Curtis Salgado will never forget the sense of bewilderment he felt four decades ago.
The award-winning Portland musician, who performed a concert at the Union County Fair Friday night, was playing at the Eugene Hotel in 1977 when he was notified that John Belushi, the actor and comedian of Saturday Night Live fame, wanted to talk to him.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Salgado said of Belushi, who had quickly become a pop icon when Saturday Night Live began airing on NBC in 1975.
Salgado attributed his unfamiliarity to the fact he did not own a television and was always performing when SNL was being broadcast.
“Saturday is my main pay day,” the musician said.
Belushi was in Eugene for the filming of the movie “Animal House.” He sought out Salgado because he was impressed with the rhythm and blues music he was playing and wanted to learn more about it. The two entertainers soon forged a bond.
The fast friendship grew while Salgado spent hours playing old records for Belushi, teaching him about rhythm and blues. Belushi credited what he learned from Salgado with inspiring the well-known Blues Brothers characters in the 1970s. The Blues Brothers debut album, “Briefcase Full of Blues,” is dedicated to Salgado.
Belushi was a bit different in person than his public persona, Salgado said.
“Was he funny and hilarious all the time? No. He was a regular guy, very intelligent and hardworking,” he said.
Belushi was always thinking and honing his craft. To illustrate this point Salgado said once when he went to visit Belushi he found him watching a rerun of the television series “Gunsmoke,” which starred James Arness as Sheriff Matt Dillon.
“He was mimicking every character, including Matt Dillon. It was like a long rift — he was practicing live,” Salgado said.
Belushi died in 1982, but Salgado maintains strong ties to his family. He has kept in contact with Belushi’s widow, Judy Jacklin, whom he talks to several times a year. Her respect for Salgado is such that in 2006 she attended a fundraising concert in Portland conducted to help him raise money for medical bills.
“She is a wonderful person,” said the musician, who grew up in Eugene.
The blues and R&B music Salgado introduced Belushi to was a staple of the fast-moving 75-minute concert he gave Friday night. He also played rock-and-roll, soul and what some refer to as Americana.
“You call it whatever you want. We call it a good time,” Salgado told his audience.
Songs he performed included “I Want My Dog to Live Longer (The Greatest Wish),” one of the most popular numbers from a 2018 CD he and guitarist Alan Hager recorded.
A portion of the song’s lyrics read:
“I wish I was the king of rock and roll
Wish I was cool and in the know
I wish I wrote Blowing in the Wind
I wish to see my mother again
I wish I could stop poverty, save the world from hunger
But the greatest wish I want to come true is to make my dog live longer.”
Salgado said the song reflects the love he had for a family dog he grew up with.
“We were puppies together. But when I was 14 he was 14 (and near the end of his life),” Salgado said.
The musician feels comfortable in Central and Eastern Oregon, noting that he is familiar with life here since members of his family were wheat farmers in Condon.
“I love communities like this. This is my wheelhouse right here,” Salgado said.
Salgado said he enjoys establishing a rapport with his audience during concerts. The key to which, he said, is being honest about yourself. He displayed a sense of humility while striving to do this at the Union County Fair.
“You are paying my rent. I owe you,” he told his audience.
Salgado, who has been described as a “blues icon” by National Public Radio, performed for an hour and 15 minutes and then was called out for an encore, when he performed the song “Driving in the Rain.” In parting, he urged everyone there to be kind and to be understanding of others regardless of their differences.
“Remember, there is only one race — it’s the human race. Give it some respect,” he said.