Val Ventro to perform tonight at Nucleus Lounge

Courtesy Photo Val Ventro plays guitar and sings. He will be performing tonight at Nucleus Lounge in downtown Alpena.

ALPENA — A battle with cancer couldn’t stop this musician from doing what he loves.

Val Ventro will open for The Douglas Brothers tonight at the Nucleus Lounge in downtown Alpena.

Ventro will start playing at 5 p.m. at the Nucleus, located inside The Center Building at 109 N. 2nd Ave.

Born in Detroit, Ventro lives in Gaylord now and has been making his way around northern Michigan, three years after a cancer scare threatened his life, and his career. A bout with esophageal cancer could have taken his singing voice, but instead, after a complete rebuild of his esophagus, he said his voice was “20 years younger.”

Ventro’s father, of the same name, was a professional football player prior to World War II.

“He played for the Lions back when they were good,” Ventro said of his dad. “This was pre-Super Bowl stuff.”

He said his dad was involved in starting the Canadian Football League.

His dad died when Ventro was 9 years old.

“At that point, my mom sold our house,” Ventro said. “We were living in Dearborn. She had a house built in Commerce Township, which is now West Bloomfield. So that’s originally where I’m from.”

He eventually made his way up north.

“Since 1999-2000, I’ve been traveling around, doing East Coast stuff, and I lived in New York for a number of years,” Ventro recalled.

He then lived in Florida for seven years, then Kansas, where he met up with his old drummer from 30 years ago.

He decided to come back home to Michigan, and the beauty of northern Michigan intrigued him.

“I love this area,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

In August, he met with Charlie Oncina at Lachine Machine and recorded several tracks to get back into the groove, at the behest of Joey Spina of Whitey Morgan and the 78’s. Ventro was good friends with Spina’s late father, Joe Spina. Both are accomplished musicians.

“This is a good area for me,” Ventro noted. “There seems to be a lot of work for musicians. Especially if I’m going to be doing some solo guitar stuff … that’s why I came.”

He’s happy to be alive and still rockin’. There’s a little less of him now, since he lost a lot of weight.

“I’ve always been a very big man,” Ventro said. “I usually average anywhere from 325 to 350. I’ve always been a big man ­– 6’4″. It ended up, they did a scope on me, and it was Stage 4 esophageal cancer, and the tumor in my throat was bigger than my fist. So, they basically gave me three weeks to live.”

That was three years ago, in 2019.

At that time, he had a tour of the country lined up with his band, Val Ventro and The Motorcity V8.

“When the surgeon told me about it, I had asked him, ‘Do you know what I do for a living? Is this going to affect my singing voice? And he said, ‘Yeah,'” Ventro recalled. “I just started crying. And he said, ‘Val, I give you my word, I will do my best to make sure that we keep your voice.'”

After two months in the hospital, he got out and did a gig.

“I was just in amazement,” Ventro said. “I was hitting notes that I hadn’t hit in years.”

He was so excited to not only be alive, but to be singing and playing music, which is his passion.

“Now I’m at the point where I’m retraining my voice so I can get back to playing full-time again,” Ventro said. “And I’ve lost over 200 pounds.”

He said his cancer journey has given him a new perspective.

“It was incredible,” Ventro said. “I have so much more respect for people that I’ve known through the years that have either died or been afflicted by this, than ever before. It just keeps coming back on me that I’m supposed to be playing.”

He wants to start booking the band for festivals in northern Michigan and around the state.

“I want to call this home,” he said of northern Michigan. “It’s a new journey.”

Ventro, 56, realizes the cancer could come back, but he’s going to enjoy life, one note at a time.

“As of right now, hey man, I’m alive,” Ventro said. “Ain’t nothin’ stoppin’ me until I’m stopped.”


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