A Tribute to eternal soul of Jeff Healey: Cristie Healey and Roger Costa talks about Jeff's legacy

"Believe in yourself and pursue your goals with passion and determination."

A Tribute to Jeff Healey :

Can you see the light of love shinin' from my heart?

Canadian guitar music icon, Jeff Healey, was born in Toronto on March 25, 1966. Blind from early childhood due to a rare form of eye cancer, Jeff Healey’s guitar playing virtuosity and soulful voice saw him rise to prominence in the entertainment world in the late 1980’s and ‘90’s selling millions of albums worldwide.

Getting his first guitar at the age of three, he developed a unique style of playing, placing the guitar flat on his lap and playing it like a lap steel, putting his hands over the fret board, giving him the flexibility of fretting with all five fingers and the power of pulling notes with the strength of his whole hand.

With the Jeff Healey Band, he would record five studio albums and contribute to the soundtrack of the cult classic film, Patrick Swayze’s ‘Road House’ (a film in which Jeff and the band were also featured).  In addition to countless recording sessions as a guitarist, trumpet player, singer and producer, Jeff also recorded three albums of the traditional jazz that he loved so much.  Just prior to his untimely passing, Jeff put the finishing touches on his first rock/blues album in nine years, the award winning ‘Mess of Blues’.

Over the years, Jeff’s reputation as a player and a person led him to perform and record with such incredible luminaries as Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Ian Gillan and many more. For over two decades, Jeff went on to enjoy both a successful rock/blues career and a wonderful jazz career as well.  In 2001 he opened the first of two nightclubs that would bear his name in his home town of Toronto.  Grammy nominee and Juno award winner, he was a radio personality, a jazz historian and world famous record collector (owning a collection of 1920’s and ‘30’s jazz 78s that would include 30,000 records). Norman Jeffrey "Jeff" Healey passed away on March 2nd, 2008 from cancer.  He was 41 years old.

On Friday 22nd February, inakustik will release a compilation of three rare and previously unreleased German concerts from the Canadian blues rock guitarist. Entitled "Jeff Healey - As The Years Go Passing By: Live in Germany 1989 - 1995 - 2000". The latter includes an extensive booklet featuring contributions from the participating musicians, plus rare photos.

Jeff’s widow, Cristie Healey and close friend for over 21 years Roger Costa, talks about Jeff Healey's legacy in music and our souls.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What MOTTO of Jeff Healey you would like to stay forever?
Cristie: Believe in yourself and pursue your goals with passion and determination.  Jeff was always encouraged by his loving parents to be independent.  They taught him that he could do anything he set his mind on doing.

Roger: No limits.  Jeff was raised by loving parents to believe that there were no limits to what he could accomplish.  …and for him, there were none.  It’s a tremendously courageous way to live.  For anyone.

How do you describe Jeff’s philosophy of life and music?
Cristie: Live life to the fullest with determination and never allow people to convince you that you are not capable.
This philosophy holds true with music as well. 

Roger: Everything has been done before.  It's how you put the pieces together that's important.  It’s the philosophy of improvisation and on some level, it runs through everything he ever performed on.

Tell me a few things about your meet with Jeff Healey?

Roger: Jeff and I met back in 1987. He was coming up on the local scene and a friend of mine insisted I had to see this "awesome guitar player".  I went with him to a local club where Jeff was playing all week.  My mind was completely blown. I went back every single night that week to watch him play.

I was an instant fan, and we became good friends very soon after.

Which memory from Jeff makes you smile?
Cristie: To remember a specific moment, there are so many.  The one thing that makes me smile is remembering his laugh.  He loved to laugh and the humor in life.

Roger: There is nothing specific… too many great memories.  But one thing that makes me smile is remembering the fact that we usually acted like complete idiots whenever we were together.  It was our default mode.  We spent a lot of time laughing…

Which is the most interesting period in Jeff’s life and career and which was the worst moment of his career?

Roger: There were many interesting times throughout Jeff’s career, from the height of the Jeff Healey Band to Jeff’s shift in focus to recording Jazz… The worst, in my opinion at least, was at end of Jeff Healey Band.  Jeff was left drained, tired and in serious need of a recharge… at the same time though, this period represented a new, very positive beginning for him.

Are there any memories from Jeff Healey’s recording time, gigs and jams, which you’d like to share with us?
Cristie: Jeff and his Jazz Wizards were recording live for radio at a theatre in Edmonton.  He and the saxophone player, Christopher Plock, were known for dancing around when the clarinet player was taking a solo.  Well, that night they extended their dancing into an impromptu type of tap solo of sorts.  It was quite hilarious and the audience absolutely loved it. They had never done anything like that before and never did anything like it since.

Roger: Again, it is difficult, but in the late 80’s, early 90’s, because we’d heard the Van Halen version in a club one night, we somehow got in the habit of ending our nights out (gigs, whatever – and usually when our friend Steve Ashton was around) with a rousing chorus of the song “Happy Trails”!  I’m certain we confused the hell out of some people, but man did we laugh…

What are you miss most nowadays from the late Jeff Healey?
Cristie: There are so many things I miss about Jeff. His warmth, humor and the calming affect of the rich tone of his voice when he spoke.  Sometimes, listening to an interview can be difficult because it’s as though he’s still here.

Roger: His friendship and sense of humor.

Why did you think that Jeff Healey’s music continues to generate such a devoted following?
Cristie: Music was a part of who Jeff really was. When he played, he gave part of him self, bringing life to the music.  That kind of life doesn’t fade and his fans know that.

