It is a heartfelt loss that artists such as Jeff Healey never live long enough to garner the praises of their peers and fans. Especially when they are poised on some brink of a comeback.
In Jeff's case, the pendulum seemed to turn. Disillusioned with the music industry years ago, he grew tired of relentless worldwide touring, record label constrictions and the general grind at large. He quit touring the world. Opening his own club, his sitting in at jam sessions might have stirred some motivation in him to perhaps give it another go.
But Healey never got the chance. Struck down by cancer, all we are left with is a legacy. And some of us just may feel cheated.
This journalist was at his debut performance at Toad's Place, New Haven, CT, 1988. Touring behind his groundbreaking debut See The Light, Healey lived up to the hype and then some. The club was packed and Healey just turned it inside out with a high voltage performance. And anyone else who was there 20 years ago didn't forget it either.
Now 20 years later, Ruf Records releases Healey's last work "Mess Of Blues" which is a fitting epitaph for a musician whose star was on the rise again.
The cd is cover tunes only. But it reflects Healey's personal interest and love in choosing material that gives his band freedom to jam.
Far from being an ego-maniac who wants to stand in the spotlight, Jeff lets his ego take the back seat so his other players can show off their input.
The real standout is keyboardist Dave Murphy. The New Orleans shadow hovers over the track "It's Only Money" giving it a Jerry Lee Louis barrel-house feel. Final track "Shake, Rattle and Roll" sticks fairly close to the Fats Domino spirit with it's 1950's sock hop beats.
That doesn't diminish Jeff's enthusiasm with his own playing. His rendition of Neil Young's "Hurricane" may not be feedback laden fodder, but it can still rock like a mother. There is a warm tribute to The Band with a laidback version of "The Weight." Healey's blues leads soar through "Sittin' On Top of The World" and smolder through the Freddy King classic "I'm Torn Down." The Hank Williams classic "Jambalya" cooks like Mardi Gras gumbo. Mel London's "Sugar Sweet" is a giddy dancer and good time rocker.
The liner notes written by Jeff reflect a man who had a renewed interest in his playing again. Though his battle with cancer continued for years, he never let it bother him and he never complained of the bad hand of cards he was dealt. He faced it courageously. That rock n roll orchestra just gets bigger somewhere in the skies.
Thanks Jeff. I owe ya one.