Born Norman Jeffrey Healey on March 25, 1966, a rare form of cancer called retinoblastoma left him blind in both eyes by the age of 1. But a mere two years later the Ontario native had his first guitar and immediately began emulating his blues heroes, such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. At 14 he was admitted to Etobicoke Collegiate and soon after began playing in local jazz & blues coffee houses. He met drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman one night in 1986 while at an open jam-session.
Doubling as the band’s business manager, Stephen began sending out demos to every agent and record producer in the land, but originally got nothing. In ’82 they released “Adrianna” as a single (only release) on their own indie label, Forte Records – with what would be the title-track to their debut as the ‘b’ side. It gained enough exposure to send Healey and company on the road, more so than they already were. But the big deal they sought still eluded them. They eventually scored a deal with BMG in ’87. Seeing something fresh on the scene, Arista also picked up the band stateside.
While still in the Toronto studios working on their debut, an old demo was handed to Jimmy Iovine, who happened to be working on the upcoming ROADHOUSE BLUES movie, starring Patrick Swayze. The band was cast in the film as the bar band ‘Double Deuce’, as well as supplying the soundtrack. Their first album SEE THE LIGHT was released in 1988, produced by Iovine and Greg Labany. Backed by the title-track, it was widely considered by the critics to be one of the freshest albums on the scene in years. John Hiatt’s “Confidence Man”, the tender “Angel Eyes” – which peaked at #5 on The Billboard Charts & also co-written by Hiatt, “My Little Girl – and the ZZ Top cover “Blue Jean Blues” all made SEE THE LIGHT an instant hit, eventually selling 2 million copies.
Riding high, ROADHOUSE BLUES opened at the theatres across North America less than a year later and further showed The Jeff Healey Band’s immense talent. The title-track (a Doors cover) helped prep the audience for their second lp, HELL TO PAY. Produced by Ed Stasium, again the record was made up of covers of Healey’s influences, as well as songs which were directly spawned by his love for the blues. Ex-Beatle George Harrison guested on the first single, actually released before the album. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was quickly followed by “I Think I Love You Too Much” – written and featuring Mark Knopfler. By the time “Full Circle” was issued as the third single, the album was already another million-seller, thanks in part to their supporting role on Bonnie Raitt’s world tour. Other cameos on the record included Harrison’s Traveling Wilburys-mate Jeff Lynne of ELO, Paul Shaffer (Blues Brothers Band, SNL & David Letterman) and Sass Jordan.
1992 saw FEEL THIS hit the stores, produced by Joe Hard, whose resume included the likes of other blues/rockers Colin James & ZZ Top. ‘Meatier & ballsier’ than the first two and capturing the band’s live presence more so – this unfortunately didn’t exactly translate as well in sales. Despite 6 singles over a year and a half, it ‘only’ sold 100,000 copies. Gold in Canada, worthy of contract dismissal in the US.
They returned in ’95 with COVER TO COVER. 14 tracks strong, it featured their interpretations of classics by The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and others. Three singles were released, with the remake of Steeler’s Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” cracking the Top 40 in Canada.
Healey then stepped back to work on his own label, Forte Records – which was home to Amanda Marshall, Lilith and The Phantoms. Arista and BMG both released ‘greatest hits’ packages before the end of the decade. BMG’s THE VERY BEST OF JEFF HEALEY in ’98 and Arista’s THE MASTER SERIES shortly afterwards.
It wasn’t until 2000 that any new material appeared. With the release of GET ME SOME it was well-established Healey was in control of his own career and destiny – releasing it on Forte. Again it consisted almost entirely of covers. Unfortunately it went almost completely unnoticed by the critics and the fans. Another pair of ‘best of’ packages were released shortly thereafter. Jeff Healey has become world-renown for his no-nonsense approach of fusing rock with his blues influences in a way no one else has, or probably could. He’s worked with a stunning array of musicians spanning all corners of the musical gamut, including a tribute to The Dorsey Brothers & one to Benny Goodman, Rube Bloom, Colin Bray and a dozen or so others – and an all-new album is currently in the works.
On March 2, 2008, while in a Toronto hospital undergoing treatments, Jeff Healey succumbed to the retinal cancer that took his vision at the age of 1.