Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Guitarist Jeff Healey Dies at 41

Guitarist Jeff Healey, who shifted from blues-rocker to jazz classicist, died of cancer on March 2 in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto. He was 41.

Healey, who was blinded as a baby due to a rare form of cancer, retino blastoma, began playing guitar at age 3, holding the instrument 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, Healey was signed to Arista Records, and in 1988 released the Grammy-nominated album See the Light, which included the 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 classic American jazz from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

By then, however, Healey 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 long-running CBC Radio series, My Kinda Jazz, saw him in the role of disc jockey, and in recent years he hosted a program 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, he recorded three albums 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.

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.

Originally Published