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They Shot, He Scored

They Shot, He Scored

The Life and Music of Eldon Rathburn
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Listen Up!

Listen Up!

Recording Music with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, U2, R.E.M., The Tragically Hip, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Waits...
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Chapter 25

 

TOM WAITS

 

In January of 2002 Andy Kaulkin, the head of Anti Records called me. He was a big fan of the Lucinda Williams album, and he’d pitched my name to Tom Waits for his next record. I was thrilled: I’d been a big fan of Tom’s “Bone Machine” album.

Andy wasn’t sure when Tom wanted to start, but said that Tom would call me. A year passed and I assumed they must have recorded with someone else. But in February of 2003 Tom finally called.

“Hey Mark,” he said in his low, gravelly voice. “I was wondering if you would be available to make my next record.”

I agreed right away.

“I understand that you produce a lot of records,” he continued. “I have the producing part covered by my wife Kathleen and me. Would it be possible for you to separate the production and the engineering part, then record and mix my record?”

I told him I actually did that a lot. I also told him where I was working—at The Paramour—and that we could record there if he liked. Tom said that although it sounded great, he liked to work close to home so he was with family. The studio that was closest to his home was more than two hours away and it would be a battle going back and forth every day. I suggested I do a studio installation somewhere nearer.

“Hmm … now that could be interesting,” he said.

He told me about an old schoolhouse that people rented for events. I flew into Oakland, rented a car, and drove up to a little town called Valley Ford, just north of San Francisco. It was about a twenty minute drive past Petaluma, and the town a short drive past Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock had filmed his 1963 horror film The Birds. What a creepy little fishing village that was: driving in I felt a chill in the air; it was windy and disturbing because the birds really do swarm there.

Tom was to meet me there at 2:00. There was just a little general store with a wooden porch and I imagined Tom showing up in a rusted out 50s pick-up. Cars came and went but not Tom. I was sitting on the wooden bench out front of the general store when a woman driving a black Audi with tinted windows pulled up. It sat there for a good fifteen minutes before the woman got out and walked over to the store. Just as she entered the building she looked over at me and asked, “You’re not Mark, are you?”

I told her I was but she continued on into the store, which I thought strange. When she came back out she said, “Tom said he wanted to talk to you.”

I explained that I had been waiting for him for an hour but he hadn’t shown up. She told me to come over to the car and so I walked with her. She opened the back door and there he was. I hadn’t been able to see him because of the blackened windows.

Tom Waits climbed out, dressed entirely in denim--what we in Canada call “The Canadian tuxedo.”

“Hey, Mark, it’s me, Tom. Sorry I’m late, I was working on a ‘preparation.’”

I didn’t know what that meant but told him it was fine.

We drove around the corner to the schoolhouse, a long wooden building with steps that led up to two double doors. There was a big old barn beside it and a big dirt parking lot in front. We walked in and it was still intact, complete with chalk boards and the alphabet hanging above them. It was just one big classroom, with girls’ and boys’ bathrooms. With the wooden flooring and fluorescent lighting and was all a bit stark. It did have windows along the front, and the possibility of good natural light.

I’d brought a few pieces of test gear like always: a voltage meter and the other a little cassette blaster that I hooked up to an acoustic guitar pickup to check the magnetic field. The voltage was 220 and the magnetic field was near perfect. Tom asked if I thought it would work, and I said I did. It was exactly the same size room as The Paramour. He said he’d talk to the custodian and to see if he could rent it for a couple months.

He wanted to play me some songs he’d been working on but had no way to play them because they were on a Tascam 4 track cassette machine. I suggested he come to L.A. for a day so we could listen to the songs, and I told him that would be able to mix them down so he could listen to them on a CD in his car.

He was enthusiastic. “Wow! That’s what I need.”

Tom and his wife Kathleen came to L.A. to work with me at The Paramour in March of 2003. I walked them around the property and they couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Tom pulled out his 4 track cassette recorder and I plugged it in. They were recordings that he had done in the bathroom of his house, late at night while everyone was sleeping. It sounded so animalistic--he had grunted into the mic and although it was distorted, the recording featured a nice overdrive. He had done beats with his mouth and then over dubbed pots and pans on top of them, boom chic clang. It was so bizarre -- but it was also great!

“When we make the record we will re-record it to get a bigger sound,” I said.

I mixed it all down so he had a reference, but they were mainly ideas for rhythm tracks, with no lyrics.

