Monday, March 1, 2010

Four Fabulous Teachers - #2: Jeff Healey

This blog post is contributed by the inspirational in his own right, Timmy Olmstead; musical producer/engineer, videographer, or, as he calls it, snazzeographicianado.  Oh, and can't forget that he is a professional baseball player in Brussels, Belgium.  A successful artist of the many varieties, as I see it, and a good friend.  Thanks Timmy.

I was only 13 years old, but I was already an accomplished musician; mesmerizing crowds after school by thrusting my shiny guitar behind my back, over my head, and through my legs with unmatched fury and precision, all the while never missing a note. This would usually come to an abrupt end with my Dad gently removing his over-sized stereo headphones from my slumbering dome, and whispering into my ear, "Timmy, supper's ready." I was infatuated with the idea of having Axl Rose's hair - if just for a day - and to be able to make a guit-box sing like the rock Gods I watched on TV. I tried, even with informal lessons from a generous neighbor, but the throbbing pain in my fingers was just too much to bear, and it wasn't to be...yet.

It took five years for the right influence to find me, and it found me like a speeding freight train finds a dump truck on its railroad tracks. Boom!!! A man named Stevie Ray Vaughan grabbed me by my musical throat, and shook the holy bananas out of me. I didn't know it at the time, but Stevie had passed away fours years previous to my musical awakening, err...shaking. I felt robbed, and I cried for a long, long time. But I had no idea that I'd be eternally grateful, not just for SRV, but for the countless number of other musicians I was about to discover through him - guitarists he had influenced, played with, and idolized himself.

I'm writing this to share one of those musicians with you, because his story is truly and profoundly inspirational. I swell with pride in knowing that we've played on the same tiny stage, where the patrons are so close you can feel them on top of you. It's so intimate that you can reach out and touch them. And this guitarist did; that's why he cherished this small but ultra energized cafe so much, taking time out of his world tours to wander into the middle of nowhere to feel this sensation - a considerably deeper connection with his audience. You see, he never saw the swarming bodies that were literally inches away from him, he could only feel them, only sense, or hear them. Retinoblastoma, a rare cancer, had taken his sight from him as a baby. His eyes were surgically removed, and he was given artificial replacements, but that didn't stop him from picking up a guitar at the age of three. I am writing about a true guitar hero, Jeff Healey. Without the use of his eyes, it was easier for him to play if he laid his guitar down flat on his lap, which is highly unorthodox for the rest of us, and makes the instrument much more difficult to play. His left hand moved swiftly up and down the fretboard; his fingers like a tarantula darting after its prey, as his right hand raged against nickel-plated strings with the fury and precision that I had once dreamt of. Jeff and Stevie were fortunate to get to play with one another in their all-too-short time with us.

Jeff passed away two years ago tomorrow, leaving behind a wife and two children, but his legacy, his endearing smile, and his music, will remain with us forever. I miss him dearly, but I take comfort in knowing that if you've slow danced at your senior prom or wedding within the past 20 years, you've undoubtedly experienced his love, his warmth, and of course, his "Angel Eyes."

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