Friday, November 21, 2014

Jeff Healey - A Unique Guitar Player

There have been more than a few self taught guitar players that play standard guitar on their lap. Thumbs Carllile comes to mind. And so does Jeff Healey.

Jeff Healey grew up in Toronto, Ontario. When he was only one year old he developed a rare cancer of the eyes called retinoblastoma.

Both eyes had to be surgically removed. He began playing the guitar at the age of three.

This is when he developed the style of playing the instrument flat on his lap. 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. 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.

Healey claimed, because his unconventional style of holding the guitar made other band members uncomfortable. He formed his first band at age 15. Blues Direction played cover tunes at local venues. However Jeff really loved Jazz; the old time version.

At one point in his career he hosted a Jazz and Blues show on the FM radio station CIUT. The format on this show consisted of Jeff’s collection of vintage over 30,000 78 rpm gramophone records.

Jeff moved on from Blues Direction and formed the Jeff Healey Band with drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman and they played at local Toronto night spots.

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.

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. This is when he quickly put together The Jeff Healey Band; a trio with drummer Tom Stephen, whom he knew from jam sessions, and studio bassist Joe Rockman.

When BB King heard him play, he told Jeff, "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."

The Jeff Healey Band made a video demo tape with a Toronto based production company. Bassist Tom 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. A contract was inked with Arista Records in 1988.

Jimmy Iovine
Healey was fortunate enough to team up with Jimmy Iovine as producer of his first LP. Iovine was asked to line the band up to appear in a movie that needed a soundtrack. The script called for a young blind blues-rock guitarist. It turns out the movies writer had seen The Jeff Healey Band play in Toronto and knew just what he wanted. The band set out to record the soundtrack which debuted as their first album.

Jeff was offered speaking parts in the Patrick Swayze film Road House. The Jeff Healey Band was asked to record the soundtrack and was offered speaking parts in Road House, a film starring actor Patrick Swayze.

This same year The Jeff Healey Band recorded the LP; See The Light. From this recording, the group had their first and only hit song; Angel Eyes. Angel Eyes hit number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1989. Road House opened the door for The Jeff Healey Band.

They  made guest appearances on the major TV talk shows. The group was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Receiving Juno Award
In 1990 The Jeff Healey Band won the Juno Award for Canadian Entertainer of the Year. The next albums were Hell to Pay and Feel. From these recordings, Healey and the group had ten charting singles between 1990 and 1994.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Healey was fortunate enough to record a version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps which featured George Harrison and Jeff Lynne on backing vocals and acoustic guitar. The album, Hell to Pay,  also featured Mark Knopfer and Paul Schaeffer. Four of the songs on this recording were Healey originals.

Healey's final album for Arista was 1995's Cover to Cover. This was 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. Although it became a number one Blues album, it did not dent the pop market.

Healey’s days in the Pop – Blues/Rock market were numbered. In 2000 Healey released another LP called Get Me Some. It is apparent in this album that Jeff began to concentrate more on Jazz than Rock.

He released three CD’s of traditional American jazz music of songs from the 1920’s and ‘30’s.

In this venue he also played trumpet, which he also played in live performances.

He started a new group called Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards. He also went back to hosting radio for the CBC and did a show called My Kind of Jazz. The show went on to air in repeat performances. Jeff went on to tour and also perform at a Jazz club he opened on Bathurst Street in Toronto called Healey’s.

This club later moved to 56 Blue Jays Way and was renamed Jeff Healey’s Roadhouse.

Throughout the years Healey had toured with many other performers including The Allman Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, BB King, ZZ Top, Steve Lukather, Eric Clapton and Deep Purple.

He had planned on an extensive tour of Europe, but his health issues precluded him from continuing In January of 2007 cancer caused two metastatic tumors to develop in his lungs and he had two tumors removed from his legs.

By March of 2008 cancer had claimed his life. He was only 41 years old when he passed away.

A month later his last album, Mess of Blues was posthumously released. This was his first rock/blues album in eight years. Healey was honored by being inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame.

In 2011, Woodford Park in Toronto was renamed Jeff Healey Park.

Healey played 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." Healey’s equipment was rather sparse compared to some of today’s artists.

For guitars Jeff mainly used Japanese made Squier Strats with Red Evans pickups. Later in his career he did use custom made U.S. Strats, with 3 single coil Evans pickups. Later on he swapped them out for Seymour Duncan SH-5 humbuckers that allowed him to coil tap.

Jeff had a double neck Jackson guitar. Jeff may have briefly used an Ibanez guitar.

With The Jazz Wizards, Jeff used a vintage Gibson L-12 from between the 1930-40’s period. Jeff Healey preferred Fender Pro-Tube Twin amplifiers.

On the road he used reissued Fender Black Face Twin Reverb amps. He also was known to use a Marshall JCM 800 and a Matchless Super Chief.

With the Jazz Wizard, he did not need all that power and he used a Fender Pro Jr. His effects use was also very minimal.

Early on Jeff utilized DOD pedals and later switched to Boss pedals including the following: Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Boss OD-1 Overdrive Boss Chorus Ensemble pedal Boss Compressor sustainer Boss Digital Delay Boss GE-7 Equalizer Vox Wah pedal

He also made use of a wireless system to connect his guitars with the amplifier.

He may have made use of a Leslie speaker in the studio. On stage this was replaced with the chorus pedal.


This is from the Road House Movie


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