Tom had worked out a deal to work at the schoolhouse and we planned to start in April. He only wanted to work weekdays. I packed up all the studio gear, all the rugs and couches and loaded them into a 24-foot U-haul. I also took a Harley with me—a little 883 Sportster—so I would have a way to get around. The truck was packed to the gills, with the Harley-Sportster stuffed in the back so the door just closed. I left The Paramour at 5 am to beat traffic. It took a lot longer to get there because the truck would only go 55 mph and going through ‘The Grapevine,’ a 40-mile stretch of the Golden State Freeway, was incredibly slow. There is a gradual climb to the road and it’s famous for overheating cars and blowing head gaskets. I arrived in the early evening and Tom and his kids were there to help me unload the truck. I backed it up to the front entrance of the schoolhouse and pulled out the ramp. It only took an hour to unload everything. Tom said that we could start bringing over some of his instruments the next day.

They had booked me into a bed and breakfast just up the street, a musty old Victorian house. My room felt like it belonged in a doll house, with lots of frilly curtains and old wooden wardrobes. There was no TV or internet and the bathroom was up the hall. Being totally exhausted from the drive I crashed right away, but I woke up at four o’clock in the morning, and being wide awake with nothing to do I headed over to the schoolhouse to start the installation.

I had brought a Moroccan tent with me which I set up over the control room area and hung the walls of the tent over the front windows so no one could see inside. It was purple silk and combined with the rugs it felt like a Moroccan palace. I had everything all set up by nine that morning so I went back to the Bed and Breakfast to eat.

Tom arrived at the schoolhouse at noon. “Wow! I would have never imagined it to be this cool,” he exclaimed at the doorway. He called Kathleen and told her she needed to come over so he could show her.

Later on Tom said we needed to go to his house and pick up his gear while we had the big truck. There were green rolling hills out where he lived and it felt a little like being in Ireland. We arrived at a little treed area and then carried on down a winding road that led to a set of gates. They were like a metal sculpture with gardening tools welded to it, old shovels, garden scissors, and a pitch fork. Once the gates opened we drove down the lane to the house which looked more like a modern barn that had been converted into a house. There was a swimming pool that looked like a lagoon and a trampoline with cargo netting around it. The outside area was like an army training camp, with ropes that hung from the trees with more cargo netting for climbing, and old tire tubes stacked to climb through—it was definitely a kid’s paradise.

We went into Tom’s storage locker, which was bigger than a garage and looked like a half-finished studio. It was packed to the ceiling with all kinds of exotic instruments, old pianos, a steam Calliope, a wooden Marimba, African Kalimbas, and a double key Chamberlin. I was floored by the incredible things he had, and on the walls were black and white photos of him and Keith Richards. Tom said that Keith and James Brown were his heroes. We loaded the truck with all kinds of musical toys and went back to the schoolhouse to unload.

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The Never-Ending Present

The Never-Ending Present

The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip
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Day for Night

Jimmy McDonough: “Did you want destroy your audience as soon as you got it?”

Neil Young: “Turnover. Like in clubs where they turn over the audience. Did you ever notice that if the same audience stays, the second set usually isn’t as good as the first set? But if they turn the audience over, the second set could be better than the first set? Because with me that’s the way it is.”

--

Rock’n’roll should make you scared. It’d kinda what it does. Scared with the thrill of intoxication, of sexuality, of danger, of staring into either the darkest abyss or the most blinding light.

If you’re the money man, however, your greatest fear is that the record just won’t sell.

When Allan Gregg first heard Day for Night, he called Jake Gold. He told him, “Look, ‘Nautical Disaster’ is a radio hit. The rest is almost unlistenable. They’re not finished. They have to go back into the studio.” Gold brought this news to the band. It did not go over well. A meeting was called. “This is the finished record,” the band insisted. Then, being Canadian, they offered Gregg a gentle out: “We think it might be better to have you as a friend than as a manager.”

Gregg was ready for this news. He’d had a hell of a year, during which the Hip’s ascension was the only good thing going for him. In the fall of 1992, he led the failed referendum campaign in favour of the Charlottetown Accord. One year later, he was campaign manager for prime minister Kim Campbell’s election campaign, in which the governing Progressive Conservatives were driven to a fifth-place finish in the general election, threatening to wipe the founding political party of the country off the map. On top of that, he was surrounded by cancer: both his father and his best friend died of it, and his wife was diagnosed. He wasn’t totally happy with recent band decisions, either: they had gone to Australia and filmed a video for “At the Hundredth Meridian” that Gregg thought was a “fucking abomination.”

