Monday, March 03, 2008

Hell To Pay: RIP Jeff Healey, 1966-2008

Awhile back -- the summer of 1990, to be precise -- I was in a studio in the Village sometime around 2 or 3 AM; bleary-eyed, beat to hell and needing to stretch my legs, I walked through the mixing board room and headed into the main hallway. Some guy was listening to a CD of a new blues guitarist/singer and when he saw me he sat me down and told me I had to give it a listen. The song, if I recall correctly, was called "See The Light."

He thumbed a button on the front of the little boombox and said "You gotta hear this." The next song up was "Confidence Man," and then, afterwards, a cover of ZZ Top's "Blue Jean Blues." Pretty soon we'd listened to snippets of the entire album. I asked him what the band's name was and he said "I don't know, but the guy's name is Jeff Healey."

I liked it enough to pick up a debut copy of Healey's first album, "See The Light," and within a few years I'd bought several of Jeff's discs. All of them featured a smattering of rock classics, covers, some blues interpretations and, overall, stuff that I was interested in not only listening but playing.

Of course, the interesting thing was that Jeff Healey was blind.

He'd lost his sight when he was a year old and soon after developed some sort of musical affinity when he picked up a guitar and sat it on his lap and began playing. Somehow he managed to combine the lap-based style of pedal-steel guitar (a staple of country stuff) and the hard, tone-driven classic rock that he'd grown up with. That meant anything he'd heard -- Cream, Zeppelin, ZZ Top, the Dire Straits -- were all fair game.

If you've ever caught the movie Road House -- truly a crappy exposition of 90 minutes of film -- you'll recall seeing Jeff and his band onstage and off. Otherwise, he stuck to the music rather than the extraneous trappings resulting from it.

He'd been quiet for some time, moving to jazz and some other types of music, until he released -- two weeks ago -- a new blues/rock album; I hadn't heard anything about him for awhile, until this morning, when I discovered he'd passed away in a hospital in his hometown of Toronto. Apparently, at age 41, he succumbed to cancer. I'm not sure it's the same cancer that claimed his eyesight when he was a year old, but he lost his battle and the world, sadly, lost a musician who never failed to amaze me -- not just due to the fact he was blind -- but that he was a great musician.

This article probably sums up his life better than I ever could, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to pay homage to a person who really reminded me that accomplishing goals was a matter of setting the bar high. More importantly, I hope that some of you go dig up a Jeff Healey CD and give it a listen, and maybe another listen after that. Hopefully, some of you will find -- as I did -- that you like his music, regardless of the fact that he had a disability. Perhaps, as a person, he merited respect and admiration for all that he achieved despite his disability; however, for me, the real admiration is for the fact I thought he was a great musician regardless of the context of his disability. And, frankly, to me, that is the real noteworthy achievement on his part.

Finally, I wanted to make sure I didn't fail to mention that Jeff and his music will most certainly be missed.

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