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Jay Funk Dawg

Best Seat In The House: My Time in the Jeff Healey Band

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Just read the new book by drummer Tom Stephens called Best Seat In The House: My Time in the Jeff Healey Band while on vacation.  I couldn't put the book down.  There are incredible stories including a tale about getting his big break by meeting & playing with BB King at Expo '86 and a lot of anecdotes of tour antics by Jeff and the band. 

It's a classic story of the rise to fame and playing with the best musicians in the world.  The latter part of the book is about Jeff's transition from a rock icon to a club owner and jazz trumpeter.  Jeff Healey died on March 2, 2008 from sarcoma cancer at 41 years old.

I've been a big fan as a kid as he grew up in South Etobicoke and we would always hear stories that he jammed at local bars. I seen him play once in Halifax and it was without longtime drummer Tom Stephen who explains how his role as manager/drummer ended very poorly with Jeff.

 


Here's my favorite song:  check out the dual guitar solo at the end.

 

Anyone else have any thoughts on Jeff Healey? 

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That would be an interesting book indeed!

 

I was a big fan of Jeff and his band back in their heyday: The first time I heard the original cut of “See The Light” (as opposed to the more produced and heavier version on his ’88 debut) I was hooked. As most of you already know, the trio broke out during the brief blues revival of the mid to late '80s; I was initially hooked on his flashy chops and trademark (mostly) seated playing. When I moved to Toronto in the early ‘90s, I lost interest in Jeff’s blues-rock (and modern blues-rock in general), but a year or two before he died, I caught his jazz band at The Rex, and was thoroughly impressed by the group's old school ‘20s-‘30s swing, and especially Healey’s honest cornet ability and really impressive jazz guitar work. Using a fat old hollow-body, he wasn’t flashy (no fast hammer-ons and pull-offs); instead, he played a style in-tune with the genre, more reminiscent of Charlie Christian and others of his era. Jeff showed me another level of depth that I wasn’t expecting. Goddam brilliant musician.

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Saw him in a small dance bar in Moncton before he was signed; place didn't even have a stage.  There was maybe fifty, sixty people there.

I had never heard of him and was completely utterly blown away by the show.  Unfortunately, when he came out to shill his 7" single (See The Light) I was down to my last $3.  Beer or record...beer or record.  

You know which way I went.  

Damn...wish I still had that beer.

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I caught the late great Son Seals at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto, and Jeff joined him for a few songs. Son was in fine form throughout his gig, and Jeff tore it up. Both were gone not too long after the show. It was a thrill to be there. Speaking of Son, his stage banter and music were fun and really positive, which is truly amazing given his wife shot him in the face, had bad reconstructive surgery, lost his leg, and 13 of 14 of siblings died. 

Edited by Jaimoe

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I had the incredible good fortune to see Jeff sit in at Grossmans Wednesday night jam's many times and he is without question the best blues guitarist I've ever seen. Watching him and other Toronto guitar great Philip Sayce jam was a master class in guitar. Absolutely unbelievable tone and emotion in his playing. Also lucky enough to see his jazz wizards at Healy's and they too were amazing. I was really saddened when he passed but so grateful I had the chance to see him live many times in small clubs like grossmans and his.

Thanks for recommendation Jay, will def be picking up that book.

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Saw Jeff many times, always blew me away. One time at Maple Leaf Gardens - Allman Brothers (1990 or 91 - Seven Turns tour) with Little Feat opening. Jeff came out with Dickie and Warren (I believe) and played with Little Feat for their encore. Dixie Chicken if my memory serves me right. So much guitar awesomeness.

I remember seeing Alvin Youngblood Hart at the Horseshoe, and after his first set I turned to go to the bar and walked right into Jeff - literally, face first into his chest. He was a lot bigger of a guy then I would have guessed. Got to chat it up with him and his wife, bought them a beer and we talked about blues music for most of the set break. Amazing talent, and really nice guy that's for sure.

Thanks for the heads up on the book, looks like a good read.