He was exhausted. So when the Tragically Hip dropped off a mysterious, murky album on his desk with no obvious singles, he was less than receptive. “Look,” he told them at the band meeting, “at the end of the day, your fucking name is on this record—not mine. If you can live with this shit, that’s up to you. But I won’t have any part of it.” Though he remained a financial partner with Jake Gold in the Management Trust, Gregg receded into the background and didn’t have any direct involvement with the Tragically Hip again.

Day For Night sold 300,000 copies in the first four days of its release on Sept. 6, 1994. It went on to sell 300,000 more. (Fully Completely, by comparison, took three months to sell its first 200,000 copies.) It spawned six radio singles and four videos. In February 1995, it allowed the band to launch the biggest-ever tour of Canada by a homegrown band, playing the arenas in ever major market, sometimes with multiple dates; it was a feat they would repeat two years later.

It was by no means a sure bet; Allan Gregg had every reason to be antsy. The Tragically Hip had gone dark. It’s right there in the title. They left the radio-ready ways of Fully Completely behind and made a sludgy record that was more Eric’s Trip than Tom Cochrane. They could have gone bright pop. They could have cashed in and gone grunge, playing catch-up with Pearl Jam. They could have wrapped themselves in the flag. They didn’t. Because of Fully Completely’s blockbuster status, the Hip found themselves in a position to indulge. For the first time in their career, they were not eager to please. It was time to roll the dice.

--

An artist’s first album after a massive success is always tricky. Do you try to climb the same mountain? Do you try to climb a similar mountain? Or do you try deep-sea diving instead? Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Prince’s Around the World in a Day. Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love. REM’s Automatic for the People. Nirvana’s In Utero. Radiohead’s Kid A. All those records rejected a formula that had reaped considerable commercial reward just a few years before, a formula that made all those artists household names. All those records were welcomed by a collective WTF, only to embraced as classics, some sooner than later.

The Hip didn’t necessarily know what they wanted, but they knew what they didn’t: a repeat of the Fully Completely experience. Downie had described the London studio where it was made as a “fairly sterile environment,” and that they “were lucky enough to pull a record out of it that we liked and had some sense of atmosphere. We vowed never to do that again.” They knew who they wanted to help them shake up their sound. The choice was obvious: Daniel Lanois, with whom they’d toured on the 1993 Another Roadside Attraction tour. His first two solo albums, Acadie and For the Beauty of Wynona, were Hip favourites. And, obviously, he’d made three of the biggest international records of the last 10 years: Peter Gabriel’s So and U2’s The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Not to mention Robbie Robertson’s solo album, the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon, Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy, and a slew of great Canadian new wave records in the early ’80s (Martha and the Muffins, Parachute Club, Luba), as well as his work with Brian Eno on ambient music. The biggest new rock band in Canada working with the country’s most internationally acclaimed producer: it seemed like a perfect fit.

Except that Lanois turned them down. But the Hip were also friendly with Lanois’s right-hand man, engineer Mark Howard, who was responsible for helping Lanois translate his ideas to tape, and also assisted in setting up studios in wonderfully weird parts of North America. It was Howard who, during the first Another Roadside Attraction, recorded the “Land” single in Calgary, featuring Midnight Oil, Crash Vegas, Lanois and the Hip. Watching him work was a revelation after Fully Completely, which Howard says, “was just a common way of making records. They hated it so much. When they saw how I made that song with them on the road, it opened their eyes to thinking, ‘Wow, we could make a whole record like this.’ ”

The Hip decided to go back to New Orleans and hire Howard as co-producer. After years under Lanois’s wing, this was his first production credit for a major client. Lanois wasn’t around; he and Howard had just finished setting up shop in a Mexican mountain cave. “The walls were all natural rock and there was a grass roof over it and it looked over the Sea of Cortez,” says Howard. After making that new studio functional, Howard flew back to New Orleans and started work on what would be Day For Night.

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The Organist

The Organist

Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind
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Leo Smith

A Biographical Sketch
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Best Seat in the House

Best Seat in the House

My Life in the Jeff Healey Band
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Chapter One

 

Somewhere between Foxboro and Boston, the bus began to rock from side to side.

