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On the brighter side of the blues

Curtis Salgado headlines the annual Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival.
Curtis Salgado headlines the annual Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival.

Singer Curtis Salgado is touring again after surgery, and he’s headlining CdA’s annual Blues Festival

First things first. Curtis Salgado is healthy. Which is saying something.

Last time the Oregon-based singer was in the Inland Northwest, to headline the Wallace Blues Festival in 2012, he’d just gotten word that his lung cancer had returned, and within a few weeks he underwent a partial lobectomy.

All this was after his bout with liver cancer and a liver transplant in 2006.

Still, one can’t keep a great bluesman down. Even half a lung shy, he’s still able to sing, play harmonica and create the same electric blues set that has entertained fans across the country and around the world.

“Maybe your body compensates for it, I don’t know,” he said in a recent telephone interview. Local fans will be able to see for themselves when Salgado headlines the Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival on Saturday.

Among the blues faithful, Salgado’s story is legendary. As a young man living in Eugene in the late 1970s, he and his friend Robert Cray would play blues at a bar called Taylor’s, just across the street from the University of Oregon. John Belushi, in town to film “Animal House,” caught their show and got an idea that eventually became the Blues Brothers.

Since that brush with fame, Salgado and his band the Nighthawks have continued work it. They tour relentlessly and have shared the stage with legendary performers such as the Steve Miller Band, Santana and John Lee Hooker. His most recent album, “Soul Shot,” was released in 2012, and he’s gearing up to head back into the studio.

It’s a grueling pace, one the 60-year-old acknowledges likely wouldn’t be possible if he’d required chemotherapy to treat his cancer.

“It’s all I know how to do,” he said. “It’s either this or hard labor. Turns out this is hard labor anyhow, but it’s hard labor I love.”

It’s a pace he’s able to keep because of his crack band, which he calls the “baddest R&B band this side of the Mississippi.” It’s the band he’ll use to record his upcoming record, along with the Phantom Blues Band, a collection of top-shelf session musicians from Los Angeles.

While he doesn’t anticipate having any new material to play in Coeur d’Alene this weekend, he’s looking forward to sharing his current set list with the fans.

“We’re going to put on a show,” he said. “It’s an extremely talented band. We’re not like anybody else.”