Edited by Esau.
Horseshoe, not Elmo

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Great stories Greg. It was 1991, and I was there, but have only vague recollection of any of it. It wasn't the Seven Turns tour, but the Shades tour. I know Andre/Booche was there with Pete Allen, sitting/standing not far from me on the floor (I was going to Ryerson, so we got our tickets separately). My brain is racing in trying to recall Little Feat and Jeff, but the Allmans were really playing well. 

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You're right about which album tour it was. Shades was released in July 91, and the show was in the November. One set was electric, and the other acoustic. The acoustic set had tracks from Shades and Seven Turns. Also Jeff came out for Apolitical Blues according to setlist.fm and Feat-base says the same. Though neither mention Dickie and Warren, but I swear they came out during Dixie Chicken. I swore Jeff played on that too though. Perhaps my memory isn't serving me right after-all.

 

[edit to add]

Jeff and Warren played on Dixie Chicken according to the comment from 2002 at the bottom of page on the show here: https://www.allmanbrothersband.com/11&year=1991

 

Edited by Esau.

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Greg, I have zero recollection of the acoustic set. Maybe Andre will chime in at some point, although he looked three-sheets-to-the-wind at the show? Clearly I was.

 

I  have a funny and honest Healey story via my wife, that I've never really shared since I forgot about it. We caught Jeff's jazz band at The Rex (story above), and Vicki is 9-years younger than me, and didn't know much about him outside of knowing he played flashy guitar on his lap, along with his videos. So we are sitting there watching him play cornet, guitar, and interacting with his band and the audience, when she says to me: "Jeff is an odd duck."  I said: "What do you mean?" Vicki responds: "Just the way he looks around and moves." I said: "HE"S BLIND!" She goes: "He is?!!!"

Edited by Jaimoe

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November 28, 1991

huge snowstorm that night

drove my VW bus full of spun friends up to Lindsay after the show

starter was gone on my van, so had to bum start while sliding on all the snow

a guy plowing the parking lot saved me that night by plowing a strip, then pushing the VW with his snowplow blade on his truck

good times & great show

I used to live with Jeff's god mother (Mary) in Toronto, but never got to meet the man

Edited by bONES

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On 5/15/2019 at 7:42 AM, Jaimoe said:

he played a style in-tune with the genre, more reminiscent of Charlie Christian

Great to hear this! I gotta go listen to that stuff, Jeff's talents were next level!  The list of acts that he played with is incredible, I gotta find a list of it.   He was even best friends w/ SRV & BB King !!

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SRV said he was the future of guitar playing because he utilized 5 fingers. All this reminiscing is making me kinda sad about Jeff being gone but I love hearing everyone's stories and fond musical memories.

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I have hearing issues, for a variety of reasons, but one of them is having experienced said Jeff Healey's trio at Stages in Kingston 4ish times.My ears would ring for days.

One of the main musically visual memories that hits hard, for all the bands I have seen, was the bass player using the neck of his guitar to direct Jeff back to his seat after he would get so amped up he would fly off his chair and start jumping around like something out of Planet Of The Apes. 

None of that ever felt like a shtick.  It was beautifully intense.Jeff Healey opened the ideal of seeing as much live music as I could @foreverindebted

Edited by Booche

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14 hours ago, Booche said:

One of the main musically visual memories that hits hard, for all the bands I have seen, was the bass player using the neck of his guitar to direct Jeff back to his seat after he would get so amped up he would fly off his chair and start jumping around like something out of Planet Of The Apes. 

None of that ever felt like a shtick.  It was beautifully intense.

 

Well said. I kind of forgot about stuff like that. He did move around a lot at times. Band was always on it.

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Cool stuff JFD!!!!!!

Having said that I dont recall him jumping out of his chair when he joined Little Feat's Fatman In The Bathtub when they opened for The Allman Bros at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1993ish. Hell, I might even have the wrong song and I kinda feel like Dickey Betts came onstage but someone else on guitar did. Then again, I was blasted on'shrooms so who knows what really happened. 

I do know he used to do it with the trio because I saw it happen numerous times. When I think back to it I wonder how that bass player kept his groove going while also ensuring Jeff stayed safe. If it was me on bass we would all fall off the stage, including the drummer. 

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