There is nothing with a heartbeat more benevolent and beloved than a dog. The deepest blues come around when that heart stops beating. That’s why Curtis Salgado has a song that resonates.
“I Want My Dog to Live Longer (The Greatest Wish)” has received air play on blues shows across the land and is a highlight of Salgado’s live performances. It’s included on his 2018 album, “Rough Cut,” on Alligator Records.
The lyrics, he said, “just fell out of my mouth or out of my mind. It didn’t take long and that’s always a good sign. It took about 20 minutes and then I called up my buddy Alan (Hager). We came up with a Big Bill Broonzy guitar approach.”
The song’s main verse, or “hook,” has been with Salgado since his dog Chester died.
“When I was a puppy, he was a puppy, and when I was 14, Chester was 14,” Salgado said.
That’s when he learned about dogs’ short lifespans. He still grieves and anyone who has had a dog can relate.
I have not been excused from the cancer table. Once you get cancer, they keep checking. Meanwhile, you’ve got to live life.”
The tune was written about five years ago, and Salgado thought it would be ideal for Taj Mahal, who has a “voice like a warm blanket.”
“I was going to hand him this song … but I didn’t get to first base,” Salgado said.
So he recorded it himself as part of “Rough Cut,” a stripped-down collection of original and cover tunes by Salgado and Hager. During the past few years, live shows have featured an acoustic section. Following the new record, it’s been extended. It begins with just Salgado, who is the gold standard of soul singers, and Hager, who revels in American folk guitar. Band members return one at a time as the show segues back to a full-blown R&B performance.
He didn’t release a record in 2017, another year when Salgado survived surgery, this time an emergency heart operation. But he still won the Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Singer. It was the fifth time he has received the honor.
“That shows it’s a popularity thing,” Salgado said. “It’s very nice and I’ll take it. But Wee Willie Walker, that’s who I was pulling for. That’s a guy I learned from.”
Salgado, 65, is a three-time cancer survivor. In 2006, doctors treating him for liver cancer told Salgado he had six months to live.
“I’m always being checked for cancer,” he said. “I have not been excused from the cancer table. Once you get cancer, they keep checking. Meanwhile, you’ve got to live life. The whole thing with cancer is that you live with cancer and you die of something else, hopefully.
“It puts a different twist on life. Things that are the smallest things become far more important than politics and racism and people and their petty complaints and problems. You know what, man, we’re all blessed to be here. I’ve kind of been that person anyhow but it’s just been totally cranked up to 11.”
Salgado’s latest life-threatening experience came in March 2017. He had a heart attack while touring in New Hampshire on a Tuesday, and on Friday doctors performed triple-bypass surgery. Nine weeks later, he swept the BMAs, winning for Album Of The Year for “The Beautiful Lowdown,” Soul Blues Artist Of The Year, and Song Of The Year for “Walk A Mile In My Blues.”
He was unable to personally accept the awards in Memphis, but was in good spirits upon hearing the news. He told Tahoe Onstage: “I got the blues because the doctor told me I can’t have pork ribs and hotlinks and sweet potato pie, which I’m pretty sure everybody there was eating.”
Friends, supporters and peers helped Salgado with his medical bills. Portland, Oregon, artist Lloyd Jones kept two tip jars onstage for his weekly shows, one to give to Salgado.
“That literally put food in my refrigerator,” he said. “It’s overwhelming that the people throw out so much love and care. I owe the universe.”
His comeback show was at the Fourth of July Waterfront Blues Festival in hometown Portland. It was heart-wrenching to hear him perform the Song of the Year.
“You can’t believe this here life, and all the things I’ve been through.
I’ve been knocked down so many times, hard times ain’t nothing new.
I’ve been cut from stem to stern, sewn back up again.
Lost my brother to the needle, lost my wife to her best friend.
Oh, you’ll never know just what it takes to fill these shoes.
Before you criticize me, walk a mile in my blues.”
People tearfully approached him afterward to describe how the song moved them.
But during the show, Salgado was the same performer he’s been since his breakout days in the 1970s in Eugene, Oregon.
“Stepping up onstage, that’s nothing,” he said. “I mean, that’s what I do and I can’t wait to get onstage. To me, it was just another gig. It’s nice to be welcomed back and thank you so much. We knocked it out and that’s how I felt, so I’m being real honest. Every gig is like that. I can’t wait to play.”
– Tim Parsons