Sunday, March 09, 2008

LAZY SUNDAY #18: JEFF HEALEY


In the late 1980's I was head writer on a CBS television series called "Adderly". It was a mystery-adventure hour following the exploits of an espionage agent who'd lost the use of one hand and although relegated to low level duties always found a way to get back into the thick of the action.

Among Adderly's character traits was a constant desire to prove he wasn't washed up; that he could still do things with one hand that most men can't do with two. So every week we had to illustrate a new skill he'd acquired, sometimes working it into action or plot turns later in the episode.

That skill might have been something as simple as tying a shoelace one handed or as complicated as breaking down and reloading an AK-47.

Whatever I came up with, our star, Winston Reckert, a terrific Canadian actor, would spend hours perfecting so it could be performed flawlessly in a single take. Because to make these moments work, the audience could never feel we were achieving what they witnessed through edits or other movie magic.

One night after work, Winston and I went into a Blues bar near the studio and encountered one of the most amazing musicians I've ever had the good fortune to hear.

He was a 19 or 20 year old kid who laid his guitar in his lap to play it. His name was Jeff Healey and he was blind. He was also spectacularly talented. As Win and I marveled at a bottleneck Blues solo he played, we realized that we'd found a way for "Adderly" to play the guitar.

After the set, we introduced ourselves, discovering that Jeff exemplified many of the characteristics of our series hero. He was determined, unwilling to accept being marginalized and approached life with an invincible sense of humor. He volunteered to teach Win to play a bottleneck blues piece for the show and we decided he should appear as a guest star as well.

For reasons I've never fathomed, the producers and network resisted the idea and eventually killed it. Maybe it was because you didn't see a lot of people on television with disabilities 20 years ago. Maybe it was because musical interludes weren't as popular as they are today. In the end, "Adderly" played the piece Jeff taught him in a lengthy introspective dialogue scene with his teacher smiling proudly next to the camera.

A year later, Jeff starred with Patrick Swayze in "Roadhouse" and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff Healey passed away last Sunday at the ridiculously young age of 41; a victim of the cancer that stole his sight as an infant and that he courageously battled for the next four decades. He was a musician of awesome creativity and courage -- and a guy whose laugh was the most infectious in the world.

If you don't know Jeff's music, you should give it a listen. And if you do, here's one of those songs that you know made him so special.

Enjoy your Sunday.


4 comments:

Ken said...

Jim,
A nice tribute (and a fascinating personal anecdote) to a consummate artist who will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

c. miller

Marcus Mannkynd said...

Yea, loved him in "Road House." You and I may have something in common. You see, I was a teenage fake Zombie. I was in the band you toured with, if this is the same person I have read previously. My interest is in the pictures that I think you or a friend of yours took of our tour. If you are the same person who toured with the Fake Zombies from Texas, then looking forward to hearing from you.

MM

jimhenshaw said...

Same guy! Drop me an email...

seraphic@sympatico.ca

Jim