East Side Slim
Healey – Mess Of Blues
Ruf Records (world-wide except Canada)/Stony Plain
(in Canada), 2008
Jeff Healey burst onto the
World’s musical radar scope back in the late-1980s/early-1990s,
although he was a child musical prodigy of sorts,
having played his first gigs at 6 years of age.
He gained much acclaim due to his incredibly fast
and clean blues/rock playing, but also to the manner
in which he played, and always continued to play.
Healey played guitar sitting down, with his Strat
lying on his lap. He began playing this way as a
young man because of his being blind. Jeff lost
his sight as a baby due to a rare form of cancer,
which he battled for most of his short life. He
lost his battle to the disease on March 2nd, 2008.
Jeff was only 41 years old and was just 3 weeks
shy of reaching his 42nd birthday.
Jeff Healey was not confined
to playing blues/rock guitar. He also had a love
of traditional ‘20s/’30s jazz, and played
trumpet during his jazz work, in addition to jazz
guitar. Healey was also a noted record collector,
amassing a 78-rpm collection of more than 30,000
platters. If all of that weren’t enough, he
also operated a music club in Toronto, Canada, playing
in the house band behind some of his guest musicians.
With his hand-picked “best
bar band in the world” behind him, Jeff recorded
Mess Of Blues. The band is made up of Dan Noordermeer:
rhythm guitar & vocals; Dave Murphy: keyboards
& vocal on track 7; Al Webster: drums; and Alec
Fraser: bass, acoustic guitar & the vocal on
track 4. The songs included here are mostly covers,
and were chosen due to the fact that they have been
favorites of the band’s fans over the years.
Four of the ten tracks on the CD are live recordings,
two being recorded at a show in London, England,
and two others being recorded at Jeff’s Toronto
club. As the liner notes don’t distinguish
which tracks are which, I’ve made my best
attempt to determine which is which in the song
1. I’m Torn Down: (Sonny
Thompson) --This is the tune made famous by Freddie
King during his days with Federal Records. This
song is definitely a feature for Jeff’s guitar
work. If you’re a fan of the high-energy overdriven
guitar sound used throughout the CD then you’ll
like this song a lot. The piano is also featured
prominently here, played in a pounding roadhouse
style. It sounds like this is one of the two live
tracks recorded in London, England.
2. How Blue Can You Get:
(Leonard & Jane Feather) --Jeff could never
be accused of not playing enough guitar for his
fans. On this slow blues, Healey shows his dexterity
on the fret board, running off multi-note runs all
over the place. There’s organ work featured
on this track, and the organ player is given solo
space here alongside Jeff’s guitar work. In
fact, after each player gets to show off in solo
fashion, they come together soloing back-and-forth
against each other. This sounds like one of the
two live tracks cut at Jeff’s club in Toronto.
It’s a long one, coming in at just under 9
3. Sugar Sweet: (Mel London)
--You may be familiar with Muddy Water’s version
of this song. Well, this version sounds nothing
like it! Healey and the band transform it into a
contemporary up-tempo groover, making it just a
little bit funky. The organ is again featured prominently
in the mix, to great effect.
4. Jambalaya: (Hank Williams)
--This is indeed a take on the Hank Williams classic.
The vocal is provided by Jeff’s bass player,
Alec Fraser. Piano is featured heavily on this,
as Healey doesn’t seem to mind spreading the
solo work out to everyone. No egos here! Jambalaya
is usually a crowd favorite at live shows, and the
boys really do a great job on the song, but I’m
not really sure if we need too many more recorded
versions of the tune, at least for awhile.
5. The Weight: (Robbie Robertson)
--This isn’t too big a surprise to show up
on a CD of mostly covers by a Canadian guitar player
(Jeff is from the Toronto area.) The song was of
course made famous by The Band, and was written
by Robbie Robertson, who was the guitarist in The
Band. Robbie also happens to be from Canada. This
is a faithful version of the song, with wonderful
piano and organ work featured along with Jeff’s
6. Mess O’ Blues: (Doc
Pomus & Mort Shuman) --This a great old rhythm
& blues track, co-written by the great writer
Doc Pomus. It’s got an old ‘50s rock
and roll feel, swinging along gently on the bed
of Jerry Lee Lewis-styled piano. I liked the song
a lot, except for Jeff’s guitar solo. He played
it in this CDs typically heard overdriven style,
which just didn’t fit the song at all.
7. It’s Only Money:
(Dave Murphy) --This is a fast rock ‘n’
roller sung by keyboard player Dave Murphy. You
can sure hear that he’s studied Jerry Lee
Lewis and the old boogie players. There’s
nothing fancy here, just good old piano boogie rock
n roll. Oh, don’t worry about Jeff; he laid
a stinging solo line or two in here to let you know
8. Like A Hurricane: (Neil
Young & Steve Fiddle) --This sounds like it
may be the 2nd live track from Jeff’s Toronto
club that is included on this CD. This track was
written and made famous by yet another Canuck, Mr.
Neil Young. Like A Hurricane was performed by Neil
Young & Crazy Horse back in the day, so you
can imagine how that allows Jeff to dig into this
song with all the distortion and power he chooses
9. Sittin’ On Top Of
The World: (Lonnie Chatmon & Walter Vinson)
--Now, how old is this track? It’s probably
impossible to know who actually wrote it, but Chatmon
& Vinson recorded a very early, fairly famous
version of it as part of The Mississippi Sheiks.
This particular version may be the 2nd live London,
England track on the CD. The song definitely takes
the listener back into a slow-blues vibe, especially
early on in the track. The power and intensity increase
as the song moves along, with the keyboard and guitars
battling it out.
10. Shake, Rattle And Roll:
(Charles F. Calhoun) --We’ve got another rollicking
piano-driven song here, with a nice old r ‘n’
r feel. The guys tear into this old standard, having
a lot of fun while doing it. There are lots of solo
piano runs in the Jerry Lee style, and Jeff plays
some tasty solos in and around the piano work. This
is a nice track, sho’ nuff.
Originally intended to be a blues/rock tribute to
his fans who loved that aspect of Jeff’s music,
this CD instead ended up being a posthumous tribute
to Jeff Healey himself, as he passed away about
a month prior to it’s scheduled release date.
Jeff and his house “bar” band tore into
a batch of fan-favorite covers, having a pretty
good time themselves. If you’re a fan of Healey’s
blues/rock guitar styling from the 1990s you won’t
be disappointed by this CD. There’s loads
of high-speed, scorching, overdriven, heavy guitar
work here, the kind of which made Jeff’s reputation
mention should be made of the keyboard work (piano
and organ) provided by Dave Murphy. The man is an
amazing talent, and it wouldn’t be a stretch
to say that he might have stolen the show here.
He plays rollicking boogie piano runs, emotion-packed
organ work, and contributed one song to the album.
"East Side Slim"
Jeff’s vocals have never been his strongest
asset, and are serviceable here. They aren’t
bad at all, but they’re not going to knock
you out, either. All but one of the songs are covers,
with a couple being of the warhorse variety. The
songs are incredibly well played, as everyone in
Jeff’s band is a top-shelf musician. I’m
going to give this CD a 3.5 rating on the STLBluesometer
scale. While the piano work really knocked me out,
Jeff’s vocals and the song selection didn’t
click for me. If you really dig guitar, you will
likely enjoy this very much, and would probably
boost the rating quite a bit.