December 12, 2023

Jeff Healey

There’s an awful lot of talk about tone and technique but talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. One guitarist who never let anything get in the way of his playing is Jeff Healey, a blind but immensely talented and unique guitarist who played the guitar whilst it lay across his lap.

He lost his sight to eye cancer when he was a year old and was given his first guitar two years later. At a school for the blind, he was shown how to play the guitar the usual way but found it felt more comfortable on his lap. Among the first to recognise his talent was Albert Collins, one of blues music’s elder statesmen, who became his first champion and invited him to share the stage at a show in Toronto. Before he was out of his teens he had also played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and B. B. King. Jeff was also a highly talented trumpet player and a hot jazz afficianado releasing a series of jazz albums and amassing a collection of over 30,000 78rpm records.


Healey’s literally hands-on approach to the guitar gave him an unsurpassable level of attack & sustain rivalling that of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan which he combined with an absolutely devastating high octane thumb fretting technique and soaring string bends. I saw Jeff in the early 90`s in London and the performance was absolutely mesmerising, highly physical and intensely emotional.

If you’re struggling to find inspiration and the practice routine or lessons are getting you down perhaps try doing it with your eyes shut – sitting down is optional, unless you`re on the toilet, or in the car…

I’ve added the George Harrison masterpiece “While my guitar gently weeps” below because it affords some close up shots of Jeff’s hands in action. Sadly the cancer that robbed Jeff of his sight caught up with him in March 2008 and ended his life.


Jake Edwards

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