I was an hour or so into a rum-induced sleep, head aching as the glare from the overhead lights pushed against my eyelids. For the Jeff Healey Band, it was just another night, rolling down the highway. But something about the feel of the tour bus, shaking and shifting lanes on that icy patch of I-95, told me that, even in the twisted world of rock ’n’ roll, this wasn’t normal.

Falling out of my bunk, I looked down toward the front of the vehicle. We’d had problems with our drivers before. Once, in the middle of a blizzard, I caught one guy doing lines of coke on the steering wheel. I understood his thought process; after hanging out with rock stars, he believed that he could get just as screwed up, even if it meant killing the whole band — and himself. Now I saw his replacement sitting over on the wrong side of the bus.

“What the hell is he doing there?” I wondered, still partially asleep. “Are we still in England?”

Through the fog, I heard the driver’s voice speaking in a soothing Texas drawl: “That’s good. Just hold her steady. You’re doing great. Really good, Jeff.”

Jeff?

Jeff Healey was the centerpiece of our band, the best blues guitarist in the world, a man who could match — and sometimes outclass — Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton by sitting down, opening the case of his Jackson doubleneck on his lap, and stretching his big fingers over the strings.

He also happened to be blind.

Strangely, at that moment, I wasn’t too worried about Jeff’s disability — my bigger concern was whether he’d been drinking or not. Either way, it was my job to put out the fire. Not only was I the Jeff Healey Band’s drummer. I was the comanager. When shit happened — and a blind guy driving a 20-ton bus would definitely qualify as shit happening — the grown-ups expected me to fix the problem.

Even if, in some instances, Tom Stephen was the reason for the problem in the first place.

In this case, I quickly concluded, there was nothing I could do; I was along for the ride. When Jeff was at the wheel, both literally and figuratively, he yielded it to no one. From the moment he’d lost his vision — and his eyes — to retinoblastoma, a rare cancer that starts in the light-detecting cells of the retina, he feared nothing. Every discouraging diagnosis was taken as a challenge. At one point, I knew someone must have told him that he couldn’t drive the tour bus.

It was the wrong thing to say.

Because of my unique position in the band, Jeff was in the habit of defying me like a rebellious teenager. Whatever went wrong — with the record company, the tour schedule, even the airlines — always seemed to be my fault. But we looked at our band as a family and, when others came after us, no one was more loyal than Jeff.

Before we cracked the United States, we toured our native Canada from sea to sea, waking up to snowdrifts that came in through the windows and walls. But with each frigid stop, our reputation grew. During a long stretch in Vancouver, we settled in at a hotel attached to a nightclub complex that featured strippers during the day and rock ’n’ roll after dark. The manager was a lovely, petite Chinese woman who treated both the talent and the customers with grace and courtesy.

We all felt protective of her, particularly Jeff.

One night, we were jamming onstage, eying a group of soldiers boozing it up pretty good. They were getting loud and becoming a nuisance. But we’d had plenty of nights like that ourselves, and weren’t in a position to judge. Then one of the assholes crossed the line, grabbing the manager and tearing off the arm of her coat.

That was enough for me. I jumped over the bass drum and flew into the crowd. These guys must have seen me coming, because they grabbed me, pushed me up against a beer keg and started putting a pretty good whomping on me.

Suddenly, I heard Jeff’s voice, a few feet away. “Tom?” he yelled. “Tom, where are you?”

One of the soldiers had his hands around my neck. “I’m here,” I wheezed. “Right here.”

Jeff took a moment to gauge where all the players were standing. Then he lifted his cane and whacked my attacker.

Boom. Boom. Out go the lights. The soldier’s bros looked at him, then looked at Jeff twitching slightly, still waving his cane. The crowd went silent — pregnant pause — then broke into laughter and applause.

“Holy fuck,” somebody said.

The army had been taken out by a blind guy.

Jeff was able to get away with this because he honestly didn’t think of himself as handicapped. And sometimes the fans weren’t sure, either. He was big and handsome and jumped around all over the stage like a maniac. He wore a pair of artificial eyes and was very particular about the color. At one gig, a girl told him that he had beautiful eyes. After that, he had friends bring him to the guy who hand-painted his eyes in Toronto to ensure the shade remained consistent. The strategy worked. The girls all thought he was cute. And our music hit hard, so the rocker guys dug him, too.

Steve Lukather, a session musician who’s performed on more than fifteen hundred albums, was hanging out with the band after a show when Jeff decided to play a practical joke on him.

