Monday, March 03, 2008

Canada Loses A Legend - R.I.P. Jeff Healey

Today, Canadians awoke to devestating news from the Entertainment world. One of our countries most talented and beloved sons had passed on.

Jeff Healey, probably best known to Americans for speaking these words "Yeah, and I thought you'd be taller." to Patrick Swayze in the 1989 hit movie Roadhouse, passed away from cancer last night at the age of 41.

Jeff suffered all his life from a rare form of cancer - retinoblastoma - which caused him to be blind from his first year. But he never let that stop him. This is re-printed from the early edition of the Toronto Star.

Guitarist Jeff Healey dies at 41

Mar 03, 2008 04:30 AM
Greg Quill
Entertainment Columnist

Legendary Toronto blues guitarist and old-style jazz aficionado Jeff Healey died yesterday in Toronto's St. Joseph's Hospital after a lifelong battle with a rare form of cancer – retinoblastoma – that blinded him in his first year. He was 41.

"Discovered" in a Toronto club in 1982 by Texas blues guitarist, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, Healey astonished music fans with his outrageous technique. Self-taught by age 4, he laid the electric guitar across his lap and played it in much the same way as a pianist manipulates a keyboard.

Though he specialized in blues-based rock and sold more than a million copies of his Grammy-nominated 1988 debut album See the Light – released after a cameo performance in the Hollywood movie Road House with Patrick Swayze – Healey's real passion was vintage American jazz.

Healey hosted a long-running CBC Radio series, My Kinda Jazz, before moving the program to Toronto's Jazz-FM station, relying solely on his personal collection of 35,000 rare and obscure 78 rpm recordings and an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and personalities he featured in the show.

Healey also played trumpet and clarinet, and in the past decade recorded three albums of vintage jazz with Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards, including It's Tight Like That.

Healey was an internationally known star who shared stages with B.B. King and Vaughan, and recorded with George Harrison, Mark Knopfler and blues legend Jimmy Rogers.

At the time of his death Healey was planning to release his first rock/blues album in eight years, Mess of Blues, recorded in studios in Toronto, in concert in London, England, and at the popular Entertainment District club that bore his name, Jeff Healey's Roadhouse. It goes on sale in Europe March 20, and in Canada and the U.S. April 22.

"Jeff was an amazing colleague and as a musician and a personality, in a league of his own," the Jazz Wizards' drummer Gary Scriven said last night. "It was always game on for him. His generosity and sense of humour lasted till the end. He was brave without ever being dramatic. In a word, Jeff was inspirational."

In 2007 Healey underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his legs and both lungs. Radiation and chemotherapy failed to halt the spread of the disease, as did alternative homeopathic treatment in the U.S. this year.

Despite his illness, Healey continued to perform across Canada with both his blues band and jazz ensemble, and had scheduled a tour of Germany and the U.K., including an appearance on BBC's Jools Holland Show, in April, his publicist said.

"I'm so sad to hear this news," award-winning Canadian guitarist and music producer Colin Linden said on the phone from New York. "There was a quality of genius in the way Jeff harnessed that distinctive technique. He was such a natural musician."

Veteran Toronto guitarist Danny Marks, who fronts the Jeff Healey Band at the Roadhouse on Tuesday nights, said "Jeff was a tremendous musician and always so kind. He always knew the odds were against him, but it never ruined his sense of humour. I used to love to watch him having fun – he'd throw his head back and laugh like a little child."

Healey leaves his wife, Christie, daughter Rachel, 13, and son Derek, 3, as well as his father and stepmother, Bud and Rose Healey, and sisters Laura and Linda.

Despite his illness, MSN is reporting that his death still came as a shock to his bandmates.

Jeff was one of the few Toronto musicians I'd never had the chance to actually meet, although when I did have my one chance, I was too nervous to do so. Jeff's music, in the early years, had an impact on my musical tastes, and his song Angel Eyes, was a theme song of sorts for me. It was one of the two songs that caused my friends to nickname me Angell. It's actually quite devestating for me, as this song brought back memories of a particular place - which unfortunately was gutted and ravaged by fire earlier last year- the Wasaga strip. Now they're both gone.

Jeff was a brilliant musician, and a wonderful humanitarian, as well as being a shrewed businessman. He opened Jeff Healey's in the fashionable Queen and Bathurst district in Toronto, but decided that the place needed a new location. In January 2007, The Roadhouse opened on Blue Jays way - in the heart of the Entertainment district, and the locals flocked in droves. On most nights, you could spot Jeff playing on stage, but otherwise, he preferred to stay away from the public. He was apparently very shy, but also very sweet. He nurtured young talent, mentoring those who wished to follow in his footsteps. Some of Toronto's best young talent has performed on stage at both of his establishments.

I had the pleasure of seeing Jeff perform in various venues over the years, but my favourite was when I was heading up a website with two other friends, and we were invited to review the performers at a banquet for the major businesses in Mississauga. There was an amazing Jazz band at first, and then Jeff and his boys took the stage. An intimate setting, with less than a hundred people present, Jeff was captivating. And when he sang Angel Eyes, I wept. Brenda caught a pic from the man himself, and was sweet enough to give it to me, which I still have and will always cherish.

Rest in Peace Jeff. Your work here is through, and your legend will live on.

Stay sane inside insanity ~ and never forget your towel.


Bond said...

Sad day.

Dana said...

I hate that :(

Turnbaby said...

Oh wow--how did I miss this?

And this morning I read that Patrick Swayze has pancreatic cancer.

Matt-Man said...

Oh Wow...I did not know this. He was really good. RIP Mr. H. Cheers Angell!!

Meribah said...

Awwww, I heard about that. I feel for his family and friends. However, his memory and his legend will live on.

Rest in peace, Jeff Healey.

Travis said...

I missed this news. He was an amazing musician.

Anndi said...

I'm still in mourning...


With love and pride