Sunday, March 02, 2008

Jeff Healey

I don’t write about music very often. Although I am, as a writer, an artist in my own right, I don’t have the same kind of creativity it takes to make music. I wish I did, but I don’t. And perhaps there are some musicians who are equally envious of those of us who can put words together, I really couldn’t say. I do know that music has been a huge influence in my life; it has defined my generation in its own unique way and it continues to be a measure of our time in much the same way contemporary literature has.

But music is a performing art. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit around watching me type. Even with the relatively recent technology that allows us to record and replay music - it is still not quite the same as being there. In a very significant way, when a musician dies, so does the music. Even if it can be replicated so perfectly as to capture the exact same sound, there is an indescribable quality that the original artist brings that no one else can. Literature, paintings, sculpture and photography can live on quite easily without the presence of its creator.

Today, the music world lost another unique talent. Canadian Jeff Healey succumbed after a life-long battle with cancer. He was 41. He leaves behind his wife, two children and an unreleased album - one that Healey will never be able to perform live. His interpretation is limited to whatever recordings exist - and that is it. I was fortunate enough to see Healey open at a ZZ Top concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1981 (it might have been the Oakland Coliseum and it might have been 82 or 83, but it’s close enough for jazz, as the saying goes). He was, at the time, riding a wave of popularity that most performers never get to experience. Although his moment in the spotlight was brief, it was intense.

Healey, like a number of other notable musicians, was blind. According to Canwest News Service, “Healey lost his vision as a baby to a rare form of retinal cancer and he battled the disease throughout his life.” He sat down while he played, laying his guitar across his lap. Although he couldn’t see what he was doing, he sure could feel it, and so could his audience. Indeed, due to the unique way he played, it would be extremely difficult to duplicate his sound, never mind the life he brought to his music. Even when he performed at the fictional Double Deuce on the big screen in the film Road House, the feel he brought to his music was palpable.

Although he will never perform before an audience again, he has left the world with his recorded talent. It will have to be enough. He was a true artist and truly devoted to his music. The music world and the rest of the world has suffered the loss of a talent that can never be replicated.


kenju said...

How can it be that I've never heard of him before? Now I will be sure to seek out his music.

Shephard said...

I've heard of him, but travel in different musical circles. But I can see the effect he had on other musicians especially. And so young, is always a tragedy.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the link to that squirrel! What a great photo!


flleenie said...

I have heard of him & I have to say God bless Jeff Healey!!

Snaggle Tooth said...

I saw Jeff Healey (up close) live at the Casino in Hampton Beach, NH Aug'99, when my friends Bruce Marshall Group openned for his show. I got in free as a roadie. We had to haul all the equiptment up this huge staircase- we helped with Jeff's too- some of which didn't want to fit through the stage door.
Other people payed big bux for a seat. The place was packed- I'll always remember that sea of people, right across from the sea! That huge building (a club) has a bar in every corner! About 10k folks all were mesmerized-
He was amazing- n inspiring!
What a shame he's passed already-

Thanks for the tribute, I hadn't heard- n am saddened-
Live performance in his case- is way better!

awareness said...

I saw Healey for the first time around the same time as you. He was playing at a bar in Toronto....whenever he did, the place was packed to the rafters! For years, he honed his skills playing/busking at Kensington market in Toronto. This is where his first fan base was developed.

Over the years, Healey had his own radio show, first on the CBC and then on a Jazz radio station. It was called "My Kind of Jazz." His true love was jazz from the 20's, 30's and 40's..... He knew the bands and the histories etc and collected this music. I think he had over 30,000 records from this era which he would use on his shows. Brilliant memory and brilliant mind!

I loved listening to his weekly show on the CBC and often caught it when I was on the road for work......he was a natural radio personality too.

He also attended the annual Harvest Jazz and Blues festival held here in Sept. The last time he was in town, he performed on stage at a sit down kind of venue, but what is remembered by the folks here was his "afterburner" surprise attendance where he jammed with a bunch of other jazz and blues musicians into the wee hours of the night for all the late night birds who just happened to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

He was cancer free until the last couple of years......and struggled with sarcoma. However, he never stopped touring.....and never stopped his radio show until a couple of weeks before he died.

He gave it ALL in his 41 years. Bless him.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What you say is true Mike, BUT, that there ARE recordings and films, or whatever, is an amazing legacy so that whatever he did is not completely lost only to memory. Think of the many mamy MANY Amazing talents that were never recorded because we did not have that technology...!
I often think of the many plays that I have seen that are only committed to memory, and we know how memory can change things as time goes on, and how it dims....All of these performances were never documented because we had no way to do that....GREAT GREAT Musicians---Composers, Singers, Instrumentalists, Performers...there are no recordings of any kind....I know it is not the same having a film or sound recording of some great artist, but it is better than nothing!
I personally was not familiar with him...but I will be able to now familiariza myself with some of him through the amazing magical technolgy we have now....So ALL of Jeff Healey is not lost...Some of him still exists for those who loved him and for those who may discover him in the future.

Bobkat said...

The world loses another great talent. Such sad news he was indeed a gifted musician. Although I never saw him perform I liked his music very much.

Rainbow dreams said...

I hadn't heard that he had died...a good friend of mine introduced me to his music in California in 1991 and it always takes me back to wonderful memories and times.

Thank you for posting this.