A familiar story, a tragic end. Boy meets blind virtuoso guitarist, they form a band and make platinum little ones and even a movie. Virtuoso has a roving ear (for other types of music) and boy loses virtuoso. There’s no happy ending. The virtuoso dies aged just 41, and the boy is told to stay away from the funeral and excluded from the memorial concert. There are two sides to any story, and this is one of them.
Tom Stephen wasn’t just The Jeff Healey Band’s drummer, he was their manager too (I once saw him at Healey Band gig, front of house at the Hammersmith Odeon – noticed by no-one else as far as I could see). Much of the book hinges on the contradictions this posed.
Stephen enthusiastically indulged in all the excesses that came his way as a band member once the band hit the big time. But as manager he also had to crack the whip and make the band get their shit together, He’s unstinting in his recognition of Healey’s talent, but clear that Jeff needed Stephen’s managerial energy and determination to bring his talent / their music to a wider audience.
Stephen freely acknowledges he could be hard to deal with, a little volatile and just an OK drummer. He argues that they balanced each other out – Healey was the talent, unwilling and disinterested in the commercial practicalities. Stephen was ready to crack heads and stick his foot in the door to get the band noticed. And noticed they were. Initially bonded together by a desire to record and break out from the Toronto music scene they grew apart, Healey resenting Stephen pushing for new records, Stephen despairing at Healey’s’ increasing unwillingness to make even small compromises in the interest of the band – for example burying contributions from George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Mark Knopfler so low on albums that they couldn’t be heard and nixing any further chance of collaborations.
For the most part, Stephen’s portrayal of Healey is respectful and full of brotherly love. He doesn’t shy away from illustrating the downside of Jeff’s headstrong nature, born out of refusing to let his blindness prevent him from doing anything (including driving the tour bus), as well as posessing quick wit that could become a biting and divisive. The book reminds me of the way Roger Daltrey describes his relationship with Townsend – total admiration of the talent but convinced and not afraid to say that it needed Daltrey’s motivation to make something of it.
Stephen says that since Healey’s death he’s become a pariah in Toronto music community, that he’s seen as having screwed a dying man out of the rights to his own music and continues to trade on Jeff’s name despite the opposition of the Healy estate. Only Stephen and Healey know what actually happened and Jeff isn’t around to comment but Stephen insists Healey offered him the rights so as to be free of the band and its debts despite Stephen and others (he names names) advising him not to, having wanted nothing to do with the band for some years.
Stephen is unapologetic for trying to make further money from the rights, determined not to end up like his father, pushed out of the business he created. The book of course is a further money making enterprise from the Healy Band legacy but for the most part he’s factual and even handed about what happened and his dealings with the Healey estate, although a notable loose end is why Healey Band bass player Joe Rockman (what a name eh?) cut all contact with Stephen after Healey’s death and for which no explanation is offered. Either way, it’s an unpleasant end to a sad story
Length of Read:Short
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
er … Jeff Healey’s music? Not to be confused with Jerry Shirley’s book of the same name about his time with Humble Pie
One thing you’ve learned
Jeff once backed Tom Jones, Jeff on trumpet as Tom belyted out “Delilah”