Roger: There is honesty to much of it.  When Jeff solos he’s allowing a piece of himself to shine through…

For Jeff:  Happiness was… Peace on Mind was… Music was…      Radio was…. Blues was…. Jazz was….
Cristie: Happiness was music, family and laughter. Peace of Mind was making a difference in people’s lives and knowing his family and friends were okay. Music was part of the joy of life, part of his existence and a true way of expressing himself. Radio was a connection to the world, both past and present.

Roger: Happiness was family and friends.  Peace on Mind was home.  Music was everything   Blues was a facet of Jazz.  Jazz was his heart.

You had pretty interesting projects from the memorial concerts to the naming of Jeff Healey Park and Jeff’s site. Where did you get that idea?
Cristie: Jeff’s funeral needed to be private for family, close friends and colleagues. I felt it was very important to give the public, his fans, the opportunity to come together to pay their respects, celebrate his life…and say goodbye. By organizing the Memorial Concert ‘Jeff Healey, A Celebration”, this would allow just such an opportunity.

A very dear friend of Jeff’s, Rob Quail, was speaking with the city about finding a way to permanently remember Jeff.  He visited the ideas of renaming a park or laneway.  When I suggested the park Jeff played in as a child, we thought it would be a fitting way for the community to remember him.

Jeff’s website needed a fresh start to reconnect with his fans.  Thanks to the amazing ideas, creativity and amazing hard work of Roger Costa and Trista DeVries, we launched the new official jeffhealey.com in October of 2012.

You had pretty interesting project Jeff Healey: A Celebration.  Where did you get that idea? 

Roger: “Jeff Healey: A Celebration” was a pair of shows held in Toronto in May of 2008.  The idea was to bring as many of Jeff’s friends and colleagues together to celebrate his life and music and to give his fans a chance to pay their respects and celebrate with us.  We wanted to give Jeff a “proper sendoff”.  Kind of a joyous wake to laugh and cry and share our memories.  I was only one of many people who worked tirelessly over a six week period following Jeff’s passing to bring these shows together.  There was Jeff’s friend Rob Quail (a fellow show producer), band mates and friends Colin Bray (who organized the bulk of the second show – the Jazz celebration), Dave Murphy (Jeff’s keyboard player who acted as Musical Director for the Rock show), Randy Charlton (one time co-manager of the Jeff Healey Band, then eventually manager of Jeff’s club), Richard Flohil (Jeff’s Publicist), Jeff’s wife Cristie, and many more…

The first night was a Rock show and the second was Jazz to reflect his two great loves. So many wonderful performers and people behind the scenes gave their time and shared their love at those two shows.  At the Rock show alone we had over 50 musicians performing including such giants as Jack Bruce, Ian Gillan, Randy Bachman… It was a wonderful, bittersweet weekend.

He has played with many musicians. It must be hard, but would you try to give which meets have been the biggest experiences for him?

Cristie: Meeting Johnny Cash when he was just 11yrs old made Jeff literally speechless.  He was also quite close with BB King.  They played together many times and Mr. King referred to Jeff as his ‘Canadian Son’.

Roger: When he first met and played with Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1985 was probably one of the most influential in terms of giving his career a boost, but I know that one of his favorite people on earth to perform with was always B.B. King.

What characterize Jeff’s music?
Cristie: I would characterize Jeff’s music as being full of life.  His music says “Here I am, just doing my own thing in my own way” with passion.

What music listened for his pleasure? Do you remember his favorite music albums?

Cristie: Jeff loved 20’s and 30’s Traditional Jazz.  He started collecting 78rpm records when he was ten and amassed a collection close to 30,000.  To name his favorite albums would be difficult but his favorite artists of that era were Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby.

Roger: Jeff’s favorite musician of all time was Louis Armstrong.  Though Jeff listened to and enjoyed many kinds of music, his all-time favorite was traditional jazz of the 1920’s and 30’s.

What things have preferred to do in his spare time?

Cristie: Jeff was never one with nothing to do.  He loved playing his records from his Jazz collection and cataloguing them in his very unique way.  He also loved reading, as he was a great advocate for literacy and could probably read Braille faster than most sighted people could read regular printed books.  I think his most favorite time was with his family, playing cards, playing with his children and he loved listening to cartoons.

If was between us, what do you think he would tell us?

Cristie: Thank you for listening and live life to the fullest!

Roger: Love and laugh.

Which incident of his life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?
Cristie: Playing with his children.

The Official website of Jeff Healey

Cristie Healey: In the years since his passing, Jeff’s widow, Cristie, has been a tirelessly outspoken advocate for the preservation and illumination of Jeff Healey’s musical and personal legacy… from the memorial concerts to the naming of Jeff Healey Park and now this new project. This site and all it represents has been a true labour of love for her.

Roger Costa: This project has been a very personal one for Roger. Not only were he and Jeff close friends for over 21 years, he is also a fan. Roger was one of the producers of ‘Jeff Healey: A Celebration’ (the pair of memorial concerts held following Jeff’s passing) and acts as Archivist and Co-Administrator for Jeff’s Estate. He was also Jeff’s best man.

Daisy’s Eye Cancer Fund is a research foundation dedicated to helping children with retinoblastoma, the form of eye cancer which took Jeff’s sight as an infant. This wonderful organization has affected real change through its research throughout the years and is near and very dear to the Healey family.

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