Jeff Healey: A Celebration
Canadian rock icon of Guess Who and BTO fame Randy Bachman joins an all-star lineup of international artists including Cream’s Jack Bruce, Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, Colin James and many others for Jeff Healey: A Celebration, honouring the life and legacy of the late guitar great at the Sound Academy (11 Polson), Saturday (May 3). $45. A second concert, Jeff Healey’s Jazz Band Ball, will feature jazz artists Marty Grosz, Brad Kay and Vince Giordano accompanied by Healey’s Jazz Wizards at Healey’s Roadhouse (56 Blue Jays Way), Sunday (May 4). $35. 1-866-9-GET-TIX, www.ticketbreak.com.
When did you first hear about Jeff Healey?
I recall someone talking about this amazing young guitarist who played sitting down with the guitar on his lap like they’d never seen before. The idea of someone playing guitar in his lap was nothing new to me, because I’d seen Thumbs Carlisle playing a Telecaster that way backing Roger Miller in the early 60s. Then I heard some of Jeff’s stuff on the radio and thought, “Wow, this Healey kid can really play, and sing, too!” When I finally met him, we hit it off right away, and after that whenever he came to the West Coast we’d go out for dinner, and I’d often join him onstage. He was a wonderfully sweet and full-of-sunshine guy who was always nice to be around.
Did he ever inspire you to play the guitar on your lap?
Sure, I tried it out, but it was an absolute disaster. For me, playing the guitar horizontally was even more difficult than playing it upside down like Jimi Hendrix, because even though it’s a left-handed guitar, you’re still holding it as you normally would. Playing it on your lap means you can’t do the normal blues bends with your second and third finger. I watched Jeff closely to see how he used his thumb and little finger as a barre, and it seemed impossible to me. Yet he made it all look so effortless – and of course he wasn’t even looking.
Even guitarists who are long-time pals can get competitive when sharing a stage. Did he ever give you a run for your money?
I thought I knew a lot of guitar tricks – slapping and tapping harmonics and everything else – but whenever I was trading licks with Jeff, he could do whatever I did, only better! When Duke Robillard, Jeff and I played Massey Hall together last year, he pretty much stole the show. Toward the end of the night he did this version of B.B. King’s Early In The Morning that was absolutely phenomenal. After four minutes, I thought he’d done just about all you could do with the tune, and then he took it to another level. Seven or eight minutes later he was still going to new places, and then he threw in this screaching Hendrix-style ending that left us all in awe. Jeff had such a jump-out joyful spirit whenever he was playing that you couldn’t help but focus on him.
Any particularly exciting exchanges with Jeff in a concert situation?
Someone recently told me they saw a YouTube clip of Jeff and me doing George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the Carling Academy where we were both going nuts. Supposedly, it’s fantastic, but I can’t say, because I haven’t seen the footage and I don’t recall the details of what actually happened. It’s that musician’s high when you get into a zone and everything becomes a blur. You have no idea what you’re playing, whether it’s good or bad – you’re just grooving in the moment. I think that’s what was going on there.
What did you two talk about away from the stage?
We had a great relationship apart from the musical connection. We both had our health issues, so we’d compare notes. I knew Jeff had some very serious problems, but all the time we were on the road together I never once heard him complain about anything. When I’d ask him, “How’s this?” or “What’s happening with that?” he’d just say, “Oh, yeah – I’ve got it under control.” He was just a very positive guy. I feel a great void in my life without Jeff Healey being here.