Long before 'laptopping' became the new exotic mode for guitar, Jeff Healey was employing the method, not through any desire to brand himself apart from the crowd but necessity: adopted as an infant, he developed a rare cancer of the eyes (retinoblastoma) and had to have them surgically removed when he was but a year old, replaced with artificial orbs. At three (!!!), he began to play guitar and develop the unique approach to best serve his incapacitation. By the age of 17 (1983), he'd formed his first four-piece band and also started up a Canadian blues radio show that drew upon one of the primary loves of his life: vintage 78s, of which he owned an impressive quantity (over 30,000 at the time of his death). By 1988, Healey was recording for Arista Records and began to garner high respect among international musicians. His style was a fiery blend of many influences with plenty of Hendrix, Buddy Guy, numerous Chicago players, rock licks, and psychedelic overtones. He was cut down MUCH too early in life at age 42—cancer again—and his absence has been keenly felt ever since.
I caught him at the Los Angeles Forum touring with ZZ Top and was amazed not only at the lightning dexterity for such an unusual way of playing but also the genuine passion and unstoppable energy. When he got off his chair and started dancing around, I couldn't believe my eyes. Thus, though I'd already known of him, I grabbed all the output I could find, and, years after his passing, was very gratified to run across the Arbor / Castle Hill release of the 2-CD / 1-DVD Legacy, Vol. 1 (2009). I've been waiting impatiently for Vol. 2. It never came. But now Inakustik has supplied all our joneses, yours and mine, with this Healey orgy of three concert discs entirely otherwise unreleased. There's so much hot playing all through every inch of these concerts that the buyer should beware: sparks may well fly before you even get the shrink-wrap off the set, these CDs practically play themselves, 'n ya might be best advised to store the set in the refrigerator afterwards, instead of with the rest of your rock & blues collection. I do, and I can't tell you how weird it is to fetch a frozen trout for dinner and find it with a big smile on its face.
From the Foghat-ish start-up to Spirit's I Got a Line on You to slide-work that puts the sweat on Georgie Thorogood (Stop Breaking Down and elsewhere) to the generous selection of classic rock songs, blues standards, and Jeff's own compositions (see below), the guy was full-throttle all the time. Sure, there were the ballads like John Hiatt's Angel Eyes, one of Jeff's signatures, but I suspect he stuck that material in not so much because he really dug it but also because if'n he didn't calm down a mite here and there, Jeeter, he would've exploded right there on stage. You can't keep the meter pinned at 10 forever—I mean, even the slo-mo blues-burns in tracks like As The Years Go Passing By inevitably ratcheted up to dance in the clouds in the middle eight, so, man, he HAD to cool his jets once in a while!
This isn't music to play when your grandmother's visiting (less'n she hung out at Woodstock in the 60s), maybe not even your mother-in-law, there'll be just too much hi-intensity rave-up screaming out of the speakers, but it may well be the cure for what ails ya if you're hung up on the current state of affairs all around us in the world. Jump in the car, put the top down, turn the volume up, and head for the open spaces. By the time you get there, you'll be seat dancing, be-boppin', head nodding, and falling out onto the roadside grass strip as night descends, gazing up at the canopy of stars in a state of bliss…with a grin on your face that the best medicos in the Western world wouldn't be able to remove. Barack What? Vladimir Who? Fidel Huh? Trust me: turn off the friggin' TV, shut the radio down, and toss all three of these bad boys in your player. You won't care whether the banks collapse or the Martians land, you'll be back in your teen-aged years, dancin' 'n boppin' all around the desert like a crazed monkey.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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