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Blues-rock guitar virtuoso, early jazz historian, broadcasterCopyright © 2008
One of the most distinctive electric guitarists of his generation, Jeff Healey also turned his love and vast knowledge of early jazz into a broadcasting career and secondary musical track. He died of a lifelong battle with an inherited form of cancer at age 41.
Born with retino blastoma -- a rare form of genetically transferred cancer - Healey lost both eyes at the age of one. At three, he picked up his first guitar, laying it across his legs and fretting it upside down. A phenomenon in Toronto-area clubs in his early teens, Healey formed his first band at 17. An appearance in the 1989 Patrick Swayze film Road House won him widespread attention and a contract with Arista Records. His debut recording, See The Light, was nominated for a Grammy Award and produced the hit single "Angel Eyes," a John Hiatt song. Blessed with natural charisma, blond-haired good looks and a rough baritone voice, Healey was a popular blues-rock performer, working with artists ranging from B.B. King to George Harrison. He recorded two additional albums for Arista.
Away from the stage, Healey was developing a second, more-enduring, career as jazz historian and broadcaster. First at a Toronto campus radio station and then on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Healey played recordings from the 1920s and '30s from his collection of 30,000 78s. As his rock career wound down, and Healey began devoting more time to his family, he started a new band, Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards, in which he played both trumpet and acoustic guitar.
His jazz band recorded three albums of classic jazz covers, including Tight Like That, a live recording featuring fellow musicologist-musician Chris Barber. At the time of his death, he was about to release his first new blues-rock album, Mess Of Blues, in a number of years.
In the early 2000s, Healey started a new classic jazz program on Toronto's JAZZ-FM station. He also became an active supporter of young artists who caught his attention, and opened a jazz club bearing his name in downtown Toronto.
Early in 2006, he underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his legs and both lungs, and began an aggressive series of chemotherapy treatments.
He is survived by his wife Cristie, children Rachel, 13, and Derek, three, his parents and two sisters.