Jeff Healey on playing a bar-band guitarist in Roadhouse and “marvellous” star Patrick Swayze

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 1, 1988

By Steve Newton

Patrick Swayze may be one of the sexiest movie stars around today, but he can’t play mean blues guitar. Jeff Healey might not be your typical matinee idol, but he can play mean blues guitar–as anyone at the Town Pump will discover this weekend (July 1 and 2). Put the two of them together in a juke-joint movie called Roadhouse and you might be on to something. And it could be something big!

As it turns out, noted record producer Jimmy Iovine has done just that. After Healey’s band signed with Arista Records last December, they sent Iovine the video for their song “See the Light”, in the hopes that he would want to produce their debut album. About that same time, Iovine had received a script for Roadhouse, the soundtrack of which he was going to produce. As Healey explained on the line from L.A last week, that’s when his connection to the film first took shape.

“[Jimmy] only had to look to about the eighth page of this script to find a description of the band–which is a  blues-rock band with a young, blind guitarist who plays flat on his lap. We thought it was quite a coincidence till we found out that the writer is from Toronto and had seen us. So everybody figured that they might as well get the same band that was used as the script model to be in the picture. And that’s what happened.”

As well as playing the familiar part of a blind, sitdown blues guitarist (which he is), Healey also has a major speaking role in the film as bouncer Swayze’s good buddy. Jeff says the star of Dirty Dancing is far from your typical big-shot movie star, even considering the fame that came with that film’s enormous success.

“He’s a marvellous individual,” says Healey. “He really is. And seeing as he’s just recently become a real star-type figure, he still doesn’t quite know how to relate to it all. He’s a very easy person to work with, and very humble. Just a nice guy, overall.”

Healey, who had done some stage acting in school, and a little bit of TV work, says that his band (which includes bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen) plays about 12 songs in the course of the movie, and will probably have five of those used on the film’s soundtrack album. Although Healey’s band does one original song in the movie, a tune called “One Foot on the Gravel”, the majority of the songs are standards from the ’50s and ’60s.

“We’re supposed to be a bar band,” he points out, “and bar bands have to play the old favourites.”

At the same time as they were shooting the movie in L.A., Healey and the boys were recording their own album as well. Because Iovine had to go off to produce an album by a band called U2, Greg Ladanyi (Toto, the Church, David Lindley) was called in as producer.

Ever the modest sort, Healey plays down his role as guitar wizard on the album, which is expected to be out sometime in August.

“It’s not made to be a guitar-playing album,” he says, “although every song has a guitar solo. It tends to be an album of as many categories as we can cover, from out-and-out rockers like ‘See the Light’ to ballads. Not Lionel Richie-style ballads, but that sort of thing, with a lot more kick to ’em.”

Unless you’ve had the opportunity see Jeff Healey play live at one of his previous Vancouver appearances–he was here during Expo and also played the Yale last year–you probably only know him from the video of “See the Light” that has received strong airplay on MuchMusic and the like. For the uninitiated, it’s a mind-boggling showcase of Healey’s unconventional playing style, which includes using his left thumb like a fifth finger on the fretboard. On the video, he also stands up and plays with his teeth. His unique style and raunchy sound bring Jimi Hendrix to mind, but Healey says Jimi wasn’t that big an influence.

“I like a lot of players,” he says, “even outside of guitar players. I like very good instrumentalists that I can get ideas from. But mostly I just stumble across things and have no idea where they came from. I just play.”

Just seeing Healey play is one of the greatest joys blues-rock fans can experience nowadays. Fortunately–even with the lucky break he got doing Roadhouse–he doesn’t plan to shelve his guitar in favor of making movies.

“Not for a long time, anyway,” he says. “I mean, we’re not in the movie business. We took the part because it’s us, you know?”

 

To hear the audio of my 1988 interview with Jeff Healey subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 200 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
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Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
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Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
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Eric Johnson, 2001
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Steve Vai, 1990
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Michael Schenker, 1992
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Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
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Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
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Uli Jon Roth, 2016
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….with hundreds more to come

 

 

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