Living

Curtis Salgado is happy to give you the blues

Bluesman Curtis Salgado has played with the likes of Robert Cray, Muddy Waters and Santana.

He’s toured with Steve Miller and the Doobie Brothers. He’s friends with Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt.

And he inspired John Belushi’s Blues Brothers character, Jake.

The Portland blues singer, playing Saturday in Olympia, also is on intimate terms with cancer, having gone through liver cancer, which metastized and led to a tumor in one lung.

“Cancer’s very interesting,” he said. “It’s intelligent, you know. It’s a wild thing. Cancer’s scary, but you look at it like you look at a shark: It’s a fascinating creature. It’s a deadly, fascinating creature. That’s how I feel about it.

“I’m extremely lucky to be alive. There’s a lot of luck involved in this and a lot of love involved in this.”

He was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2006 and got a transplant with help from friends both famous and not. A year later, the lung tumor was found. His doctor told him that when cancer metastizes (the term for it spreading from one part of the body to another), it’s rare to have just one tumor, as he did.

“She said, ‘There should be four, five, six tumors. This is a miracle,’ ” he said.

After his recovery, he made the appropriately titled “Clean Getaway.” He has another album, a mix of originals and covers, being mixed in New Orleans now and he is shopping for a label.

“I’m thinking of calling it, ‘He Plays Harmonica,’ ” he said. “It’s not a harmonica record, though. It’s a solid dance record of hardcore rhythm and blues. It’s all soul.”

While music has always mattered and always will, cancer has forever changed his outlook on life.

“I don’t care if I get a Grammy,” he said. “Money doesn’t matter. None of this matters. It just matters to be respectful of other people and be responsible for your own actions and try to live a classy, positive life.”

When he talks about his connections to the likes of Raitt, Miller and Mahal, Salgado is focused on his gratitude — it’s the people, not the music, that matter most.

And so it is with Belushi, who heard Salgado play while filming “Animal House” in Eugene, Ore. “I was his muse,” he said. “He dedicated the record ‘A Briefcase Full of Blues’ to me.”

The story he tells to sum up the experience, though, is about how he had a chance to help one of his heroes. While educating Belushi on the blues, Salgado introduced him to the song “Hey, Bartender” by Floyd Dixon, an obscure blues piano player from Texas. It wound up on “Briefcase,” the first Blues Brothers album.

“Years later, after John Belushi had passed away, I saw Floyd Dixon in Chicago,” Salgado said. “He said, ‘Curtis, I want to thank you for turning those guys on to that song. I made more money than I had in my entire career.’

“The first royalty check he got from the album was for $78,000,” Salgado said. “This is my blues hero. He’d been recording since the 1940s, and I had a part in giving him his biggest success.

“I said, ‘What did you do with it?’ He looked to the sky, with his eyes all starry, and he said, ‘Man, I spent it all on the horses. Oh, yeah. Had a great time.’

“He didn’t have any regrets. That’s a bluesman. That’s the real deal.”

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