Born: March 25, 1966 in Toronto, Ontario Canada
Died: March 2, 2008 in Toronto, Ontario Canada
Blues-rock guitarist Jeff Healey was a one-of-a-kind talent who was equally conversant in blues music, rock & roll, pop, traditional jazz...you name it and he could play it, and play it well. Blind since infancy, he developed a distinctive and personalized guitar style that he applied to the music he loved. After flirting with rock stardom during the late-1980s, Healey would satiate his musical needs by exploring the history of traditional jazz, performing both jazz and blues-flavored rock on stages around the world.
Moving In A Blues Direction
Born Norman Jeffrey Healey in Toronto, Healey lost his sight as an infant after developing retinoblastoma, a rare form eye cancer. He was interested in music as a child, and picked up the guitar at the age of three. Healey taught himself how to play by holding the guitar flat in his lap, developing a unique style that included judicious use of string-bending and hammering. Healey's parents encouraged his fledgling musical talents, and Healey was performing in front of audiences by the tender age of six.
When Healey was 17 he formed his first band, Blues Direction, a quartet that performed mostly cover songs. Two years later Healey would form the Jeff Healey Band with bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen. The three would make a name for themselves performing around the Toronto area, and would release a single on their own Forte label. Healey would become friends with the then red-hot Stevie Ray Vaughan, and would later get the chance to perform onstage with the legendary B.B. King at a festival in Vancouver.
See The Light
Healey's reputation as a live performer brought the band to the attention of Arista Records label chief Clive Davis, and they would release their debut, See The Light, on the label in 1988. Fueled by the success of the John Hiatt-penned single "Angel Eyes," which would hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, See The Light would sell better than a million copies in the U.S., two million worldwide, and establish Healey as a fresh young talent on the blues-rock scene.
While they were recording their debut album, the Jeff Healey Band appeared in the Patrick Swayze film Road House, performing as the house band in the Double Deuce club and contributing the film's soundtrack. Healey's appearance in the movie raised the musician's profile and added to his growing reputation. Following the success of See The Light, Healey released Hell To Pay in 1990, which would give him his second Top 20 charting album, and Feel This in 1992. These two albums would yield numerous hit singles in Canada and earn Healey a coveted Juno Award in 1990.
Jeff Healey and the Jazz Wizards
After releasing 1995's Cover To Cover, an inspired album of cover songs that included a mix of rock (The Beatles), blues (Willie Dixon), and blues-rock (Jimi Hendrix, The Yardbirds), and 2000's Get Me Some, a blues-rock collection, Healey soured on the music business and the modern rock rat-race. Breaking up the band, he retreated to Toronto and began to pursue a different musical direction. Healey taught himself to play the trumpet and formed Jeff Healey and the Jazz Wizards.
Healey was no stranger to jazz, especially the traditional American jazz of the 1920s and '30s. An avid record collector, Healey owned over 30,000 78rpm discs as well as thousands of CDs and cassette tapes. He hosted a program on CBC Radio called "My Kind of Jazz," playing songs from his collection, and Healey often sat in with jazz bands in Toronto through the years. The Jazz Wizards independently released two critically-acclaimed albums, 2002's Among Friends and 2004's Adventures in Jazzland. A 2006 live album, It's Tight Like That, was recorded in Toronto with British jazz and blues legend Chris Barber.
Mess Of Blues
Healey stayed busy during the 2000s, mostly staying close to home and performing regularly at Healey's, a Toronto club that he was associated with. When the successful venue moved into a larger space, it was renamed Jeff Healey's Roadhouse. Healey appeared at the club every Saturday with the Jazz Wizards, and would perform with the blues-rock Jeff Healey Band on Thursday nights. Infrequent tours of the U.S. and Europe would support Healey's reputation as an elder statesman of the blues.
The cancer that had been chasing Healey all of his life began to catch up with the guitarist in 2007 when he underwent surgery for lung cancer. Before his cancer-related death in March 2008, Healey had finished work on Mess Of Blues, his first blues-rock album in eight years, which would subsequently be released posthumously. Mess Of Blues would walk away with the inaugural "Rock Blues Album of the Year" award from The Blues Foundation, as well as a handful of Maple Blues Awards from the Toronto Blues Society. The live Songs From The Road was released in September 2009.
Recommended Albums: The first one is the place to start, See The Light a fine collection of Healey's rock, pop, and blues influences. The award-winning, posthumous Mess Of Blues is a better showcase for Healey's immense six-string skills while Songs From The Road is a fine collection of live performances.
Jeff Healey Discography
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- See The Light (Arista Records, 1988)
- Hell To Pay (Arista Records, 1990)
- Feel This (Arista Records, 1992)
- Cover To Cover (Arista Records, 1995)
- Get Me Some (Forte Records, 2000)
- Among Friends (Stony Plain, 2002)
- Adventures In Jazzland (Stony Plain, 2004)
- Live at Montreux 1999 (Eagle Rock, 2005)
- It's Tight Like That (Stony Plain, 2006)
- Mess of Blues (Ruf Records, 2008)
- Songs From The Road (Ruf Records, 2009)