Jeff Healey

Jeff Healey may be the only cat around who can play the prewar jazz of Louis Armstrong on the trumpet, and the heavy electric blues-rock of ZZ Top on the guitar. Norman Jeffrey Healey was born March 26, 1966 in Toronto, Canada, and lost his eyesight to disease at the age of one. He was playing guitar at three, but found it more comfortable to lay the guitar across his lap and fret over the fingerboard with his left hand in a manner that would lead to astoundingly fluid bends and vibrato. By 19, he was sharing stages with B.B. King, Albert Collins, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and had formed the Jeff Healey Band with bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephens. Their 1988 platinum-selling debut, See the Light, contained the number-five hit “Angel Eyes,” led to an appearance in and on the soundtrack of the Patrick Swayze flick Road House, and made Healey an overnight, if reluctant, sensation.

Four albums later, in 1996, the band went on hiatus, and then regrouped briefly in 2000 for a reunion album. Healy then tuned in to the trumpet, turned on his collection of 30,000-plus vintage records to host his My Kind of Jazz radio show in Toronto, and dropped out of the rock scene. It’s Tight Like That [Stony Plain], with Healey’s Jazz Wizards, features his fleet-fingered guitar licks, hot trumpet, and cool vocals on a selection of vintage classics.

You have phenomenal technique.

There are an awful lot of people with a hell of a lot of technique and no soul. I have been fortunate to at least have the soul behind what I’m doing, and more than most white, North American guitarists.

What is your gear with the Jazz Wizards?

A ’30s or ’40s Gibson L-12 arch top through a Fender Pro Junior, with DR strings gauged .012, .015, .022, .032, .042, and .052.

Do you still play “over the top”?

Yes. It was allegedly said by Stevie Ray Vaughan that my method would revolutionize the way guitar would be played. To date, I have only met one kid, in Mississippi, who plays with the guitar flat on his lap.

Why did you finally dissolve the Jeff Healey Band?

After the first two albums we, stayed together for business—not musical—reasons. It was a band created out of circumstance, and try as I might to flesh it out with extra musicians, it was not a good core band. But the last five years have been great! I have a blues-rock band and a jazz band that I play with at my club, Healey’s, where I am with good musicians, and I can be part of the band, instead of the frontman circus freak.

How do you feel about having been dubbed a “blues guitar hero”?

Ironically, I never had much experience collecting or playing the classic Chicago blues of the ’50s, and I don’t know much about it. Although I play guitar, I never considered myself a “guitar player.” At 40 years of age I have finally come to the realization that I’m a musicologist who happens to have a talent for playing music.