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Goodbye, Jeff Healey

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It’s 7:30 pm on Sunday evening. I’m sitting at my computer and the news has just come to me in an e-mail bulletin. Jeff Healey dies in a Toronto Hospital.

I’m blank. I can’t believe it. It simply can’t be true.

It takes a few minutes for this to process itself to my brain. I’m in something of a daze. I walk downstairs to tell my family but I just can’t say the words, and I don’t think they could possibly understand what I'm feeling. I walk back to my keyboard and start typing. It’s all I can think to do.

I could write an elegant article detailing his impressive career in spite of  the challenges he has faced with blindness and his frequent battles with cancer, but I fear I would be but a small faint voice in a vast chorus. There is so much I want to say about how much Jeff Healey’s music meant to me…yet mere words seem cheap.

What I want to express the most is that beyond being an amazing musician and artist with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, Jeff Healey was just such a decent human being. I think the only way I can fully explain that is by telling you a small, and perhaps in the grand scheme of things, somewhat insignificant story. A story about my 36th birthday, and the night I met Jeff Healey.

I’d been a fan of his from his earliest days of rockin’ blues to his recent prowess with boisterous hot jazz, but I had never had the opportunity to see him perform. Even though I only live an hour from Toronto, I never made into town to go to Healey’s (the original little basement blues venue that I still think was the best and most unpretentious bar in Toronto) to catch a set, nor had I ever seen him in concert. I’m a busy working mother of two young children, so I don’t get out of the cave much. But that year, my birthday was near the date of the fifth anniversary of his famed club, and I was determined to spend my 36th year rockin’ out to some live Jeff Healey blues.

I hesitate to keep telling you this story, because I don’t exactly come off sounding all that great, but I feel the need to express what a kind and considerate man he could be. Determined to catch the anniversary show, I e-mailed the club and phoned several times trying to secure tickets. Of course, night clubs don’t generally answer the phone during the day, and after a few days I was no closer to obtaining tickets. A little irritated and nervous that I would miss the show I sent (I’m ashamed to admit) a somewhat frivolous e-mail complaining about how I just wanted to celebrate my birthday watching Jeff Healey play and couldn’t anyone help me?

Two hours later, my telephone rang and a friendly, gentle and very familiar voice asked for me. I very nearly dropped the handset when the caller said, “Hello, Nathalie. This is Jeff Healey.” I was stunned, shocked, absolutely stupefied. I never expected him to get the message, much less take care of it personally.

But it was no joke, I recognized his voice, and it was indeed Jeff Healey. He apologized profusely that I was not attended to immediately and put me on the guest list for said evening. We spoke on the phone twice to make the arrangements. The show was, of course, fantastic. My big night out on the town was even better than I had hoped it would be.

By the end of the night as Jeff walked through the club greeting his fans and patrons, I approached him to thank him for his kindness and generosity. I didn’t even get the chance to finish introducing myself; I just got out the words “Hello Mr. Healey” before he immediately extended his hand to me and said, “Nathalie, I’m so glad you made it. How’s your big night out going?” I was once again utterly stunned. Just two brief phone calls weeks before and he recognized my voice and made me feel like some old friend he was thrilled to meet.

For my part, I froze. I felt sheepish and shy and had no idea what to say. I just blurted out a few words of gratitude and went back to my seat. I didn’t even think to ask him how he was feeling performing again so soon after surgery.

That is what made Jeff such a tremendous human being. Despite the fact that he was the great Jeff Healey, he was the most humble and kind soul you could hope to meet. Jeff, it seems, rarely thought of himself and his own discomforts. He was far more concerned for everyone else, even a selfish and silly fan who really wanted to see him play on her birthday.

Thank you, Jeff. These mere words can’t begin to encompass the gratitude I feel for all that you have given me through your guitar, your trumpet, your passionate voice, and your indescribable greatness of spirit and vast generosity. I know the memories will live on through the notes that you played and the words you sang, but for me the world is a somewhat diminished tonight. The stars are less bright and the air feels less free.

