JENNY WHITELEY AND THE BLUEGRASS ALLSTARS at Healey's (178 Bathurst), Tuesday (May 22). $5. 416-703-5882. Rating: NNNNN
when jeff healey states unequivocally that his experience filming the Patrick Swayze bar-brawl flick Roadhouse had "nothing to do with" his decision to open a music venue of his own, you can believe him.
No one in his or her right mind would want to get into the nightclub business if, like in the movie, everyone who came to the joint were spoiling for a chair-breaking free-for-all every night.
On the contrary, Healey and his partners, Phil Morrison and Stuart McKendrick (Morrison and McKendrick founded the successful Bohemian Cafe), have designed Healey's to be a comfortable place to hear live music that the new club's namesake guitar virtuoso will program himself.
The idea is to feature roots country, folk and bluegrass on Tuesdays, karaoke Wednesdays and traditional jazz and swing Thursdays, while anything from rockin' blues to bumpin' funk will go down Fridays and Saturdays.
"For years," explains Healey, "people have been saying, "You've got great taste in music and you're into such a wide variety of styles -- why don't you start your own club?'
"So it's something that's been on my mind for a while. I just had to wait for the right people and the right place to come together at the right time.
"Having a different sound each night is a bit unusual for a Toronto club, but it all fits into the category of good music that I enjoy."
Healey's talent booking strategy is equally straightforward: it'll be whoever he likes, with the emphasis on local artists. The question is, does Toronto really need another club to showcase the skills of Jerome Godboo and Paul James? Probably not. But there's always room for a hospitable venue where artists can be seen and heard while earning a decent night's pay for their efforts.
"Speaking as a working musician, rarely do club owners treat you with the proper respect. I've set up this room with the priority on the performers -- it's a place to experience live music.
"I also have a good idea of what artists are being paid and to what degree they're being ripped off. We're not going to be emptying our pockets for musicians, but we can certainly pay them well."
Of course, a large part of Healey's attraction is Healey himself, who plans to be at the club "90 per cent of the time." And if the band is cooking, it sounds like no one will need to twist his arm to get him up for a song.
"People are already calling the place Jeff's Playground, and that's probably what it'll be. I know I'll be entertained by the people I'm booking, and if the feeling's right and the band are into it, sure, I'll sit in."
According to Juno winner Jenny Whiteley, who'll be kicking off the Tuesday roots country series, Healey was a bit less demure about his appearance policy.
"One of the stipulations of our booking," chuckles Whiteley, "was that he be allowed to get up with us. So I said, "Sure, sounds good to me.' Then he was, like, "But you haven't heard me play country yet.' Well, I know he can handle blues, rock and jazz, so I imagine he'd be fine with country. We'll find out Tuesday."
Although Whiteley is billed as performing with the Bluegrass Allstars, they're really her Crazy Strings cohorts guitarist Joey Wright, banjo-plucker Chris Quinn and her mandolinist brother, Dan Whiteley. The name switch is a clever ploy to cash in on Jenny Whiteley's Juno notoriety.
"People think my name has some extra value now, but it hasn't done much for me. I did have a good time at the Junos, though.
"After winning (for best roots/traditional album, solo), I drank some free beer in the press room and got pretty cocky. Some huge guy in a loud suit was standing by the washroom, so I did one of those "What's on your tie?' things and flipped his nose. He just glared at me. How was I to know it was Ron Pearlman, the guy behind *NSYNC?
"Later, I crashed some private parties with my whole band in tow. I'd go, "What do you mean I'm not on the list? I just won a Juno!' And six of us marched right into the Universal bash at Rain. Luckily, we made it in just before Nelly Furtado showed up."