Arts & Entertainment: Soul survivor counts his blessings

Last year, Portland blues and soul man Curtis Salgado was riding high from “Soul Shot,” his critically acclaimed debut for Alligator Records, and from being crowned soul/blues artist of the year at the 34th annual Blues Awards in Memphis.

Then, in July, his doctor found a small tumor on his left lung. It was his third time facing cancer, following a liver transplant in 2006 and the removal of part of that same lung in 2007.

Salgado, 59, has recovered and will headline Jazzbones on March 8. And when Tacoma Weekly caught up with him last week, he talked about the perspective that facing death and being supported by the Northwest music community has given him.

TW: You had a scare last year. How is your health?

Salgado: Last Friday, I did an MRI and a CAT scan, and they called me up on Monday and said “You're good.”

I just keep diligent and check my body and that’s it, and live life and hope it doesn’t come back. I mean, this is the third time; so, for me it has changed my outlook, of course, as it would anybody. But it’s kind of, in a way, extremely freeing. I’m blessed, and I’ve been blessed repeatedly. I want to live, you know. I want to live to the ripe old age of 80-something. That would be nice. But I can’t think on those terms.

TW: Has that experience impacted you as a performer or inspired your material?

Salgado: It might, eventually … but not in terms of I’m going to write a song about cancer. I think it’s just growing up. With or without cancer I would have had the same epiphanies.

So (how) does a miracle, or a series of miracles in my case, change you? Well one (way) is I really don’t care about fame and fortune. That’s not important any more. My little mantra is “I’m rich in friends and famous in the eyes of God. I’m already rich and famous.'”

TW: I guess, before all this happened, fame and fortune was a driving force for you.

Salgado: Well, yeah. I don’t know about fortune, but how about just being able to pay the bills and not worry about it? … I wanted to be in that coliseum with people pumping their fist and noddin’ their head, rockin’ it up. That may still come, it may not. It doesn’t really matter.

I got into music … because jazz and blues and soul and black music just tickled my (fancy.) You know, it really moved me. I wanted to know more about it. Through getting into this, I discovered more about America.

TW: Along those lines, I think I read that when you were getting started Little Walter made a big impression on you.

Salgado: Oh, huge. Before that, though, was Count Basie. My father listened to Tagliavini. He was an opera singer. Then my father would put on Count Basie; and then my father would play Ray Charles.

But yes, my sister bought me a Little Walter record in 1969. I was 14, 15 years old, and I had already heard Paul Butterfield. But for Christmas my sister bought me a record. She also bought me a “Led Zeppelin II” record, and I didn’t like it.

TW: When and where did you record your last album?

Salgado: (Previous album) “Clean Getaway” was recorded with a group of musicians out of Los Angeles that have been dubbed, by Taj Mahal, as the Phantom Blues Band. However, these guys are more than just a blues band. ... They play, collectively, with just about everybody you can name in the business, from Paul Simon to Crosby, Stills & Nash to Bob Dylan to Jerry Lee Lewis, … on and on and on.

After I recovered from the liver transplant in 2006, I hooked up with these guys and recorded “Clean Getaway.” Then I got back together with them a couple years ago and recorded “Soul Shot.” And this record is nothing but soul.

TW: You have a few remakes on there, ranging from Parliament to Otis Redding. Tell me about why you chose those cuts.

Salgado: They’re songs that, usually, I grew up with of just love and that just hit my auditory nerve – ones that really mean a lot.

One of my producers handed me a song that I wasn’t that familiar with … that was by the O’Jays. It was called “Let Me Make Love To You.” That was the biggest challenge, covering Eddie Levert. We wanted to strip it down, take away the violins and the background singing and make it just a rhythm section and me – raw, just singing it. And we get a lot of talk about that, actually. So we pulled it off.

Curtis Salgado in concert

8 p.m. March 8 Jazzbones, 2803 6th Ave., Tacoma - $15 (253) 396-9169 or http://www.jazzbones.com

Hear Curtis Salgado talk about his connection to “The Blues Brothers” online at http://www.tacomaweekly.com/dailymashup.

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