Jeff Healey may be deceased but he’s about to receive a belated birthday present, a new studio album titled `Heal My Soul’ which will be released on Friday, March 25th, the date of what would have been his 50th birthday.
Culled from a batch of songs that Healey wrote between 1996 and 1998, the 12 tracks featured on ‘Heal My Soul’ were inexplicably rejected from his 2000 ‘Get Me Some’ which was recorded when his new label was pushing for a more melodic change of direction.
“Jeff was going through a lot of turmoil in his life both professionally and personally during this time and he tended to pour these emotions into his music,” noted Roger Costa, archivist and co-administer of Healey’s estate, set up to administer his business affairs and contracts after Healey passed away March 2nd 2008 at the age of 41 after a three year battle against sarcoma cancer. “During that two-year spell, Jeff wrote about 36 songs, 12 of which made on to ‘Get Me Some’ but the remainder, which he thought were much better, strangely didn’t make the cut and he kept them with him until he died.”
Inevitably, Stony Plain released three further recordings; the 2008 “Mess Of Blues, the 2009 `Songs From The Road’ and the 2010 ‘Last Call’ , Eagle Rock released two live albums plus a German live release . And after a little legal sparring with Eagle Rock, they agreed to licence the tracks for Costa’s team to take over and reshape the tracks into the finished article which is `Heal Thy Soul.’
“We wanted the finished tracks to sound timeless but not nostalgic,” noted Costa who’s friendship with Healey goes back to 1987, before the band had signed with Arista Records. “All of Jeff’s vocal and guitar performances were complete as were the bass tracks from former bassist Joe Rockman. Fresh drum tracks were supplied by experienced session drummer Dean Glover who knocked his percussion parts out of the park.”
With Costa’s Echo Sound Studios team of Paul Kehayas and Neil McDonald involved in reshaping the 12 tracks and Phil Demetro from the Lacquer Channel responsible for mastering the final compositions, Costa’s team has created a record Healey himself would have been proud of. From the blazing opening salvo of “Daze Of The Night”, to the melodic acoustic melody of “Baby Blue” and “All The Saints” and the traditional blues shuffle of his Albert Collins’ cover of “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot”, Healey has recorded a project that is reminiscent of his earlier classics like his 1988 “See The Light”, 1990 “Hell To Pay” and 1992 “Feel This”.
Stricked with Retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer at the age of one, Healey didn’t let his blindness prevent him from picking up his first guitar at the age of three. In his late teens, Healey frequented blues haunts like The Colonial Tavern, Grossman’s Tavern and The Brunswick where he impressed the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert Collins with his unique guitar style. Still, Canadian record companies passed on the youngster, one label going so far as to say the young, blind guitar stylist “needed a gimmick”?
It was U.S label, Arista Records which took a chance on Healey and soon he and bandmates Joe Rockman (bass) and Tom Stephen (drums) not only had a U.S release with “See The Light” but also a starring role in the Patrick Swayze movie, `Roadhouse’.
With hit songs like “Angel Eyes”, “I Think I Love You Too Much”, “Cruel Little Number” and his classic Beatles cover; “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which featured both George Harrison and
Jeff Lynne, and three hit albums (`See The Light’, ‘Hell To Pay’ and `Feel This’ between 1989-1992), Healey was enjoying global attention. However, things started to go pear shaped when Arista ended his contract after releasing “Cover To Cover” , a collection of Healey’s favourite covers in 1995.
Hounded by a series of business and personal problems, Healey didn’t release another record for five years but was constantly in the studio composing tracks, which are represented on his current recording. In 2000 he released “Get Me Some” on indie label Forte, “A title, Jeff hated,” according to Costa, “And a single, “I Tried” written by Diane Warren which was too melodic for Jeff’s style.”
Healey then began to pursue solo interests recording three solo records with his own Jazz Wizards band (Stony Plain Records) while pursuing his love of jazz music which culminated with him launching his own radio show on CIUT featuring music he played from his own extensive record collection. At the same time, Healey launched his own, mid-town Toronto nightclub, `Healeys’ which feature top live blues performers as well as regular appearances by himself with his new band.
Upon his death, Healey’s estate, head by his wife Cristie, were able to negotiate the tapes from Eagle Rock that culminated in “Heal My Soul”, a record that will be distributed in Canada on the Convexe label and globally through Mascot.
“It was a labour of love remixing and recording the tracks,” noted Costa. “Being in the studio, listening to Jeff playing again was a very emotional experience for all of us. There were times that we had to take a time out to compose ourselves. But we all believe the final result was well worth the effort,”
The release of “Heal My Soul” on Healey’s birthday marks the start of a number of activities to celebrate his 50th anniversary. Jazz FM is replaying Healey’s radio show each Wednesday and will execute a live broadcast on Friday featuring Healey’s jazz band. Healey has already been inducted into The Terry Fox Hall of Fame in 2009, had Toronto’s Woodford Park renamed after him in June 2011 and was inducted into Canada’s Hall Of Fame in 2014.
The estate launched a Jeff Healey website and face book page three years ago and Costa reports they already have 148,000 likes from fans around the world who are encouraged to submit bootleg videos or even tell their own anecdotes about Healey.
And as for future, releases? “Yes there is additional material and yes we are planning future releases,” notes Costa. “Our aim is to keep Jeff’s legacy alive so he will be considered as one of blues music’s all time great artists.”
Photo’s – Taras Kovaliv,Margaret Malandruccolo