Healey remembered as talented titan of blues and jazz
By Adam McDowell, Canwest News Service
Published: Monday, March 03, 2008
TORONTO - The death of Jeff Healey on Sunday left Canada without one of its strongest champions of blues and jazz, said musicians who paid tribute to the late guitarist Monday.
Healey helped popularize "the kind of music that's always kind of been under the wire," said Colin James, a fellow traveller in the blues/jazz circuit. "It's always good when there's someone leading the charge."
Healey died of cancer in Toronto at 41, leaving behind his wife, Cristie, and their two children, aged 13 and three.
For many, Healey's blindness - the result of a rare form of eye cancer he'd fought as an infant - was his most recognizable feature.
However, musicians emphasized Healey's talent as they remembered him - especially his virtuosity on the guitar, which he held in his lap. "He really attacked that guitar and that sound was a real barrage," James said. "He manipulated it in such an unorthodox way that it was astounding."
Said Bryan Adams in a press release Monday: "Jeff was one of Canada's greatest talents, it is a huge regret to have to say goodbye."
"Of course I knew he was sick, but when I saw the paper this morning, it was like a gut punch," said David Wilcox, another of Canada's few internationally recognized roots musicians. Noting Healey's role as an ambassador for the country's blues and jazz, "For many people internationally he was one the first Canadians," said Wilcox said " . . . who made a mark for them in the field."
A representative of Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, a close friend of Healey's, released this statement: "Jeff had it all: he was a virtuoso guitar player, he had an international reputation as a musician and he was an incredibly nice. The only strike against him was that his speaking voice sounded like Brian Mulroney. We love him, and we'll miss him."
Healey made his breakthrough as a blues rocker with early albums See the Light (1988) and the soundtrack for the film Road House (1989), in which he also acted.
"What was always bubbling underneath was his love of early jazz," James recalled. While Healey spent most of the present decade focusing on jazz, James wondered "if he wished he'd got at that a little sooner, as opposed to the commercially driven stuff that he later on professed not to have enjoyed."
The guitarist chose to return to his rock-and-blues roots for his last album, Mess of Blues, which will be released April 22.
"His legacy is he wants us to remember the music that he loved, particularly the early jazz," said Danny Marks, who hosts a Saturday night blues show on Jazz.FM91, the same Toronto radio station that aired Healey's My Kinda Jazz on Monday nights. "Maybe collectively we can keep it alive."
Marks took over the ailing Healey's regular Thursday night gig at Jeff Healey's Roadhouse in Toronto's Entertainment District last November. A representative of the nightclub said Monday it does not yet have plans for a major tribute to Healey. (Though he had lent Healey's his name and often played there, Jeff Healey did not own or manage the bar.)
Those who were close to Healey say a memorial concert is sure to happen, but only when his family is ready.