One of the real coups of Holger Peterson’s Stony Plain Records which is the subject of my Aural Robert column in the July issue of Stereophile was signing the great Canadian blues guitar player Jeff Healy to a deal late in Healy’s too short life to make both blues and jazz albums. For those who’d like to know more about this really extraordinary player Eagle Rock Entertainment has a new four disc multi-media set The Jeff Healy Band, Full Circle: The Live Anthology (3 CDs and a DVD) which documents the music of the late Jeff Healy, who lost his sight when he was one year old to retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eyes, and yet attained a measure of fame oddly enough through the muchlampooned 1989 Patrick Swayze film, Roadhouse in which he and his band played the house band.
Despite his Roadhousederived famehis best line in a film that revolved around Swayze’s karate kicks was “Oh man, it's a mean scene around here, man. There's blood on the floor of this joint every night.”Healy is best known outside the B movie community for his blistering electric blues guitar work, all played sitting down with the guitar on his lap, and his remarkably good singing. The video on the DVD (the music from this show is replicated on a CD which is Disc Two of this set) is from the 1991 edition of the St. Gallen Festival in Switzerland. The quality of the footage is good. The crowd is large and clearly digging Healy’s playing, at several points chanting “Awesome!, Awesome!, Awesome!” His longtime trio of drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman provide solid support throughout and Healy gives bravura performances of John Hiatt’s “Angel Eyes,” and “While My Guitar Gentle Weeps,” which was always one of the sharpest arrows in his musical quiver. Also on the film is a version of Z.Z. Top’s “Blue Jean Blues” another tune he routinely performed a stinging cover of.
Healy, who died in Toronto in March 2008 at 41 of lung cancer, sounds particularly inspired on Disc One (CD) of the set which is a 1989 performance from the Montreal Jazz Festival. Although there are problems with this recording the drums are WAY too prominent and Healy’s singing is buriedhe does a red hot version of another Hiatt tune, “Confidence Man” which became something of a hit for him thanks to its inclusion on the Roadhouse soundtrack. On that same soundtrack, he and his trio nailed a cover of Cream’s “White Room.”
The newest and best recorded part of this impressive set, a set that should satisfy all but the most fanatical Healy fans, is an inspired 1995 performance at the Hard Rock club in Toronto. This show rocks harder and includes a gorgeous, relaxed version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel” where he really stretches out as a guitar player and in a nod to the fact that Healy could always make pop tunes work, a convincing cover of the late Gerry Rafferty’s “Stuck In The Middle With You.”
As for the Stony Plain records, four of them, Last Call, Adventures in Jazzland, Among Friends and It’s Tight Like That are jazz records on which Healy also plays the trumpet. The Stony Plain DVD Beautiful Noise is a session where Healy, who was a huge 78 collectorhe had over 30,000 of themplays trad jazz. Songs from The Road and Mess of Blues the last of which was released a month after he died, are Healy playing electric blues. Overall, an unusual talent who departed entirely too soon.