Thursday, March 06, 2008

Road House Blues

I saw the movie Road House many years ago. To be honest, I only remember two things about it:
  1. It starred Patrick Swayze.
  2. It featured a young, talented, blind guitarist named Jeff Healey.

Last night, my brother mentioned that Swayze is suffering from pancreatic cancer. While his doctor states that he is "responding well to treatment thus far," the odds are against him. The American Cancer Society says that only 23% of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than a year.

In a morbid coincidence, I had some news to share with my brother. This week I have been mourning the loss of Jeff Healey, who died of cancer on Sunday at the too-young age of 41. Healey lost his eyes to a cancer called retinoblastoma when he was eight months old. He thought that was the end of it, but in 2005 he learned that retinoblastoma causes a blood mutation that makes the victim susceptible to other forms of cancer. Last year, he had cancerous tissue removed from his legs and lungs, but the disease continued unabated.

Healey began playing guitar at age three and performed his first gigs at age six. He had a distinctive style, sitting with the guitar flat across his lap. His first album, See The Light by the Jeff Healey Band, was by far his most popular. The first single, "Confidence Man," was a great rocker, but the ballad "Angel Eyes" became his biggest hit, peaking at number five on the Billboard charts (incidentally, John Hiatt wrote both songs). He released several more blues/rock albums which had progressively less success in the U.S.

Early jazz was Healey's true passion. In the new millennium, he released a series of early jazz-style records, playing trumpet and acoustic guitar in Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards. He also hosted jazz programs on Canadian radio featuring songs from his personal collection of more than 30,000 78 RPM records.

A new album returning to blues/rock is scheduled for release on April 22 in the U.S. For curious listeners, I recommend See The Light and/or The Very Best of the Jeff Healey Band (oddly, this UK import does not include "Angel Eyes" -- maybe it wasn't a hit there?).

No comments: