Heal My Soul: The story of the great 'lost' Jeff Healey album.
There were times during the process, admits Jeff Healey's wife Cristie, when it felt like he was back. It could be an intimate vocal coming through the cans. Maybe an isolated harmony played back in the control room. Or an idiosyncratic swoop of guitar wizardry.
“For a period, at the beginning of this project,” she tells The Blues Magazine, “I actually couldn’t listen to some of this material, because it was too emotional. Some songs, it was like Jeff was sitting right there next to me. I couldn’t make it halfway through without bawling my eyes out...”
It’s a curious thing, but Jeff Healey has arguably never sounded more alive than on Heal My Soul. Released on March 25 through Provogue, this ‘lost’ album gathers 12 unreleased tracks, recorded by the guitarist as his world-conquering original band crumbled in the late 90s. On paper, it might smack of another odds-and-sods posthumous trolley dash through the vaults. On record, though, the music is so vital, so visceral, so of-the-moment, that you find yourself thinking: we’ve got to get this guy in for an interview.
Then reality bites. Because, of course, the cold, hard, ugly truth is that Jeff Healey died at the age of 41 on March 2, 2008, following a three-year fight with sarcoma cancer. It was the day that nobody quite believed would come, recalls Roger Costa, the late guitarist’s closest friend, co-administrator of his estate and executive producer of Heal My Soul. “He was a fighter. And with every single step of his illness, he was resilient to the extreme.”
He never traded on the sympathy vote, but Jeff Healey had been dealt the toughest of hands. Born in Toronto on March 25, 1966, he lost his sight at the age of one to the rare ocular cancer retinoblastoma, and spent his entire life with glass eyes. Undaunted, he patented a blazing guitar style perhaps best described as the bastard child of lap-steel, and from the late 80s, led his eponymous trio to Grammy nominations, millions of worldwide sales and collaborations with BB King, Eric Clapton, the Stones and all the rest.
“I first met Jeff in January of ’87, when they had just put out their first independent release,” remembers Costa. “A friend of mine dragged me out. Y’know, hyping him: ‘You’ve gotta see this guitar player.’ I remember being absolutely stunned. I was born in ’67, so I missed the Hendrixes and Creams. I’d never seen anything like it. The power and the passion, the material and theatrics. He was just smashing the crap out of his guitar. Y’know, stomping on it, playing it with his teeth, behind his head. Making a show of it.”
“It was fucking scary, man,” adds Walter Trout, who befriended Healey during his 80s Bluesbreakers tenure. “The way he played, laying the guitar on his lap and attacking the neck – nobody played like that. He had finesse, soul, energy. He was one of the all-time greats. He was in a class of his own.”