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Healey, Jeff

Jeff Healey

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

Best known for the hit single "Angel Eyes" and his role as "Cody" in the 1989 film Road House, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jeff Healey has attracted the attention of many with his searing guitar licks and imaginative blend of rock, jazz, and blues. Early in his career Healey was hailed as a blues guitar hero. According to Jas Obrecht of Guitar Player, B.B. King once told Healey, "I've never seen anything like it. Your execution is the best I've ever seen. Stick with it, and you'll be bigger than Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stanley Jordan, and B.B. King." That has not happened, but Healey has enjoyed a strong worldwide following and is a major star in his native Canada. A student of jazz as well as blues, Healey stunned his fans by alternating between playing guitar-based blues and 1930s style jazz, featuring himself on the trumpet.

Adopted into a middle class Canadian family, Healey grew up in Natobico, an outlying suburb of Toronto. Healey lost his sight due to eye cancer at age one. Two years later he received a small acoustic guitar, which he played flat on his lap, in open tuning with a slide, until someone at the School for the Blind in Brantford showed him standard tuning. Healey attended the School for the Blind through the seventh grade and then attended the local high school.

When he first started playing the guitar, Healey often played country music in the style of Chet Atkins and Luther Perkins, but his musical experience was wide-ranging. He played guitar and trumpet in all the jazz and concert bands in his high school, and he and some other students organized a blues-based band called Blue Directions, which played in clubs. While in high school, Healey and his friends liked to listen to music by guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Albert Collins, and Buddy Guy. Although he did not graduate from high school, Healey privately studied music theory, earning a certificate in harmony and arranging. The young guitarist continued to perform on a freelance basis, but at that time he did not become a permanent member of any band, Healey claimed, because his unconventional style of holding the guitar made other band members uncomfortable.

Healey plays a black Fender Squire Strat, a white standard Strat, and a black Jackson six-and-twelve-string doubleneck on his lap. His right hand picks and strums, while his left runs wildly across the strings of the headboard. "I tried playing guitar the normal way, but I just wasn't very comfortable," declared Healey in an interview with Oregon Statesman-Journal reporter Ron Cowan, "so I decided to hold it in my lap and work out all the chords that way."

One night in late 1985 Healey and a friend went to hear Texas bluesmaster Albert Collins at a club in Toronto. Healey's friend convinced Collins to let the then 19-year-old Healey sit in for one song; Collins kept Healey on stage for an hour and invited him to come back a few nights later to play with Collins's friend, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. After the latter performance, Healey was flooded with calls for club dates. So he quickly put together a trio with drummer Tom Stephen, whom he knew from jam sessions, and studio bassist Joe Rockman.

Stephen, who did not learn to play drums until he was 28, was happy to leave his job as an urban planner for the Ontario Land Corporation. After one rehearsal Rockman recognized the band's potential and cancelled other commitments. Shortly after its formation, the Jeff Healey Band toured extensively, giving between 200 and 300 concerts annually in Canada for about two years. Not wanting to bore audiences visually, Healey adopted a more active concert style, roaming the stage, picking strings with his teeth, and playing with his guitar behind his head.

The self-managed band cut a single and made a video demo tape with the Toronto-based Forte Productions. Stephen presented the tape to New York City record producers but he returned, unable to spark any interest—or so he thought. Several weeks later, however, the Jeff Healey Band was approached and signed by Arista Records.

The band needed a producer for its first recording, and Jimmy Iovine was Arista's choice. Just as Iovine received the demo tape and video, he was asked to line up a band for a movie that needed a soundtrack. It called for a young, blind blues-rock guitarist who played with the guitar flat in his lap. The author of the script for the movie had seen the band in Toronto and been inspired by it. The Jeff Healey Band was asked to record the soundtrack and was offered speaking parts in Road House, a film starring actor Patrick Swayze.

In March and April of 1988, Iovine and the band started recording the 20 songs that make up the soundtrack, and the movie itself was filmed in June and July. In the midst of the movie work the Jeff Healey Band recorded its own album, See the Light, from which "Angel Eyes" became the band's only Top 40 hit, reaching number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1989.

Five of the 12 songs on See the Light were composed by Healey, who wrote and taped hours of songs as a teenager. "I write about things that everyday people understand," Healey declared in an interview with Musician's Ted Drozdowski. "I won't write about politics, which a lot of people can take or leave. But love between human beings is a natural thing, so we can all relate to it. And if I get to play some guitar in the bargain, then everybody's happy."

