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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jeff Healey's Angel Eyes

Today's blog entry is going to be one of those that will be shorter than most other entries that I have done. My work schedule this weekend has been a bit screwy to say the least, and I have a limited amount of time to write today's Sunday Jukebox entry. But, I always said that I love a challenge, so I'm embracing the fact that I have a bit of a deadline before my shift tomorrow.

As it so happens, today's subject is a man who himself had to undergo a lot of challenges in his early life...challenges that were much more severe than the one that I am currently experiencing at this time. By all accounts, his chances of finding success in the music industry would have been limited, according to many people. But, we'll get to that a little bit later in the entry.



Today's Sunday Jukebox entry will focus on the life and career of Canadian jazz and blues-rock vocalist Jeff Healey.

Born Norman Jeffrey Healey in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on the 25th of March, 1966, Jeff Healey grew up to become a huge success in Canada. He had an interest in music at a very early age, and by the time he turned seventeen, he was already in his first band. The band name was “Blue Direction”, a quartet which mostly played cover songs. The band did manage to form a small following, thanks in part to the group playing venues at local Toronto clubs.

When he wasn't playing gigs with Blue Direction, Jeff Healey could be seen at radio station CIUT-FM, hosting a jazz and blues show. Jeff even brought his own huge collection of 78 rpm records to play on the show.

And when I say that he had a huge collection of records, I mean it. It was impossible to say what the exact number of records that Healey owned was, but it was estimated that he had amassed a grand total of well over thirty thousand.

That's 30,000 records! One has to wonder where he kept them all...especially in the early days of his career. I don't even have 300 CD's!

So, Jeff Healey was in a job spinning tunes from his own personal collection, which I'm sure netted quite a few loyal listeners. But becoming a disc jockey at a jazz station wasn't exactly what brought him fame later on, though it would inevitably play a huge part in his later career.

It was during this time that Healey was introduced to a pair of musicians who he immediately clicked with. The musicians were Joe Rockman, a bassist, and Tom Stephen, a drummer. With Jeff having learned how to play the guitar, the three decided to form a band.

The name of the band? The Jeff Healey Band. Not exactly the most original name out there, but what's in a name, anyway?

Besides, in the case of The Jeff Healey Band, the name wasn't nearly important as the music. Their very first gig as a band was at a Toronto club known as 'The Birds Nest'. The club itself was upstairs from Chicago's Diner, which was on Queen Street West. Their first concert was reviewed and written up in a Toronto based magazine, NOW, and within a matter of months, the band began touring dozens of Toronto clubs, playing almost nightly. One location was the famed blues club, Albert's Hall, which was where The Jeff Healey Band first met two other guitarists who both had made names of themselves in the world of blues guitar.

They were Albert Collins and Stevie Ray Vaughan. And it was that meeting that started Jeff on a new venture...recording his very first album.



After signing a recording deal with Arista Records in the late 1980s, The Jeff Healey Band recorded their debut album, 'See The Light', which hit stores in Canada in September 1988. The album went triple platinum, selling over three hundred thousand copies in Canada alone, another sixty thousand sold in the United Kingdom, and the band was nominated for a Juno Award (for those of you who don't know, a Juno is kind of like the Canadian version of a Grammy Award) for Album of the Year in 1990, but lost to Alannah Myles. However, they did score the award for Canadian Entertainer of the Year, which some might say was the greater honour.

One of the reasons why the album became so wildly popular was because of this track, the second to be released from the album during the summer of 1989.

You can view the actual video clip of the song HERE, since I can't seem to post it on the blog itself.



ARTIST: The Jeff Healey Band
SONG: Angel Eyes
ALBUM: See The Light
DATE RELEASED: June 17, 1989
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #5



The song 'Angel Eyes' debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on June 17, 1989, in 85th position. Over the next few weeks, it would eventually peak at #5. In Canada, the song also did very well, cracking the Top 20.

In addition to the song being a single off of the band's debut album, it was also featured in a motion picture the same year that the song was released. Luckily for the band, the use of the song in the movie meant that they ended up getting to co-star in the film as well.



That movie was 1989's “Road House”, starring Patrick Swayze. In between recording tracks for 'See The Light', The Jeff Healey Band was recording songs for the “Road House” soundtrack, as well as playing the house band in the movie. As a result, Jeff Healey ended up having several speaking parts in the movie where he interacts with the character played by Patrick Swayze.

I mean, just picture it. Back in Patrick Swayze's heyday, I bet you that millions of people probably would have loved the chance to star in a movie with him, or even meet him. I could probably name off about a hundred girls I know who would have loved to have played the 'Baby' to his 'Johnny' on 'Dirty Dancing'. The fact that Jeff Healey managed to get a small role in the film, just by doing what he loved doing best, was quite remarkable, to say the least.

