Jeff Healey - Biography
Nobody embodies the defiant spirit of rock and blues quite like Jeff Healey. Born in Toronto on March 25th, 1966, the Canadian's childhood was shattered by diagnosis with the rare ocular cancer retinoblastoma. Yet it never broke his stride, and through the late-'80s, '90s and post-millennium, Jeff's jaw-dropping guitar style and soul-drenched vocals saw him rise to multi-platinum sales, worldwide acclaim and collaborations with Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler and Ian Gillan.
When Jeff died from sarcoma cancer on March 2nd, 2008, it felt like a tragic full-stop. Until now. Released on what would have been his 50th birthday, Heal My Soul is a ‘lost' album comprising twelve unheard tracks, all rescued from the vaults, lovingly restored by the guitarist's estate and alive with his spirit. "I think Jeff would have been so proud of this," notes his widow, Cristie Healey. "It's up there with his best work, by far."
It's quite a statement. Jeff Healey, after all, was a stone-cold phenomenon. Receiving his first guitar at the age of three, he quickly developed a groundbreaking style: by placing the guitar flat on his lap and playing it like a lap-steel, he was able to fret with all five fingers and attack notes with the strength of his whole hand. "Technically, he had a unique approach," explains Jeff's friend and fellow guitar virtuoso Sonny Landreth. "He had great sensibilities and instincts. When he would bend strings, play double-stops and chords, it just sounded totally different. It had a big open sound to it. He was so fluid and soulful."
"Jeff was one of the most unique players of all-time," picks up session ace and Toto legend Steve Lukather. "He redefined what the guitar can do and how you can play it. Pure soul and fire."
That trailblazing guitar technique drove Jeff's career through two thrilling decades of material, taking in rock, blues and traditional jazz. With his earliest vehicle – The Jeff Healey Band – he recorded five studio albums and contributed to the soundtrack of the cult classic, Road House (a film in which Jeff and the band were featured prominently alongside Patrick Swayze). But there was trouble behind the scenes, and though Jeff's songwriting was firing on all cylinders in the late-'90s, the lineup's meltdown meant the tracks he wrote in that period were shelved until Heal My Soul. "He'd play me rough mixes of these songs," remembers Roger Costa, Jeff's dear friend and co-administrator of his estate. "I remember being absolutely floored – but no-one ever heard them."
As Jeff's unofficial archivist since the '80s, Roger Costa had his first notion of starting the Heal My Soul project in the months after his friend's passing. By early 2015, a forest of red tape had finally been fought through, allowing Roger to embark on what he calls a "labour of love": researching the lost songs, recovering the two-inch masters, baking and transferring them to digital, reviewing the material, fixing and completing the mixes. As he recalls, it was a poignant experience: "Amongst the folks that were in the studio working on these recordings, there were a lot of moments where everyone was getting choked up. There's a lot of emotion running through everything. There were times, particularly on songs like Baby Blue – or any song that had harmony vocals – when we'd just pop them up in the studio by themselves. And it was like he was there. It was like he was never gone."
The process might have been an emotional rollercoaster, but with Heal My Soul enjoying worldwide acclaim and alerting a new wave of fans to the genius of Jeff Healey, there's no doubt it's been worth it. "It's great that his legacy is being kept alive," says Sonny Landreth. "Certainly, his music lives on, and for his fans, it's stronger than ever. But it's important to turn the next generation on to people like Jeff. He's right up with the all-time greats…"
"He was like another one of my sons... Jeff Healey... (exhales hard)... oh my God." BB King
"He was SUCH a great musician… a voice that is missed." Steve Lukather
"Jeff was one of the sweetest, most humble and talented artists I've met..." Bonnie Raitt