Jeff Healey was an amazingly talented musician
I was a huge Jeff Healey fan. His debut album, See the Light, was released just as I was taking over as Music Director of my college radio station, WASU, at Appalachian State. I think we went six cuts deep on that record – it was just that good. Yet, it was still a surprise when a year later, “Angel Eyes,” the only ballad on the record, became a surprise Top Five hit in the summer of 1989. The other thing I remember is having a great Arista radio rep – although I can’t remember her name!
She got us free tickets and backstage passes to Jeff Healey opening for Little Feat at Carowinds (not sure they still have shows there anymore). I remember from the moment Jeff took the stage, standing in utter awe of his amazing guitar playing. He played with the instrument on his lap, which gave him a unique ability to bend the strings like no one else. In a live setting, he was phenomenal. I remember the set closer being the scorching “See the Light,” where Jeff got up from his chair, started playing the guitar with his teeth, playing behind his back, and eventually started thrashing around the stage. It brought everyone to their feet.
We got a chance to meet him afterwards, and the first thing I remember was that – he didn’t seem blind to me. For a brief moment, I actually thought the whole thing was a farce. Jeff walked around comfortably backstage, picking up a drink and carrying on conversations. It was only when we were introduced, and we were talking one on one that I could pick out his blindness. I got his autograph, which was really a hoot, since it was just a couple of scribbles.
Lastly, we went back out to watch Little Feat, but honestly it just sounded like noise. After being blown away by Healey’s pyrotechnics, I didn’t want any part of this boogie woogie.
I continued to follow Healey’s career, but was disappointed in his followup, Hell to Pay. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sounded like he was getting pressure from the record company to repeat his success. When I moved on to full-time rock radio at WTUE, we played several of Jeff’s songs. One Dayton note: he does mention the famed McGuffey’s club in his appearance in the movie Roadhouse. I never got a chance to see him live again. After that, he sort of faded from view.
I only discovered Jeff’s alter-ego of classic jazz & blues after his untimely passing in 2008. This music is so full of positive energy – I’m sure it was incredible to see in person. —Tony Peters