Who was Jeff Healey?
Jeff Healey, born as Norman Jeffrey Healey, was a Canadian singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He was known for his songs "How Long Can a Man Be Strong" and "I Think I Love You Too Much" which reached the Top 10 on the Canadian charts. He is also remembered for his hit "Angel Eyes" peaked at #5 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Adopted as an infant, Healey lost his sight at the age of one to a rare form of eye cancer. However, it didn’t dampen his inherent passion for music as he began playing the guitar at the age of three. By 17, he was already performing with his band Blue Direction and later with the Jeff Healey Band, which featured drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman. Healey also toured worldwide with several legendary performers including Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, BB King, Dire Straits and Steve Lukather, to name a few. The fact that the blind artiste played his instrument on his lap while sitting and made exceptional bends and hammer-ons is what differentiated him from his competitors. On a personal note, Healey married twice in his lifetime and had two children. He died of cancer when he was just 41.
Childhood & Early Life
Norman Jeffrey “Jeff” Healey was born on March 25, 1966 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was adopted as an infant by a fire-fighter. At the age of one, he lost his eyesight after suffering from retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes.
He graduated from the Etobicoke Collegiate Institute in Toronto.
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Jeff Healey started playing the guitar at the age of three, developing a unique style of playing it flat on his lap. At the age of 17, he formed a four-piece band called Blue Direction that featured drummer Graydon Chapman, guitarist Rob Quail and bassist Jeremy Littler. With this band, Healey performed at numerous local clubs in Toronto.
He started hosting a music show on the radio station CIUT-FM and became popular for playing vintage 78 rpm gramophone records.
In 1985, he was introduced to drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman and the trio formed the Jeff Healey Band. The three gave their debut performance at the Birds Nest at Chicago's Diner and later went on to play at various local clubs including Albert's Hall and Grossman's Tavern.
The Jeff Healey Band was signed to Arista Records and released their first studio album ‘See the Light’ in 1988. The album featured the hit "Angel Eyes” which went platinum in USA. It also featured the single "Hideaway" which later earned a Grammy Award nomination under the category ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’.
In 1990, the Jeff Healey Band came up with their second album ‘Hell to Pay’ which was eventually given a silver status by BPI. It also managed to earn a gold certification from RIAA.
In 1992, the band released its third album ‘Feel This,’ which included the singles "Cruel Little Number", "Lost in Your Eyes", "Heart of an Angel" and "You're Coming Home". Healey and his band mates released their album ‘Cover to Cover’ (1995), which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart and at #50 on the UK Albums Chart.
As the 21st century dawned, the Canadian artiste started focusing in a different direction, teaching himself the trumpet and playing the traditional 1920s and 1930s jazz music with his band Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards. During this time, he also released the jazz albums ‘Among Friends’, ‘Adventures in Jazzland’ and ‘It's Tight Like That’.
Over the years, Healey toured throughout Europe and North America and performed with numerous well-known artistes, including Bonnie Raitt, ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, Buddy Guy and many others.
In the year 2006, he was featured on vocalist Ian Gillan's DVD ‘Gillan's Inn.’ Two years later, his last blues album ‘Mess of Blues’ was posthumously released. It won the title of the Best Blues Album at the 8th Annual Independent Music Awards. ‘Songs from the Road,’ a compilation of his previous live blues-rock performances was released in 2009.
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In April 2010, Healey’s final studio-recorded jazz album titled ‘Last Call’ was issued by Stony Plain.
In March 2016, his posthumous album ‘Heal My Soul’ came out, followed by the album ‘Holding On’ in December. The former featured a number of collaborations with Stevie Salas, Arnold Lanni and Marti Frederiksen, while the latter included five studio tracks and ten songs from the 1999 live performance at the Rockefeller Music Hall in Norway.
The Jeff Healey band’s best known work is the album ‘See the Light.’ It was nominated for an "Album of the Year" Juno Award in 1990 and was certified triple platinum in Canada and platinum in US.
Family & Personal Life
In 1992, Jeff Healey married his first wife Krista Miller. The couple had a daughter named Rachel before parting ways in 1998. He got married to Cristie Hall in 2003. The two have a son named Derek.
On January 11, 2007, Jeff Healey had an operation to remove metastatic tissue from both of his lungs. Earlier, he also had two sarcomas removed from his legs. On March 2, 2008, he died of sarcoma cancer at the age of 41. He breathed his last a month before the release of his rock/blues album ‘Mess of Blues.’
On May 3, 2008, a tribute concert was held in his memory to assist Daisy's Eye Cancer Fund. The organization is dedicated to help those suffering from retinoblastoma, the genetic eye cancer which led to Healey’s blindness at eleven months of age. His son was also born with the genetically inherited disorder.
Jeff Healey's Roadhouse, a bar in Toronto which showcases blues bands is named after Healey. The late singer often used to perform there with his band. In 2011, Woodford Park in Toronto, Ontario was renamed Jeff Healey Park.
He was an avid record hoarder and had a collection of more than 30,000 78 rpm records!
In 2009, he was inducted into Terry Fox Hall of Fame. In 2014, he became an inductee of Canada's Walk of Fame.