With all my heart I shall miss you. Good bye and thanks for the melodies and the memories.

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About Nathalie Vanderheyden

  • Ben

    I was at the Roadhouse on Saturday for a Helix concert. I can honestly say I’ve never been so impressed with a small venue ever. Usually when you goto a small venue, such as the many up on Queen West, they are small, dirty, and the staff can be incredibly rude. The Roadhouse was the complete opposite of such a stereotype. Everything there was done to receive the highest in customer satisfaction.

    Not only was he a fantastic musician, he knew how to make a quality venue too. May he RIP 🙁

  • This came as a shock. I cannot say that I am terribly familiar with his work, but always liked what I heard. I always loved his cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

  • Nathalie

    Thanks. Jeff was a class act and I always liked his cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” better than the original.

  • Joel

    RIP Jeff Healey, and thanks for all of your Jazz Wizards albums (and all the others)

  • Larry

    Another Bright Star in the Sky…..
    Imagine all the music going on up in heaven…..Jeff, George Harrison, Stevie Ray Vaughan…and alike.

    Keep on playing in our hearts.

  • Jeff Healey’s recording of my song Angel Eyes was a life changing experience. I was honored to have him share my music with the world. My prayers go out to his friends and family.

    Fred Koller
    Nashville Tn.

  • Nathalie

    A very beautiful song that he sang with great depth and love.

  • Thank-you for that story. I wrote this morning in my blog about him also. I feel the same way. He will be so missed.

  • We played a few shows together in the early 80’s starting at Larry’s Hideaway where Jeff opened for us as a CREAM tribute band,he eventually bacame the cream of the crop.


  • GWGM

    Jeff will be deeply missed, but his music will play on forever. What a bright star; He will never stop shining.


  • One of the true greats. He will be missed.

  • mike love

    was always a hero to me. we found out that my son has brain cancer a few hoursbefore i heard that jeff passed. i havn’t told my son yet but i plan to use jeff’s 40 year year battle with cancer and a successfull career as an insperation to try to uplift him.

  • Nathalie

    I’m so sorry to hear about your son. I hope he will be ok through this difficult time. My thoughts are with you.
    Jeff left us too soon, but he lived a very full life. He was an inspiration in so many ways.

  • Declan Webb

    never got the chance to see Jeff live but i watched the live in montreux dvd which i got as a present for christmas a couple of years ago and i had a lump in my throat what a genious and a gentleman today is a very sad day indeed for me will miss you thanks for all you gave us Declan in Dublin

  • PK

    Gnat – Your article honours him by remembering him for the quality of his character, not only the quality of his talent. Thank you for sharing that.

  • Mika

    Nice story, thanks for sharing.

  • Nice piece. For me Healey represented the rise of Canadian rock in the 80s and 90s – a Canadian invasion of sorts.

    RIP Jeff Healey.

  • Hey everyone, just wanted to pass along that I just posted a tribute to Jeff on my podcast, UC Radio. You can find it at A Tribute to Jeff Healey or my main site.

    His management gave me permission to play a number of his songs on the show. Please hit up atributetojeffhealey.com to leave your comments and thoughts on the forum there.

    Thank you,


  • Nathalie,

    Thanks for sharing that story. All I knew about Jeff was his song “Angel Eyes” until I read of his death, but I have since become a HUGE fan from reading things like this. You’re so lucky to have met him. I’m sure you’ll cherish that moment forever.

    And Angel Eyes is one of the best songs ever recorded.


  • Nathalie

    Thank you Lisa, and everyone for the nice comments. He was a truly gifted, kind and humble man. I’m glad I saw him perform a few times and had the brief chance to meet him.


  • Andy

    Here I am on a cool March 2009 day in Chicago listning to a Mess of the Blues and stumbling onto this page somehow. What a truly great story Natalie, and thanks for reaching into your heart of memories and sharing it with us blues fans. An experience and moment I know you won’t forget and one I’ll reflect upon every time I listen to Jeff play.