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Jeff Healy passes

2 March 2008 11,954 views 7 Comments

Media information / For immediate release

Guitarist and bandleader Jeff Healey dies in Toronto hospital

Following a lengthy struggle with cancer, Healey passes away on the eve of the release of a new blues rock album.

Jeff Healey, arguably one of the most distinctive guitar players of our time, died today (Sunday March 2) in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Toronto. He was 41, and leaves his wife, Cristie, daughter Rachel (13) and son Derek (three), as well as his father and step-mother, Bud and Rose Healey, and sisters Laura and Linda.

Funeral and memorial arrangements are pending.

Robbed of his sight as a baby due to a rare form of cancer, retino blastoma, and he started to play guitar when he was three, holding the instrument unconventionally across his lap. He formed his first band at 17, but soon formed a trio which was named the Jeff Healey Band.

After his appearance in the movie Road House, he was signed to Arista records, and in 1988 released the Grammy-nominated album See the Light, which included a major hit single, Angel Eyes. He earned a Juno Award in 1990 as Entertainer of the Year.

Two more albums emerged on Arista, with lessening success as the ’90s passed. Various “best-of” and live packages were released, and he recorded two more rock albums, before turning to his real love, classic American jazz from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

By then, however, Healey was an internationally-known star who had played with dozens of musicians, including B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and recorded with George Harrison. Mark Knopfler and the late blues legend, Jimmy Rogers.

A family man with a three-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter he preferred to stay close to home. “I’ve traveled widely before — been there and done that,” he told friends, determined to avoid the lengthy, exhausting tours that marked his life in his twenties and early thirties.

A long-running CBC Radio series saw him in the role of disc jockey — My Kinda Jazz was a staple for a while, but in recent years he had hosted a programme with a similar name on Jazz-FM in Toronto. A highlight of his broadcasts was always the use of rare — and rarely heard — music from his 30,000-plus collection of 78-rpm records.

As his rock career wound down as the millennium came, he recorded a series of three album of early jazz, playing trumpet as well as acoustic guitar in a band he called Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards. The most recent was It’s Tight Like That, recorded live at Hugh’s Room in Toronto in 2005, with British jazz legend Chris Barber as guest star.

At the time of his death he was about to see the release of his first rock/blues album in eight years, Mess of Blues, which is being released in Europe on March 20, and in Canada and the U.S. on April 22. The album was the result of a joint agreement between the German label, Ruf Records, and Stony Plain, the independent Edmonton-based label that has released his three jazz CDs.

Mess of Blues was recorded in studios in Toronto, with two cuts recorded at the Jeff Healey’s Roadhouse in Toronto and two at a concert in London England. The backup group on the upcoming CD — the Healey’s House Band — played with him regularly at the downtown Roadhouse, and at a previous club bearing his name in the Queen-Bathurst area.

Early last year, Healey underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his legs, and later from both lungs; aggressive radiation treatments and chemotherapy, however, failed to halt the spread of the disease.

Despite his battle with cancer, he undertook frequent tours across Canada with both his blues-based band and his jazz group; he was set for a major tour in Germany and the U.K. and was to be a guest on the BBC’s famed Jools Holland Show in April.

Remembered by his musicians — and his audiences — for his wry sense of humour as well as his musical playfulness, Healey was a unique musician who bridged different genres with ease and assurance.


  • Jaclyn said:

    jeff was a great man and will be sadly missed my prayers are with his family and friends

  • Matt West said:

    I am in complete shock reading that Jeff Healy had passed away. I hadn’t even realised he was ill to be honest and I have listened to his music since first seeing him in the ‘Roadhouse’ movie with Patrick Swayze. I also cannot believe this news http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,335210,00.html
    Patrick Swayze is close to death to, wow and I was just referencing this to recall their link.

    I had looked forward to seeing Jeff live, but never managed it, now alas it will never happen. Still Jeff has left quite a legacy, why do these great artists get struck down at such early stages of their being?

    I send my heart felt condolences to Jeff’s family, he will be sorely missed.

    To Patrick and family, I hope his final weeks are comfortable and provide him with quality time.

    A sad Matt West from – Essex, England (UK)

    Great show…keep it going and total respect to you.

  • A listener said:

    RIP Jeff

  • Juergen said:

    Jeff’s death is a big loss for the Blues. I will never forget himand his music. It often gave me power and strenth.

  • NovaRob said:

    We’ll miss ya Jeff!!

  • Byron said:

    I guess I am way behind. But that is the blues. Jeff would have understood.

    For his family, I apologize for the lateness of my comments. Though I didn’t know Jeff pesonaly, I have known him from the circuit for years.

    Jeff had the beginnings for the blues. Adopted as an infant. Lost his sight when he was eight months old (cancer of the eyes). His eyes had to be surgically removed, and he was given artificial replacements.

    All before he was one. Enough for anyone to have blues in his soul and he did. He also had soul and a wry sense of humor. And love. He understood how to love think. I hear it in his lyrics.

    Music is a hard vocation. It can take you down roads you don’t want to travel. But I never heard anything said on the road about Jeff that others weren’t saying.

    38 years later he sucombs to a simalar cancer.

    God said enough and called him home.

    He left us with a legacy of love and the BLUES with a Capital “B”.

    He was not your AVERAGE WHITE BOY 😉

    I picked up the guitar after 20 some years of rock and roll drumming and blues sound engineering. I had always wanted to play guitar but thought I couldn’t. I hadn’t heard of Jeff before that. I was working with JB Hutto and the Hawks in Seattle, WA (an arthritic, not very good chord player, but a hell of a slide player and writer). He knew of a white blind kid in Toronto that he said was what was coming and that even a white boy like me could have hope. JB had a wry sense of humor also.

    I listened but I didn’t get it. After many years I saw the film “Road House” which opened my eyes to what JB had said. Jeff was the future of blues.

    With his loss, we are at a loose ends and a crossroads again. No one I have heard can do him justice. He was an original. As they said when I was younger;) He marched to a different drummer. That is how all the greats are.

    Jeff is playing with JB now and JB’s hands are no more arthitic and Jeff has “Angel Eyes” and is no more blind.

    God Bless you Jeff –

    You taught an old musician that it is fun to play, years after his prime.

    Many didn’t get you.

    Love You Son –

    You left the party much to early.

    I look forward to seeing you soon. I habve missed JB for years and you but lately but I will be there sooner than I want. Keep a chair open for me. I am a better drummer that I ever will be a guitar palyer but maybe in heavan it will be different.

    Love You for who you were…

    Byron Larson
    Seattle, WA

  • gypsyfiah said:

    I am so saddened,,,and shocked,,The Jeff Healey Band that I will never gs et to hear again,,never to hear Jeff Healey,,,Im crying,,Angel Eye s was me and my boyfriends first song that he dedicated to me,,I have a daughter with him,,although we are not together,,,,she watched Road House and she fell in love with him and had no idea that her dad had didcated Angel Eyes to me,,,and she ur loves him,,,she does not know yet that he has passed,,,,I will remember you forever,,a gentle spirit,,,a great Blues Magician,,,you left our world too soon,,but your music will remain forever,,,love ,,one of your millions of fans,,,gypsyfiah,,,I am getting ready to tell my daughter,,,and forgive me for this taking a year,,,I just found out,,,,my tears ,,miss u,,,gypsyfiah

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