Saturday, May 24, 2008

JEFF HEALY: MARCH 24 1966 - MARCH 2 2008

Jeff Healy died this past march. I have been thinking about it since it happened and, as is the usual case with me, it took some time for the thoughts to coalesce into something I could actually write about.

I don't know how famous Jeff Healy really was. Certainly here in Toronto he was well known; musician, bar owner, radio show host, a pretty big fixture in the town's music scene. He had some success in Canada with the Jeff Healy Band, a couple of hit records including Angel Eyes; ironically because that was a song least Representative of what this man could do. So he had some national fame but he took himself off the "record charts" turning his back on popular music and devoting himself to what he loved the most, blues music and (his preference) traditional jazz. I suppose he had some international fame as well. You can see him in the Patrick Swayze movie Roadhouse; although Jeff's character is called Cody (or something) he was playing Jeff; a blind white boy with a sense of humour with his guitar on his lap who played some of the most blistering blues/rock you ever heard. The movie won't to be everyone's taste but it has two things to recommend it: Sam Elliot ("that hurts, don't it?") and Jeff Healy.

Living in Toronto I was fortunate enough to have seen Jeff several times at concerts, blues festivals and at his original bar Healy's. I loved Healy's. It was this little basement place at Bathurst and King. Not sleazy but not fancy, small and dark and crowded just like a good blues bars should be. Collette and I saw Long John Baldry there most recently and it was a perfect venue to watch the Big Man do his thing. In Feb of last year Jeff opened Healy's Roadhouse just down from the Sky Dome on a very touristry strip that include Gretsky's, Second City, Don Cherry's etc. Its a big place, there is good music but boy, I miss that hot little basement.

I don't really recall what year my brother Ed and I saw Jeff at the Skydome. A baseball stadium is a shitty place to watch a concert but who could resist this: Jeff Healy, Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughn. C'mon. Could have shot me. Would have died with a smile on my face. I could not have imagined then that I would be writing this, not much more than 15 years later and of those three musicians, only Beck survives.

A personal memory of Jeff was when Collette, myself and her niece Billie-Marie went to see the Woman's Blues Review. In those days this annual event was held at this intimate church. When we seated ourselves Billie was looking around then turned to us with this excited look on her face "That's Jeff Healy! He's right behind us!" She had not been living here for long at that time and was still surprised to see "famous" people in everyday circumstances (a pretty good definition of a Canadian celebrity). She looked back at Jeff then at me and said "I keep looking at him but I don't want to be rude by staring" I pointed out "Its ok sweetie, he can't see you" I looked at Jeff and there was this little smile on his face.

Jeff Healy was one of these disabled people who was not disabled. He battled the cancer that finally killed him his entire life. It took his eyesight at age three. It didn't see to slow him down much. He had the music career, the bar career, a career as one of this country's leading experts on traditional jazz music, he did some film work. He had his wife and he had his children. I can't imagine how difficult his life actually was; certainly in the last few months of his life he was dealing with terrible pain but he finished up a new blues recording and was preparing live performances.

I recall watching one live TV taping with Jeff. Although he primarily sat on a chair and played with the guitar in his lap, he loved to get up and dance around when the mood struck him. As he got up, Jeff yelled "I have no idea where the camerman is but you may want to move!" as he bopped around the stage, head back, the guitar held across his waste, smiling and the music .. the music just flowing out of him

I will miss you Jeff. Good journey. Say Hi to Stevie for me.

Here is a video of Jeff Healy doing a cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps

1 comment:

Mike said...

Be assured, Victor, Jeff was internationally famous and will be badly missed. One of the great blues guitarists and - wonder of wonders - you could always hear his vocals clearly. Nice obit.

Top Blogs Pets

Add to Technorati Favorites