I caught Jeff Healey at the Los Angeles Forum years ago when he was opening for ZZ Top. I'd already been familiar with his work—how could a rock & roller not be?—but the guy's live material was different from his studio, more soulful, funkier. Thus, this memoriam-of-sorts is a really great look at exactly what that live presence was. Each song is a cover but all are done very much as Healey's interpretations, some far afield from the original version, as in I'm Ready, others closer to source but more in the earth and water of things, as in his Delta-ish rendition of Greg Allman's Whipping Post.
The surprise of watching Healey play was two-fold: that strange laptop style well used before the CandyRat label viruosos made it a good deal more prevalent and then his dancing. The guy was genuinely infused with the music he wrought and could hardly keep from kicking his heels up. A blind guy dancing? Yep. He figured out his territory and boogied when he felt like it. Jeff carried an infectious spirit and, though one could feel it in his other work, live was where it shined more brightly. A goodly percentage of him, though, was soulful, and this wasn't much noted by crits while he yet drew breath. Hard to miss it, though. Stop Breakin' Down, a Robert Johnson gem not much covered, though the Stones did a gritty turn on it, is a great example: dominated by the rock he loved, it still has a very un-white base and intro heard clearly in his voice.
Then there's the guitar work. Healey had an interesting way of occasionally riding notes kinda like Rory Gallagher but his phrasing was completely different, a cross between a funky Clapton, a rockier Ernie Isley, and occasionally a more melodic George Kooymans (Golden Earring). He was looser than most, and that made his mode earthier. I'm a little surprised that not one of Jeff's originals or co-written numbers made the cut for this release but can hardly complain. I mean, Jesus, with the Beatles, Allman Bros, Cream, CSNY, and all the others given their due, who's to bitch? Healey wasn't a clinician, he played from his heart, biceps, and guts. The dexterity factor was the icing on the cake. The pulse and folky funk he injected everything with was his gift. You get all that and more here, but I suspect there's a goldmine of live stuff and canned studio material tucked away somewhere, and a possible box set in the future is a tantalizing grail for some of us, especially collectors. In the meantime, this'll keep all and sundry well satisfied.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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