Don’t Let Your Chance Go By

Dan sent me a link overnight to some sad news: Canadian guitar whiz Jeff Healey has died from cancer at the age of 41.

In 1988 I was between my first and second years at university. Like anyone else in their late teens I was heavily into exploring new music, especially the favourite music of all the other students I was living with and attending classes with. Someone got me listening to Jimi Hendrix, and, well, that was that. I heard something inside his psychedelic rock sounds – supporting those sounds, really – that moved me. At around the same time, during one of my last summers home working on the farm, my dad bought a Stevie Ray Vaughan album, Texas Flood. That two-pronged attack made me realise: I loved the blues. Suddenly, my appreciation for ZZ Top and George Thorogood made a lot more sense.

Shortly afterwards, back at university, I saw a music video for a Canadian blues-rock trio called the Jeff Healey Band. Healey, the guitarist, was amazing. Even more amazing was that he was blind, and played his guitar while it sat flat in his lap. I bought his first album, See The Light.

This isn’t going to turn into a story about how Jeff Healey changed my life. He didn’t. He was not the most original songwriter, and the big hits off that first album were “Angel Eyes” (a John Hiatt cover) and “Blue Jean Blues” (a ZZ Top cover). He was a phenomenal guitarist, though, and his songs were light and fun if nothing else. You could tell he had a love for the roots of music.

I saw the Jeff Healey Band perform live twice, and they were very good, as all blues-boogie stuff is better live and unproduced. Healey himself would get up and jump all around the stage, hopping blindly with his guitar held to his lap, lost in his solos. I followed his pursuits for a couple of years, and bought his next two albums,Hell To Pay (which had a very good cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”) and Feel This (which I actually have an autographed copy of – I bet that’s suddenly worth something). I even smiled when I saw Healey and his band play opposite Patrick Swayze in one of my favourite worst movies ever, Road House (which has a couple of the band’s cuts on the soundtrack).

I lost track of Healey after a couple of years, although I knew that he’d gone back to the roots music he loved by hosting a Toronto radio jazz programme. I thought that was a pretty cool thing.

I didn’t know that he was ill, but the article says that he’d been fighting cancer for a while. It’s too bad that he died so young.

Some YouTube videos: