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Wednesday, April 25 News

Saturday in Fairfield: Jose Feliciano shows he's still 'viable'

No more than five minutes into a recent phone interview, Jose Feliciano was eager to play a song he recently recorded.

"Al, can you play `I Need the Night?' " he said to his longtime engineer/producer, Al Payson, who was with Feliciano at the singer's home studio in Weston. "I want to play this for (the reporter)."

From the other end of the line came the familiar sounds of Feliciano's distinctive finger-picking, his fiery tenor. But the song itself veered into unexpected territory: A sprightly, radio-ready cut evoking Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" through a Latin lens, it was strikingly, unabashedly modern.

"I don't know what's going to happen with it," Feliciano said of the song. "I told myself I could do what's happening on the radio."

There was a time when Feliciano owned the radio.

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8 p.m. Saturday
Fairfield Museum & History Center, 370 Beach Road
Tickets: $75
203-259-1598, www.fairfieldhistory.org

Although he's well passed his hit-making days, the 68-year-old virtuoso guitarist, composer and "Feliz Navidad" singer is still driven by the same joyful ambition that garnered him international success, multiple Grammy Awards and most recently, a spot in the Fairfield Museum & History Center's current "Fairfield's Rockin' Top 10" exhibition.

In a recent interview, Feliciano, who performs an intimate acoustic concert at the museum Saturday, discussed living and performing in Connecticut, staying "viable" and his dream of having his own talk show.

Q: Why did you decide to move to Connecticut?

A: When I was in my teenage years, I had some friends in Greenwich. I met them through my classical guitar teacher, and I would visit them from time to time. At one point, I was living in California and my wife wanted to live in New England because she likes the change of seasons. Also, she's afraid of earthquakes. I thought, what about Connecticut? We found a place that was the location of the Old Banks Tavern on the Saugatuck River.

Q: Do you like living in the area?

A: I long for the warm weather, but I'm happy in Connecticut because I've met a lot of great people here. I met my bass player (Federico Pol) and recording engineer (Jim Durkin) here. If I hadn't moved here, I wouldn't have met such wonderful people. Everything has its yin and yang.

Q: How does it feel to be celebrated as one of the region's most influential musicians in "Fairfield's Rockin Top 10?"

A: It's a wonderful thing. I never thought I'd be included. There's so many great musicians in Connecticut -- Keith Richards, Nile Rodgers. This state has a tremendous history.

Q: What will you perform at your upcoming show in Fairfield?

A: I might play a lot of new songs I've written. I don't always want to have to go back to my discography. "Light My Fire" and "Feliz Navidad" are getting old. I'm growing. I'm not stuck in the same old niche.

Q: (After hearing "I Need the Night") Tell me about the song. It sounds like you've been listening to a lot of contemporary pop music.

A: I wrote and produced it with Al Payson, and I think it's really cool. It's really popping. What I'm trying to do with my music is not stay behind. Everything I listen to on the radio influences me. I don't know what's going to happen with it. I told myself I could do what's happening on the radio.

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Q: I saw from your touring schedule that you're still on the road a lot. Why is it important for you to continue performing?

A: If I don't, who's going to pay the bills? I can't believe I'm still selling out places. I was in Chile not too long ago, where I played for 80,000 people. People still want to come to see me and that's very heartening. I've been in this business for 58 years.

Q: That's a long time! What else do you hope to accomplish?

A: I'm just trying to keep myself viable. Maybe I can have my own television show like Jimmy Fallon. I have a good sense of humor. I'm spontaneous. I think I would be good on TV. I wonder if News 12 would be interested in giving a television show to a singer down the road.