Sadly I only saw Jeff Healey live once, but man-o-man am I thankful for the memories I have of that night, some of which I present to you here:
It was way back before anyone had heard of Jeff Healey (myself included); certainly before he released his debut album, of that I am quite sure (evidence to follow). Unfortunately I didn’t include the date of the show on the note that is in my ticket-binder. As a matter of fact it is one of just a very few bar shows that I bothered to include in the binder (in this case it’s a tiny scrap of looseleaf that says simply: “Jeff Healey” and “Ziggy’s”), which I suppose indicates that I knew I had seen something quite special; special enough to be included in the ticket book, and on the same page as Rush, Nazareth, Triumph and others taboot.
Now, before I get to the show itself let me tell you I’ve done a lot of digging through the internet trying to figure out when this show happened and I tell you if the internet was all I had I’d have nothing. As a matter of fact I can’t find a shred of online evidence that Jeff Healey toured out east at any time during the ’80’s. What I do have is my binder. The little uninformative Jeff Healey scrap of paper is in the middle of a page of tickets that are dated between August 19th, 1986 (Huey Lewis and the News) and February 1st, 1988 (FM featuring Nash the Slash). Again, it’s in the middle of the page, so based on that I’m thinking the show probably happened in 1987. As for a particular date (of course I have to peg it down to a particular date) I’m going with an off-night in the fall. Any band driving out from Toronto is going to save the weekend plays for Halifax and who wants to tour in the dead of winter, right? Plus I still have a few empty dates on my ticket calendar – days when I’ve not attended any sort of event (there are thirty-eight remaining as of this writing*) – so I have selected (drumroll please…) October 1st, 1987 as the educated-guessed made up date for this show, which was a Thursday.
And now, like they say: on with the show:
I had been standing outside of the bike shop across the street from school having a smoke like I did every day before the morning bell when someone mentioned that there was some blind blues guitar player playing down at Ziggy’s that night. Moncton had a serious dearth of touring bar bands that were doing anything other than playing top-40 hits so I decided there and then that I was in. Who cares if I had never heard of the guy?
Unfortunately whoever had told me about the show didn’t come with me; I went alone. I was a “returning student” so even though I had barely started grade 11 at the time I was already legal drinking age, though none of my friends were (‘matter of fact I worked at a nightclub throughout grade 11 and 12).
Ziggy’s was a small-ish nightclub/dance bar on Moncton’s very drinky Main Street. Nowadays it’s a breakfast place but back then it was a loud clubby meet-market that was just a rung or two classier than the Cosmo Club down the street (at least they ended every night by playing Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust over the PA). It sure wasn’t a place to see live music. This was one of just two times I saw (or even heard of) live music happening in the place (the other was The Spoons a year or more later).
The bar had a small dancefloor that in this case served as the “GA floor”. Next to the dancefloor was a raised area that normally held a table and a few chairs but they had removed the railing and the furniture and that’s where the band was set up. I don’t remember what the cover charge was – probably about four or five bucks but whatever it was I paid it, grabbed a beer and parked myself on the dancefloor leaning up against the middle of “stage”.
When Jeff came out he sat in a chair less than three feet from my face and…well…he destroyed me. Of course I had never seen anyone play like that before, in a variety of ways. I had certainly never seen anyone hold a guitar on their lap that way, I’d never seen anyone use all five of their fingers on the fretboard, and of course I’d never seen anyone who played at that sort of level. Especially from literally inches away. My mind was blown completely off and I was reeling for the entire set.
I was a very new young guitar player at the time and I recall being absolutely astounded at how far he could bend his strings, but using his thumb for leverage it was no wonder! He played some originals and lots of covers. I recall him playing Voodoo Child (Slight Return) for sure; I knew the song already through Stevie Ray Vaughan. I think it was during that solo when Jeff leapt to his feet and kept shredding as he towered just above we in the front row. And – I’ll never forget it – the girl to my right took it as an opportunity to reach up and grab his…um…lemon…I’m talking about a full, targeted grasp. Unforgivable! Healey jumped back like he’d been bitten by a snake and without missing a note he quickly fell back into his chair where he stayed for the remainder of the set.
Man, it was such a great show.
Another cringe-worthy memory that shall never leave me: When the show was over Jeff and his rhythm section wandered through the crowd shaking hands and shilling their indie 7” single for See the Light (this is how I know their album – which came out in September of ’88 – had yet to be released). And though I did make a point of speaking with Jeff and shaking his hand I didn’t buy the single. There were two reasons for this: 1) I was a total autograph hound and I was too embarrassed to ask a blind person if they were able to sign their name, and more importantly 2) I was down to my last $3 (literally, I recall this like it was yesterday), which was the exact price of Healey’s record and the exact price of a third beer.
My friend Doug saw Jeff Healey right around this time in Ottawa. He has an autographed single and it drives me nuts to look at it.
However, my biggest takeaway from the night was being at the front of a sparse, mind-melting show with my jaw on the floor during the early days of one of the world’s greatest and most unique modern guitar players, the incomparable and incredible Jeff Healey (1966-2008).