There are many ways of finding a new artist, especially in this internet age – it wasn’t always that easy. An example of one of the more unusual ways came about when, in 1988, I bought a guitar magazine for an article on Fender Stratocasters… a cover-mounted CD was included and was my first encounter with the 3-inch CD as well as the artist on it. I played the CD and listened as I began to read the magazine. Before I reached the accompanying editorial, I was stunned by the guitar skills on display, especially on the live recording of Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’. I was stunned even more to read that the artist had been blind before he was one and, with his first guitar at the age of 3, taught himself to play, sat down with his guitar across his lap.
The artist in question was, of course, Jeff Healey and the studio tracks were promoting his debut album, See The Light. Needless to say, I bought it as soon as it was released (and every other blues and rock album of Jeff’s up to his sad passing aged only 41 in 2008. I haven’t bought his jazz albums where he demonstrates similar skills on the trumpet.)
On playing the album, I was immediately struck by the uniqueness of his playing, the Stratocaster across his lap meant he could exert extraordinary power to his bends, sustain and hammers. The dexterity is amazing especially when you consider it is all done by feel, and feel is what he inserts into every chord, run and solo.
This album, like all of the others, is very blues based but is slathered in rock too and more than satisfies fans in both camps; one listens to the way he turns the John Hiatt penned ‘Confidence Man’ into a blistering slice of blues rock will convince. The title track and the instrumental ‘Hideaway’ further demonstrate his inherent talent as he makes his Strat sing with technical and innovative techniques but also, importantly, with feeling. ‘Blue Jean Blues’ shows how to do slow, deep and dramatic blues as he ranges across the neck with runs that speak as loudly as the words. The (sort of) famous song from this debut was the hit single, ‘Angel Eyes’… in my opinion the weakest track of the twelve but a guide as to the quality of the rest.
If you haven’t heard this too short-lived talent, do yourself a favour and buy this album or, if you do need further convincing, listen to his ingenious cover versions on the 1995 Cover to Cover album… the best version of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ available.