Road House opened the door for guest appearances on American television shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman. Healey and his band were in demand and toured vigorously. The group would never enjoy another hit the size of "Angel Eyes," but they sold millions of albums worldwide. Their second album, Hell to Pay, was arguably their best. Aided by guest stars George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Lynne, and Paul Schaeffer, the disc featured four Healey originals.

Acting as their own producers and writing most of the songs on 1992's Feel This, Healey and his band continued to capitalize on their roadhouse rockin' blues reputation. Cutting hard electric boogie on "Cruel Little Number" and "House That Love Built," they tried to recapture the radio airplay that had given them their first and only hit single. Entertainment Weekly was critical of the band's approach, writing: "Bluesy guitar phenom Jeff Healey must feel the only way to advance from mere golden to mega status is via the fatted calf: corporate rock sound. How else to explain this cliched, gimmick-ridden slice of luncheon loaf, which renders tasteless virtually every shred of originality and distinctiveness in Healey's music."

Healey's final album for Arista was 1995's Cover to Cover, a collection of blues and rock covers such as the Beatles' "Yer Blues" and Stealer Wheels' "Stuck in the Middle with You," rearranged to fit Healey's stomping blues style. The set became a number one blues album, but did not dent the pop charts. The Jeff Healey Band's days as a major label recording act were over, but Healey's creative vision and fire remained strong.

For the Record …

Born c. 1966; adopted son of a Canadian family; raised in Natobico, Ontario, Canada; married; children: a daughter and a son.

Began playing guitar at age three; formed the Jeff Healey Band with drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman in Toronto in 1985; appeared in motion picture Road House, 1989; recorded for Arista, 1988-95; began playing trumpet in his own jazz band, 2002; recorded for Forte, HealeyOphonic and Stoney Plain labels, 1996-2006; signed with Ruf Records, 2006; retired his original trio in 2002; formed Jeff Healey and the Jazz Wizards, 2003; hosted own weekly jazz show on CBC radio called My Kinda Jazz; opened his own nightspot, Jeff Healey's Road House, 2007.

Awards: Toronto Music Award, for Best New Band and Best New Guitarist, 1987; Billboard International Achievement Award, 1989; COCA (Canadian Organization of Campus Activities) Award, for Album and Entertainer of the Year, 1989; CASBY Awards (Canadian Artists Selected By You), for Best Male Vocalist, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year, 1989; Music Express Awards, for Male Vocalist and Live Act of the Year, 1989; Juno Awards, for Canadian Album of the Year/Entertainer of the Year, 1990; World Music Award, for Best Selling Canadian Artist, 1990; MuchMusic Canadian Music Video Award, for Best Group Video of the Year, 1990; Toronto Music Award, for Best Guitarist, 1990; Guitar Player magazine reader's poll, Best Blues Guitarist & Best New Talent, 1990; Jazz Report Award, for Blues Group of the Year, 1993; Q107 Rock Award (formerly the CASBY Awards), for Best Blues Group, 1993.

Addresses: Record company—Ruf Records, 1769 Lexington Ave. North, &num:327, St. Paul, MN 55113, website: http://www.rufrecords.de. Bookings—Steve Butler, Paquin Agency, 416-962-8885, website: http://www.paquinentertainment.com, e-mail: steve@paquinentertainment.com. Publicist—Richard Flohill & Associates, phone: 416-351-1323, e-mail: rflohil@sympatic.ca. Website—Official Artist Website: http://www.jeffhealeyband.com.

For the 2000 album Get Me Some, Healey eschewed commercial considerations and concentrated on what he did best—powerful uptempo blasts mixed with occasional touching blues ballads. However, by 2002 he began to feel the need to diversify. He opened his own club in Toronto, simply called Healey's, dismissed his original band, and in his spare time began to tinker with the trumpet again. The move did not exactly come out of the blue. As a child, Healey had begun a record collection that eventually numbered more than 25,000 early jazz, blues, and gospel 78s and reissued albums. His knowledge of diverse musicians was encyclopedic, but his all-time favorite was trumpeter Louis Armstrong. His passion for the music led him to host a weekly hour-long radio show on the CBC called My Kinda Jazz.

In 2003 Healey formed the Jazz Wizards and began performing traditional six-piece jazz. When Mike Ross of CANOE-Jam referred to the style as Dixieland, Healey was quick to correct him. "Dixieland is a state of mind, not a form of music," and added, "You get visions of hats and canes, which is kind of distressing to those of us who appreciate good music." Although still playing mostly blues guitar, Healey played weekly gigs—spelled on vocals by Terra Hazelton—with the Jazz Wizards and cut two traditional jazz albums for his own HealeyOphonic label that were later leased by Stoney Plain. The guitar slinger-turned trumpeter's first Stoney Plain release was 2006's It's Tight Like That, a rowdy, sometimes randy collection of old-time jazz that featured special guest trombonist Chris Barber. Fortunately for his original fans, Healey had not entirely abandoned the cause of hard rockin' blues. In late 2006 he signed with the German blues label Ruf Records.

