I haven’t seen Brew Baker’s this packed since Roomful of Blues Played there two years ago–and this was a Wednesday night too! Part of the reason for the packed house was that this was Healey’s first Twin Cities show in several years. He hasn’t toured much the past couple of years. He also hasn’t released a new album in several years, so fans were hungry for their Jeff Healey fix.
From Toronto Canada, Jeff Healey (born March 25, 1966) lost his sight at the age of one, after developing eye cancer. He began playing guitar when he was three years old and had his own band, Blues Direction, when he was 15. He formed the Jeff Healey trio in 1985, with bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen (who are still with him today) and signed with Arista Records releasing their hugely successful 1988 debut album, See The Light, featuring the hit singles "Angel Eyes," and "Confidence Man." The band also gained additional exposure after appearing in the 1989 Patrick Swayze film, Road House, where they were called the Double Deuce Band.
Jeff Healey is a remarkable guitar player with a unique style. He usually sits with the guitar resting on his lap and he then uses his left hand, like he was playing a piano, to form his chords, hammer-on’s, pull-off’s, bends and single notes. This over-the-top style allows him to reach more notes at one time and gives him much more power on his wicked string bending. It also allows him to reach and play notes that you just can’t do using the convention left hand techniques—thus he gets some unusual and pretty amazing sounds from his guitar. Healey is a naturally gifted musician who is equally adept at playing jazz and rock as well as the blues. He also is an accomplished trumpet player with his own jazz radio show. Tonight’s show, however, was all blues with a little rock and no jazz or trumpet. Talking about his love of jazz music and playing the trumpet he said, "If I had to do it over again, I would probably try to excel on the trumpet. The guitar was what I had the most natural feel for, what I excelled at the fastest." He added that he loves music in general and is happy making music on any instrument.
Healey started out the show standing with the guitar resting on a stand in front of him. He later slung the guitar strap over his shoulder as he jumped around the stage, kicking up his leg, playing the guitar behind his neck and with his teeth, he even ended up on the floor one time playing the guitar while lying on his back. In spite of his abundant energy, his guitar playing was at times intricately complex and at other times raucously wild—but always very good.
He later sat down with the guitar resting in his lap playing songs like "Stuck In The Middle With You," "Angel Eyes," "Roadhouse," (which got a rousing cheer of appreciation and recognition), a good dose of classic electric blues songs and several new ones including "Macon, Georgia Blues." On "Macon, Georgia Blues," a very nice song by the way (that I look forward to hearing again on a new album), his second guitar player pulled out the 12-string guitar—adding a full, unique sound, nicely complementing Jeff’s guitar. During the song, "Roadhouse," we got to hear some pretty mean "twin" guitar duos with some impressive improvisation going on by Jeff. During the long, one-set show at Brew Baker’s, Healey kept up a lively banter with the audience and continued to change pace with a very entertaining mixture of folk, rock and blues. Throughout the show his roadie also kept a constant supply of beer in plastic cups that Jeff would finish off and then toss the empty cup out into the audience to the delight of most in the crowd (those not getting sprinkled with beer that is).
For his encore he played the George Harrison song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," (also found on his 1990 Hell to Pay album) and then we got an added treat when he called up Twin Cities’ own Shannon Curfman (and fellow Arista label mate) whom he had meet several years ago up in Fargo. They proceeded to play a song by The Band and ended up "cutting heads" with their guitars (each one trying to outdo the other). I think Shannon was a little in awe of Healey and in the end, as good as Shannon is, she was no match for Healey’s inspired guitar display. Give her a few years though…
This was an excellent show and I would definitely recommend anyone who has the opportunity to go see Jeff Healey perform.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Ray Stiles, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.