change a couple words and say, 'I wrote all this,' ' he adds, chuckling.

Adds Salgado: 'I've asked Lloyd to step in with his own style; at the same time, I know it's a challenge for him. … But, it's a kick in the pants.'

Obscure blues

Oh, to jump into a time capsule and return to the early 1980s and see and hear In Yo' Face. Jones had witnessed Salgado singing with Robert Cray; so, there was mutual admiration. Fresh from his breakup with Cray, Salgado finally met Jones in some hole-in-the-wall bar and they decided to work together. The two played a small show on New Year's Eve.

'We had never rehearsed together,' Jones says. 'He said, 'B.B. King - go.' And, he's singing like B.B. King. We get done with the song and I say, 'Jimmy Reed - go.' … It's been like ever since.'

The band stayed together for four years - partying hard, playing long and loud and with Salgado and Jones cementing their reputations in the blues world. (Salgado also sang with the Lloyd Jones Struggle at the time).

'It was the most aligned … everybody had the same record collection,' Jones says. 'We were so unified. Loads of fun. … (He and Salgado) have a mutual respect for the dedication to this kind of music. We'd look at the other guy and think, 'This guy's not fooling around.''

Says Salgado: 'He was my hero from the get-go. He's a very solid citizen, and I had a reputation of being kind of crazy. He had a way of centering me. We did a lot of partying. But, we weren't sloppy.'

In Yo' Face would play mostly cover tunes from obscure blues groups like O.V. Wright and Otis Clay.

'We had a collection of records that only a handful of people knew who these very obscure guys were,' Jones says. 'When we'd play a song, people thought it was ours.

'Curt turned me on to Syl Johnson, a lesser-known cat, but he was huge in his area,' he adds. 'We thought it was our job to spread the word.'

At the time, the blues world wanted to gain white fans - what better way than Salgado and Jones, both white, to spread the word?

But, at about the same time Jones was delving into songwriting for the Struggle, Salgado got an invite to join the band Room Full of Blues, which planned to tour in Europe with Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. So, the two parted.

Sitting together recently, Salgado confided in Jones: 'I never said this to him, but I feel like I disappointed him. We were getting really popular. We got to the point where we had lines down the street (outside old Key Largo in Northwest Portland). … But I couldn't say no (to Room Full of Blues). It was my first opportunity to get out on the road. I was with them for almost three years.'

Says Jones: 'Neither one of us had an interest in stopping the other's career. I saw that as good, my pal was getting a break, he deserves it.'

Great chemistry

Jones and Salgado, who each have established their own niche with records, have played together as a duo off and on for years.

Salgado has played guest harmonica with the Struggle, Jones has written songs for his friend.

'We'll be doing one at the blues fest,' Salgado says.

'They have this great chemistry,' says Peter Damman, talent coordinator for the blues fest. 'To me, it's the best Curtis and his band have sounded.'

Both are working on two projects each - albums and acoustic records. Salgado's next album, probably out next year, will have 'dance' influence. He recently won Soul Blues Artist of the Year at the Blues Music Awards, despite not putting out a record.

More importantly, Salgado says he 'feels great, so far, so good' after his treatment for liver cancer in the past five years; Jones says he doesn't have any health issues, and believes his music gets better with age.

'All your history adds up to a more relaxed approach to things,' he says.