Before he could complete his first album for the label, the singer-songwriter was diagnosed with lung cancer. The operation to remove the cancerous tissue from both lungs took place just one day after the gala opening of his new nightspot, Jeff Healey's Roadhouse. Displaying an indomitable spirit, Healey rebounded quickly and was back on the air playing old 78 rpm records from his collection. In a statement issued through his publicist, Healey remained upbeat although philosophical: "I've had 40 good years, you get a bump every now and then."

Selected discography

Albums

See the Light, Arista Records, 1988.

(Various artists)Road House [OST], Arista Records, 1989.

Hell to Pay, Arista, 1990; reissued, 2007.

Feel This, Arista, 1992; reissued, 2007.

Cover to Cover, Arista, 1995.

The Master Hits: Jeff Healey Band, Arista, 1999.

Get Me Some, Forte/Universal Music, 2000.

The Best of the Jeff Healey Band [Paradiso], Paradiso, 2001.

Among Friends, HealeyOphonic, 2002; Stoney Plain, 2007.

Adventures in Jazzland, HealeyOphonic, 2004; Stoney Plain, 2007.

Platinum & Gold Collection, Arista, 2004.

Live at Montreux 1999, Eagle, 2005.

It's Tight Like That [live], Stoney Plain, 2006.

Video/DVD

See the Light: Live from London, Arista, 1989.

Jeff Healey Band, Pioneer, 1990.

Live at Montreux 1999, Eagle Vision, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Guitar Player, August 1989.

Melody Maker, November 19, 1988.

Musician, March 1989.

The Oregonian, October 21, 1988.

Oregon Statesman-Journal, October 24, 1988.

Sun (Baltimore, MD), April 7, 1989.

Online

"Blues guitarist Jeff Healey recovering from lung cancer surgery," The Canadian Press,http://www.cbc.ca/arts/music/story/2007/01/16/healey-cancer-surgery.html (January 16, 2007).

"Jazzy Jeff Healey—Rocker Sees the light and picks up a trumpet," CANOE - JAM!,http://www.jam.canoe.ca/Music/Artists?H?Healey_Jeff/2003/10/17/pf-745932.html (October 17, 2003).

"Jeff Healey," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (March 7, 2007).

"Jeff Healey," Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com (March 7, 2007).

Jeff Healey Official Websites,http://www.jeffhealey.com and http://www.jeffhealeyband.com (March 7, 2007).

"Jeff Healey," Stoney Plain Records,http://www.stoneyplainrecords.com (March 7, 2007).

"Review by Billy Altman, Feel This (1992)," Entertainment Weekly,http://www.entertainmentweekly.com (December 4, 1992).

Other

Additional information for this profile came from the publicity department of Ruf Records.

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Healey, Jeff

Jeff Healey

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Since the formation of his self-named band in late 1985, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jeff Healey has attracted the attention of many with his searing guitar licks and imaginative blend of rock, jazz, and blues. Early in his career Healey was hailed as a blues guitar hero. According to Jas Obrecht of Guitar Player, B.B. King once told Healey Ive never seen anything like it. Your execution is the best Ive ever seen. Stick with it, and youll be bigger than Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stanley Jordan, and B.B. King.

Adopted into a middle-class Canadian family, Healey grew up in Natobico, an outlying suburb of Toronto. Healey lost his sight from eye cancer at age one. Two years later he received a small acoustic guitar, which he played flat on his lap, in open tuning with a slide until someone at the School for the Blind in Brantford showed him standard tuning. Healey attended the School for the Blind through the seventh grade and then the local high school.

When he first started playing the guitar, Healey often played country music in the style of Chet Atkins and Luther Perkins, but his musical experience was wide-ranging. He played guitar and trumpet in all the jazz and concert bands in his high school, and he and some other students organized a blues-based bandBlue Directionsthat played in clubs. While in high school, Healey and his friends liked to listen to music by guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Albert Collins, and Buddy Guy. Although he did not graduate from high school, Healey privately studied music theory, earning a certificate in harmony and arranging. The young guitarist continued to perform on a free-lance basis, but at that time he did not become a permanent member of any band, Healey claims, because his unconventional style of holding the guitar made other band members uncomfortable.

