Inspirational Toronto singer/guitarist Jeff Healey lost his lengthy battle with cancer at St. Joseph’s Hospital on Sunday (March 2). He was 41.
Despite losing his sight to retinoblastoma in his first year, Healey, by age three, was picking guitar flat on his lap, which would become his signature style. After a brief stint knocking out covers in bars with Blue Direction, he hooked up with Tom Stephen and Joe Rockman at Grossman’s Tavern to form the Jeff Healey Band in 1985. Together they tore up the Queen West club scene and caught a break in 1988 when they were cast as the band in the Patrick Swayze flick Road House.
The Jeff Healey Band’s Grammy-nominated See The Light (Arista) debut, featuring the hit Angel Eyes, went on to sell platinum and made Healey an international star.
But Healey was no more enamoured of his newfound celebrity than he was of over-amped blues rock. He eventually returned to the Dixieland jazz of the 20s and 30s he obsessively collected, swapping his guitar for trumpet and clarinet and forming Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards.
For all his accomplishments and accolades, Healey was always a music fan first, and generously shared his passion by playing the crazy-rare 78s from his vast vinyl stash on his My Kind Of Jazz programs for CBC and Jazz-FM, in addition to operating the live music venues Healey’s and Jeff Healey’s Road House.
At the time of his death, he had just completed a new album, Mess Of Blues, scheduled for release by Stony Plain on April 19. Healey is survived by his wife, Cristie; daughter, Rachel; son, Derek; father and step-mother, Bud and Rose Healey and sisters Laura and Linda. There will be a private funeral with a memorial celebration of his music to follow at a later date.