If Jeff Healey’s capable hands—and feet and teeth—an electric guitar is more versatile than Popiel’s Pocket Fisherman. Granted, Healey’s six-string doesn’t contain a hidden bottle opener or fold down for easy travel, but he is able to make it wail, groan, screech, burp and sputter. He plays it with his shoe; he plays it behind his back. Most of all, like some improbable king of blues-rock zither, he plays it flat on his lap, his left hand fretting chords from above. Says his pal, guitar demigod Stevie Ray Vaughan: “Jeff is going to revolutionize the way the guitar can be played.”
The curious can see for themselves in the new movie Road House, in which actor Patrick Swayze plays a bar bouncer and Healey and his band males—bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen—appear as the house band. In addition they perform four songs on the sound-track album. Healey, 22, has also released an LP, See the Light, whose title is unintentionally ironic. The guitarist has been blind since losing both eyes to cancer when he was an infant but has never let it cramp his style. “I don’t feel any more impaired than the average idiot” he says.
Born in Toronto, Healey began developing his lap-top style at the age of 3, when his father, a fireman, gave him a guitar. “As a little kid, that was the most comfortable way to hold it,” he says. He began playing for money at 14 and went on to become a local guitar hero. His big break came in 1985 when blues great Albert Collins hauled him onstage during a Toronto concert for a three-way jam that included Vaughan. “Basically,” says Healey, “I didn’t believe what was happening.”
Offstage, Healey shares a Toronto apartment with girlfriend Kim Gallagher, 24, and his cherished collection of 9,000 albums, mostly jazz. “Louis Armstrong is my all-time favorite,” he says. Healey knows what he’ll do if his band strikes it rich. “Simple—blow it on records,” he says. Anything else? “Okay, maybe a little bit for my parents,” he adds with a grin, “so they can build a place for my records.”