Curtis Salgado makes a 'Clean Getaway'

Curtis Salgado has a lot to celebrate.

The blues and soul singer and harmonica player came into his own on the Northwest music scene in 1972 with another up-and-coming blues artist — guitarist and vocalist Robert Cray. Salgado helped launch the Robert Cray Band in 1980 with the album "Who's Been Talking," and, while in Cray's high-profile company, sat in with blues musicians the likes of Muddy Waters, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Albert Collins and Bonnie Raitt.

Then there was the night in 1977, when, by chance, actor and comic John Belushi caught Salgado's show at the Eugene Hotel. Belushi liked Salgado's music and found in it his inspiration for an off-beat comedy skit for NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Belushi and "SNL" comic Dan Aykroyd created an act called The Blues Brothers that became one of the nation's hottest attractions, with television performances, concerts, a record album and a movie.

"Sometimes when I think of the Belushi thing and The Blues Brothers, I don't know what to think," Salgado stated in a 1979 story in Eugene's Register-Guard.

Belushi gave all of the credit to Salgado. He dedicated The Blues Brothers album, "Briefcase Full of Blues," to the blues artist.

Salgado left Cray's band and fronted the Boston-based, Grammy award-winning Roomful of Blues from 1984 to '86. Then he returned to Portland and formed The Stilettos. Salgado and The Stilettos toured nationally with acts such as Steve Miller and The Doobie Brothers, and Salgado even did a stint as lead vocalist with Santana in the '90s. He recorded three albums — including one with The Stillettos and another acoustic recording with Portland guitarist Terry Robb.

But the experiences of the past two years have given Salgado a newer perspective.

He was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005 and underwent a successful organ transplant in 2006.

With no health insurance, Salgado had to fall back on the help of a few friends. But when your friends include Miller, Cray, Raitt and countless others, you have a fighting chance. Many bands and musicians held benefits in numerous cities, and fans organized auctions and made private donations.

"Bonnie Raitt paid my rent while I was in the hospital," Salgado states on his Web site. "She's just the best. Two people gave me their life savings, and, when it didn't look like there would be a donor in time, my girlfriend offered to donate half her liver."

There were a few more twists and turns regarding Salgado's health, but, in 2008, he was able to record "Clean Getaway," an album that is a triumph in more ways than one.

Produced by Tony Braunagel, drummer for The Phantom Blues Band, and Marlon McClain, "Clean Getaway" is a seamless mix of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll grooves and vocals.

"It was the best experience," Salgado says. "We were either laughing or cutting tracks. Some of the album's cuts are first takes. We did hardly any overdubs. It was very inspiring.

"Clean Getaway" may be the breakthrough that Salgado has been working toward.

"I'm playing music with the most incredible people," he says. "People are supporting me, and a record company is supporting me .... even in these tough times in the business. So I've got nothing to complain about. To me, I've won the lottery, I've won all the Grammys. I don't need stardom to feel validated. Of course, I'd like to sell a lot of records, as much for the company as for me, but on a personal level, I don't care. I'm alive. It makes me humble. So I'm just trying to stick to my guns, perfect my craft and make great music."

When one has that much to be thankful for, it's time to give something back. Some proceeds from Salgado's show at the armory will be donated to Child Development Services in Medford.

Broadway Phil and the Shouters, a Rogue Valley-based, Southern roots band, will open the show.

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