But then, remarkable could be a word that could best describe the obstacles that Jeff himself had to face when he was growing up.

You see, I left out one very important detail when talking about his early life. A life that involved him learning how to play a guitar at an early age, forming a band at 17, taking on a job as a disc jockey, and forming The Jeff Healey Band, which was his biggest success to date. It was a dream that many people have, but very few accomplish. Jeff Healey managed to beat the odds and had a successful recording career. The band was put on the map with “Angel Eyes”, and managed to have an additional ten singles chart in Canada between 1990 and 1994. He even got a chance to work with former Beatle George Harrison when the band released a cover version of The Beatles classic 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' in the early 1990s. By clicking HERE, you can listen to that cover, if you like.

Jeff Healey was a man who dreamed of having a career in the music business. Not only did he succeed where many failed, but he ended up working with some of the most legendary musicians, and won awards for his talent.

All this is impressive enough for someone who has all FIVE senses. So, what if I told you that Jeff Healey did all of these accomplishments with only FOUR senses?

When Jeff was just eight months old, he developed a rare eye cancer, known as retinoblastoma. The good news was that treatment options were available at the time, and he was expected to survive. The bad news was that the cancer was present in both eyes. So before Jeff Healey celebrated his first birthday, both of his eyes had to be surgically removed. As a result, Healey was forced to wear artificial eyes for the rest of his life.

But, do you think that Jeff let losing his sight stop him from doing what he loved doing? Not a chance!

At the tender age of three, just two years after his surgery, he was learning how to play the guitar. Taking into account his loss of sight, Healey managed to play the guitar by setting it up flat on his lap, and playing it that way. You can see evidence of this by watching the “Angel Eyes” video that I posted above. I imagine that it probably was no easy going for Jeff, and I bet he probably had to get used to finding chords and strings, and getting used finding his own playing style.

But, man, once he got all that figured out, nothing was stopping him from reaching his goal. Sure, a lot of people were a bit skeptical when he was starting out. They wondered how someone who was blind could play a guitar, read sheet music, learn guitar chords. I think that once they heard Jeff playing the guitar, it ended all the wondering.

The Jeff Healey Band continued to record albums throughout the 1990s, and into the 2000s. By the time the band released their 2000 album “Get Me Some”, Healey decided that he would venture off in a different direction as a solo artist, recording music that was not only close to his heart, but music that also got his career started at a radio station years ago.

Jazz.

In 2002, Healey released the first of three traditional jazz albums, with selections dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. He still played the guitar on all of these albums and in live performances, but sometimes he would play the trumpet at certain live performances. He formed another group known as 'The Jazz Wizards', and between 2002 and 2007, he toured throughout North America and Europe. He played at a jazz club named 'Healey's' in Toronto (which later was renamed Jeff Healey's Roadhouse), and throughout his entire career, played with some legendary artists in the world of music. Some of these included Dire Straits, BB King, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and the man who helped discover Jeff Healey, Stevie Ray Vaughan. He even helped discover other artists along the way, and helped them to success, one notable example being Canadian blues singer, Amanda Marshall.

Sadly, Jeff Healey's career would come to a tragic end one day in 2008.

In early 2007, Jeff Healey ended up having surgery to remove cancerous growths from both of his lungs. Prior to this, in 2005, Healey had to get two sarcomas removed from his legs. Throughout 2007 and the first part of 2008, Healey fought the cancer with everything he had, and underwent chemotherapy to try and stop the spread of the disease. Sadly, there was very little that could be done.



On March 2, 2008, Jeff Healey passed away in a Toronto hospital at just 41 years old...just one month before his album “Mess Of Blues” was due to be released. He left behind his wife, and his two children.

Just two months later, in May 2008, a tribute concert was held in his memory where all proceeds for the show were donated to “Daisy's Eye Cancer Fund”. It had been an organization very close to Jeff Healey's heart, as it was one that had made great advances in treating retinoblastoma, the same disease which robbed Jeff of his ability to see. Jeff Healey's son also ended up having retinoblastoma as well, so you can see why Jeff was more determined than ever to support this cause. In 2009, Healey was posthumously inducted into the Terry Fox Hall Of Fame.

It was a sad end to a remarkable, extraordinary life and career. But thanks to songs like 'Angel Eyes', and other songs that he released in his two decade recording career, Jeff Healey will always live on.

Just on a side note, (and maybe a personal one), 'Angel Eyes' ranks high up on my list of my most favourite songs of all time. I really wanted to do an entry on this song for a while.

And, just a wee confession here. If I ever get married...this song WILL play at my wedding. I guarantee you that much.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the blog about Jeff Healey. Dream come true? Angel Eyes played at our wedding in November 2007, at my husband's request. It was sad to hear Jeff passing away but his memory will continue to live on.

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