Veteran bluesman Curtis Salgado has had a storied career that’s seen him share the stage with some of the greats (Steve Miller, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Muddy Waters), but he might be best known as the man who provided the musical inspiration for Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s Blues Brothers act. Belushi was filming Animal House in Eugene, Oregon (Salgado’s birthplace) in 1977 and saw Salgado perform. As The Blues Brothers went on to fame, Salgado got a thanks on the Blues Brothers’ first album (but not much else). Since then, he’s gone on to have a prolific career that saw him become the principal singer for Santana. He sat down with Swerve‘s Going Out Editor Jon Roe prior to his show at the Engineered Air Theatre to talk about the blues and his recent bout with cancer.
Do you think about the future of the blues often? Well I think about my future and what I put into music. The future of the blues? It’s never going to be what we cling on to, which is the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. Those times were different for people of all races and all colours. Nobody is living like that anymore.
Take the black community: they can now go through the front door. Even though that I think that racism is still the same in America, we can all eat at the same place. It’s slowly lifting up, and I think as each generation comes through the fears that people have are being wiped out. It’s ridiculous to think that somebody is better than someone else.
The times make the music. It’s just going to be a different way to do the blues. It’s not a strong thing right now. Another generation might not be interested in the history of Muddy Waters. I’m afraid that it might fall to the side of Dixieland. You know Dixieland? You have any Dixieland records at home?
I don’t think I have any, but I have heard Dixieland before. It’s great stuff, but do you own any of it? Are you listening to it? The blues will at least still be played on the radio because rock comes from it. Blues is rock and rock and roll is blues. You could talk about categories, but it’s all the same stuff. It’s all blending in together. (People say) “he’s not blues because he’s this,” or “Charlie Parker isn’t blues because he’s jazz.” S—, Charlie Parker is the deepest blues player there is and so is Miles Davis. And so is Thelonius Monk. It’s deep blues. There’s nothing but blues. It’s put across with a little more intelligence and harmony, it’s a whole different approach.
Even though it’s intellectual, there’s still this low down, guttural feeling of the blues.
I was reading that you had cancer. Are you completely cancer free now? Right at this day, I’m cancer free. I live with cancer. Right now, I don’t have it, but who knows? It might come back. I hate to bum people out, but everyone has cancerous cells in their body and nobody knows what switches it on. There’s a light switch on a little cell and something turns it on, they don’t know what. If we did, we could cure it.
Has it affected your creative process? Not at all. I had cancer and the kind of cancer that I had was very slow growing cancer. The only way they could get rid of the stuff is to pull it out of my body. I don’t think chemotherapy would take care of it, or whatever other stuff they have. Basically, for me, it’s a surgical removal and hope that it doesn’t come back. That has not stopped my creative process.
For me, I cross my fingers and get checked every six months. Every six months he’s going to come in and tell me if I have it or I don’t. Believe me, that’s a day of anxiety. I just had it, by the way. I got checked for cancer last week. He walked in and he wasn’t carrying anything. If he’s carrying something, I’m going, “Oh s—, here it comes.” And he wasn’t. I even said to him, “You’re not carrying anything, yay!”
That’s good to hear. You know what he said? You know what, there’s no control over this. You don’t have any control. It’s either going to come or it’s not. You need to start focusing on the other things. Because of the liver transplant, I’m diabetic. I need to lose about 40 lbs. That would help. Those are the things that I need to focus on health-wise.
That’s the way you have to approach it, right? If you don’t have any control over it, you have to focus on other things. You just live it one day at a time.
Your last album came out in 2012. Are you currently working on a new album? Yes sir, I am. I’m working on a record for Alligator Records. I’ve written 16 songs. I’ve got some other cover songs that I’m going to throw in there. I’m trying to get all the tunes together, listen to them and pick out a CD’s worth of material. I don’t record all 16, I record like 12 of them. These are all original tunes and I’m hoping to have all of them original.
When you come to Calgary, what can fans expect? You’ll be listening to acoustic blues. You might hear a couple of originals, but mostly it will be old tunes from the past.
Is it important to you to showcase those older songs to an audience that maybe hasn’t heard them before? I don’t think of them as important. I don’t think about it in a larger sense: is this an important thing I’m doing? I play them because they’re great songs and I feel good playing them and I relate to them and we do them well. The answer is yes, those songs should be out there and the history should be learned.
How I learned the history of the United States is through playing this music. You find out about segregation and rights and slavery and cities and their history and the music scene and the people and the politics of the United State. That’s how I personally learned about the history of the United States, besides having a very curious nature to myself. I love history.
But I learned about—s—, I didn’t know about racism when I was a kid. My folks were very solid, straight ahead people. There wasn’t racism in my family. My folks were jazz enthusiasts, black music was in the house, constantly, with pictures of black people on it. I never thought about it.
Curtis Salgado: Saturday, Feb. 22. Part of the PCL Blues Series at Engineered Air Theatre, Epcor Centre. Doors, 7 p.m. $38. epcorcentre.org.