He was afraid this call was coming.
"You have prostate cancer... " the physician explained evenly over the phone.
"Holy shit. What the hell?" Tim "Too Slim" Langford thought. Then his mind just went numb.
It was September 2014, just after his blues band Too Slim and the Taildraggers headlined Spokane's Pig Out in the Park. Gaining composure, he wondered what this meant for his group. He worried about the bills.
"There's no musician's unemployment office," he says.
So they continued to play as long as he could, up until Thanksgiving, when he readied for removal surgery.
Today, the 56-year-old is eating brunch at a diner in Nashville, where he's lived and worked for four years, just after a doctor's appointment. He says he feels about 85 percent back to his old self and is currently not scheduled for radiation or chemotherapy.
"Right now, the cancer seems to be gone," he says, relieved.
This weekend, he plays his first show since the surgery; a cancer benefit for him set up by friend and fellow bluesman Sammy Eubanks at the Knitting Factory.
A Spokane native, Langford recalls playing regularly in a country act at the Swinging Doors when he was 19. There also was a stint in a punk band. Even though the blues eventually won him over, Langford's gritty and honest music pulls from those other genres.
Since forming the Taildraggers in 1986, the Washington Blues Society and blues fans alike have reveled in Langford's heartbreaking croon. The group continues to attract a following. Of the 11 studio albums they've made, the past four have hit the Top 10 of the Billboard Top Blues Album charts.
When Langford moved from Spokane to Seattle in 2004, most of his bandmates didn't come with him. The same happened when he moved to Nashville in 2011 — all new players. But for this weekend's show, musicians who were there from the start have volunteered to back Langford: Tom Brimm on bass, who was in the band for 16 years, and John Cage on drums, who left in 2006.
Langford knows his situation could have gone quite differently.
"We would have been in a serious crisis if people wouldn't have been so generous," he explains. "I can't even express how grateful I am, the outpouring of concern and generosity. I'm grateful I'm surviving this thing." ♦
Tim "Too Slim" Langford Cancer Relief Benefit feat. Too Slim and the Taildraggers, Bryan Warhall & Triple Trouble, the Sidemen, Nicole Lewis Band, Smash Hit Carnival, Big Mumbo Blues Band and the Doghouse Boyz • Sun, Feb. 15, at 6 pm • $10 • All-ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279