Healey plays a black Fender Squire Strat, a white standard Strat, and a black Jackson six-and-twelve-string doubleneck on his lap. His right hand picks and strums, while his left runs wildly across the strings of the headboard. I tried playing guitar the normal way, but I just wasnt very comfortable, declared Healey in an interview with the Oregon Statesman-Journal reporter Ron Cowan, so I decided to hold it in my lap and work out all the chords that way.

One night in late 1985 Healey and a friend went to hear Texas bluesmaster Albert Collins at a club in Toronto. Healeys friend convinced Collins to let the then nineteen-year-old Healey sit in for one song; Collins kept Healey on stage for an hour and invited him to come back a few nights later to play with Collinss friend, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. After the later performance, Healey was flooded with calls for club dates. So he quickly put together a trio with drummer Tom Stephen, whom he knew from jam sessions, and studio bassist Joe Rockman, a friend of Stephen.

Stephen, who did not learn to play drums until he was twenty-eight, was happy to leave his job as an urban planner for the Ontario Land Corporation. After one rehearsal Rockman recognized the bands potential and cancelled other commitments. Shortly after its formation, the Jeff Healey Band toured extensively (200-300 concerts annually) in Canada for about two years. Not wanting to bore audiences visually, Healey adopted a more active concert style, roaming the stage, picking strings with his teeth, and playing with his guitar behind his head.

The self-managed band cut a single and made a video demonstration tape with the Toronto-based Forte Productions. Stephen presented the tape to New York City record producers but he returned, unable to spark any interestor so he thought. Several weeks later the Jeff Healey Band was approached and signed by Arista Records.

For the Record

Born c. 1966; adopted son of a Canadian family; raised in Natobico, Ontario, Canada.

Began playing guitar at age three; made performance debut at age six; played guitar and trumpet in school jazz and concert bands; formed blues band while in high school; formed the Jeff Healey Band with drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman in Toronto in 1985. Appeared in motion picture Road House, 1989.

Awards: Toronto Music Award for best new band and best new guitarist, 1987.

Addresses: Record company Arista Records, 6 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

When the band prepared to make its first recording, it needed a producer, and Jimmy lovine was Aristas choice. Just as lovine received the demonstration tape and video, he was asked to line up a band for a movie that needed a soundtrack. It called for a young, blind blues-rock guitarist who played with the guitar flat in his lap. The author of the script for the movie had seen the band in Toronto and been inspired by it. The Jeff Healey Band was asked to record the soundtrack and offered speaking parts in Road House, starring Patrick Swayze of Dirty Dancing fame.

While lovine and the band started recording the twenty songs that make up the soundtrack in March and April of 1988, the movie itself was filmed in June and July. In the midst of the movie work, the Jeff Healey Band recorded its own album, See the Light, from which Confidence Man became a radio hit.

Five of the twelve songs on See the Light were composed by Healey, who wrote and taped hours of songs as a teenager. I write about things that everyday people understand, Healey declared in an interview with Musicians Ted Drozdowski. I wont write about politics, which a lot of people can take or leave. But love between human beings is a natural thing, so we can all relate to it. And if I get to play some guitar in the bargain, then everybodys happy.

Healey is sometimes annoyed by the stereotypes that blindness engenders, but he does not view his lack of sight as a handicap. He has had few problems during performances with the band.

As a child, Healey began a record collection that now numbers over 10,000 early jazz, blues, and gospel 78s and reissued albums. His knowledge of diverse musicians is encyclopedic, but his all-time favorite is trumpeter Louis Armstrong. At one time Healey had considered a career in radio broadcasting. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company for a while and has an hour-long radio show on CIUT, the University of Toronto FM station.

When asked about his plans, Healey told Obrecht, Ive really given up making plans because you never know whats going to happen. When something comes along that I want to do, then Ill do it. The two main goals in life are to be happy and successful, and I would like to be both. That would satisfy me.

Selected discography

See the Light (includes See the Light, Confidence Man, Hide-away, Nice Problem to Have, Blue Jean Blues, My Little Girl), Arista Records, 1989.

Hell to Pay, Arista, 1990.

Sources

(Baltimore, Maryland) Sun, April 7, 1989.

Guitar Player, August 1989.

Melody Maker, November 19, 1988.

Musician, March 1989.

The Oregonian (Portland), October 21, 1988.

(Salem) Oregon Statesman-Journal, October 24, 1988.

David Collins

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Healey, Jeff." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Healey, Jeff." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/healey-jeff

"Healey, Jeff." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/healey-jeff