Our Honorary Patron
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Healey was raised in the city's west end. He was adopted as an infant; his adoptive father, Bud, was a firefighter. Healey lost his sight when he was eight months old, due to retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes. His eyes had to be surgically removed, and he was given artificial replacements. After living cancer-free for 38 years, he subsequently developed sarcoma (an unrelated cancer) in his legs; despite surgery for this, the sarcoma spread to his lungs and ultimately killed him. He began playing guitar when he was three, developing his unique style of playing the instrument flat on his lap.
When he was 17 he formed the band Blue Direction, a four-piece band which primarily played bar-band cover tunes. Shortly thereafter he was introduced to two musicians, bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen, with whom he formed a trio and made their first public appearance at The Birds Nest, located upstairs at Chicago's Diner on Queen Street West in Toronto. The new band received a write-up in Toronto's NOW magazine, and quickly were playing almost nightly in local clubs such as Grossman's Tavern and the famed blues club Albert's Hall (where Jeff Healey was discovered by guitar virtuosos Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert Collins).
After being signed to Arista Records in 1988, the band released the album See The Light, featuring the hit single "Angel Eyes" and the song "Hideaway", which was nominated for a "Best Instrumental" Grammy Award. While the band was recording See The Light, they were also filming (and recording for the soundtrack of) the Patrick Swayze film Road House (1989 film). In 1990 the band won the "Entertainer of the Year" Juno Award. Other hits have included "How Long Can a Man Be Strong" and a cover of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (which also featured George Harrison and Jeff Lynne on backing vocals and acoustic guitar).
By the release of the 2000 album, "Get Me Some", Healey had grown weary of the world of rock music, and began to concentrate his considerable talents in a direction closer to his heart, hot jazz.
He went on to release three CDs of music from this true passion, traditional American jazz from the 1920s and 1930s. He was an avid record collector and amassed a collection of well over 30,000 78 rpm records and he had been sitting in with traditional jazz bands around Toronto since the beginning of his music career. Though known primarily as a guitarist, Healey also played trumpet and clarinet during live performances.
Healey had, from time to time, hosted a CBC Radio program entitled My Kind of Jazz, in which he played records from his vast vintage jazz collection. He hosted a program with a similar name on Toronto jazz station CJRT-FM, also known as JAZZ.FM91.
He had also been touring with his other group, 'The Jazz Wizards', playing the afore-mentioned American 'hot' jazz. At the time of his death, they had been planning to perform a series of shows in Britain, Germany and Holland in April 2008.
For many years Healey performed at his club, Healey's on Bathurst Street in Toronto, where he played with a rock band on Thursday nights, and with his jazz group, on Saturday afternoons. The club moved to a bigger location at 56 Blue Jays Way and it was re christened Jeff Healey's Roadhouse. (Though he had lent his name and often played there, Jeff Healey did not own or manage the bar.)
On March 2, 2008 Healey died of cancer at St. Joseph's Health Centre in his home town of Toronto; he was 41. His death came a month before the release of his new album, Mess of Blues, which will be his first rock album in 8 years.