Singing the blues

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It’s hard to know what to write about Curtis Salgado that hasn’t already been printed.

The blues artist will perform June 6 at Sapolil Cellers, 15 E. Main St.

One longs for a brilliant question that hasn’t been asked of Salgado. What’s left to say after a man beats cancer — the most recent bout started in his liver and metastasized to his lungs — to come back and win three blues music awards the year after donating half a lung to the disease?

Let’s see... Reference to Salgado as John Belushi’s inspiration for the iconic 1980 “Blues Brothers” movie? Check.

Salgado’s time spent with The Steve Miller Band and Santana? Mentioned plenty in Salgado’s four-decades-plus career.

The childhood in the ever-hip Eugene, Ore., where Salgado was immersed in an elixir of blues, jazz and soul music? Yep.

So now what?

“Here’s the newest thing that’s happened,” the musician said last week from his Portland, Ore., home. “I have been very blessed.”

Specifically, Salgado is referring to winning three of the industry’s prized titles earlier this month, starting with the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year for his 2012 record, “Soul Shot,” and Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year. As well, Soul Shot was picked for Soul Blues Album of the Year, all at the 34th annual festival of The Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tenn.

In broader terms, Salgado sees being alive as the bigger helping of blessing, he said. His acquaintance with a slow-growing liver cancer began in 2005, followed by a liver transplant a year later. Cancer hit him again in 2007, then attacked once more in the summer of 2012, when malignant liver cells began growing again in his lung, This time surgeons removed the bottom lobe of his left lung, he said.

Salgado took four post-surgical months to recuperate, by which point he could detect no problems with air capacity in hitting those passionately raw notes the musician is known for. “I’m lucky. I’m outside the box,” Salgado said. “We’re right back where we started.”

His body seemed to take the procedures well in stride, so it made sense to hop in the van and do seven weeks of “one-nighters” on the road, he said with a laugh. “Which is probably why I won.”

Not for the first time. Salgado was named Soul Blues Artist of the Year in 2010, and top Soul Blues Male Artist in 2012.

It’s not all him, the musician insisted. His band, The Phantom Blues Band, is “killer,” and is instrumental in carrying him forward, Salgado pointed out. “We’re starting to get noticed outside our Northwest playground here, and it’s been a long time in coming. We’re going to Finland in a couple of weeks, and we’re doing Switzerland and Poland. We’re starting to get above the radar.”

One more piece of luck came from recently getting picked up by Alligator Records, Salgado said. “It’s perfect for me. They are very good at promoting, at getting my name out there.”

Publicity is an essential tool in a musician’s tool box, he explained. “Music these days is like an omelette. You’ve got the same egg, the same stuff; it’s just how you scramble it.”

There is no shortage of music available for every kind of listener, then you add in “everybody and his dog ... with a Mac Book and a microphone. It’s overcrowded. Everybody is all about making it and we’re all after the same dollar.”

True blues, however, attracts those who long for the history lesson provided in the works of blues masters such as Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Span and others. The genre produced in those years was birthed in a petri dish of the desperate poverty and raging racism of the times. Those songs were then replayed in every home with a record player, Salgado noted, “Or on the piano every home had to have.”

That is the music “honed and built right here,” he added. “These are not the same times and it’s not going to produce the same music. America ain’t the same anymore.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com.

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