“Luke, come here,” Jeff began, calling Steve by his nickname. “I think I have something in my eye.”

When Steve bent down to check, Jeff began scratching his glass eye with his fingernail. “It traumatized me,” says Lukather, who’s best known for his work with the band Toto. “I tripped out. He was something else — as a man and a musician.

“I was touring with Edgar Winter — who had his sight issues himself — and I’d try to get to Jeff by banging on his hotel room door and running away. One time, he came out in his underwear and yelled, ‘Fuck you, Lukather. I can smell you.’”

We’d be jamming with the biggest names in the world, and Jeff always managed to grab the spotlight. And I mean the biggest names in the world. I remember drumming behind Jeff, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ron Wood. It was a kickass jam with exchanges of blistering solos. Jeff was in his zone, blowing everybody’s mind. The other musicians gathered around Jeff’s chair, watching him blast away. And as they came closer, I began counting because I knew what was coming.

Three, two, one . . .

Kaboom! Jeff exploded out of his chair, practically knocking the other guitarists over. It was if he’d gone bowling for rock stars and hit a perfect strike.

“His technique was original to him,” remembers Slash of Guns N’ Roses, “especially at that time. Playing the guitar flat on your lap with two hands on the fretboard was something no one had seen at that time. He was a true phenomenon.”

The first time we landed in L.A., the most beautiful women we’d ever seen were throwing themselves at Jeff. One was brilliant and came from a storied family in the music business. The bass player, Joe Rockman, and I were completely jealous. We shouldn’t have been. Jeff wanted nothing to do with her.

Since Jeff was so tactile, he liked a certain type of woman — one who, to put it delicately, he could reach around and feel. The wider the better. If you were some bony model or actress, you were out. If you were nice and round, you stood a pretty good chance.

To be fair, Jeff also demanded that his women be intelligent. A pretty face meant nothing to him; he needed that extra source of stimulation. And he looked at the world through music. So he expected them to share his love of jazz and blues and rock ’n’ roll.

Then again, he was as superficial as any other guy. Being voluptuous was crucial.

Shortly before a planned tour of Jamaica, I cautioned Jeff, “You know, this is going to be a little tough for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know what Jamaican men like? For the first time in your life, you’re going to have to fight for these girls.”

He never went.

You have to keep in mind that all three of us grew up never imagining that girls would be that interested in us. Then — almost overnight, it seemed — our live shows transformed us into lady killers. No transition. It just suddenly happened. The trick was to make sure that we didn’t pursue the same girls — though many of these girls had no issue with pursuing all three of us.

To this day, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that notion. I understand Jeff Healey. But what would some girl get out of bragging that she’d been with both Tom Stephen and Joe Rockman?

We weren’t prepared for any of this. In fact, at one point, I actually had to sit Jeff down and have a serious talk with him. “Jeff,” I emphasized, “you gotta wrap the rascal.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, Jeff, you should be using protection. Are you?”

“Tom, that’s none of your business. Let me look after me.”

“Hey, Jeff, I’m just saying. You don’t want to go home with something you didn’t go on the road with.”

He twisted his hair and bit his lip, like he usually did when he wasn’t happy with me. That was the end of the conversation.

But a few weeks later, while we were on tour in Australia, there was a heavy pounding on my door at about 3 a.m. I opened up to see all six feet and two inches of Jeff Healey done up in Aboriginal war paint, with a girl on each side of him. It seemed like a game of Aussie trick or treat. Which it actually was.

“Simple question, Jeff,” I began. “What the fuck do you want?”

Jeff was giggling like buffoon. “Tom,” he announced, “I’ve come to wrap the monster. Do you have what I want?”

That was part of the fun of rock ’n’ roll, all those unexpected moments. I also admit I enjoyed running into celebrities and having them treat me as a peer. Jeff, on the other hand, thought celebrity was bullshit. If you wanted to impress Jeff, you’d have to be a cool jazz cat. Or, at the very least, have a good story about playing music alongside a cool jazz cat. Then you were in. Jeff loved all the old-time blues players, like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins. He loved them and they loved him.

One night in Chicago, Jeff wanted to go to this famous blues bar on the Southside, where all the greats stopped when they were in town. But when we got in the cab, the driver warned us that we were heading to a pretty rough neighborhood.

“Do you boys really know where you’re going?” he asked. And then, just in case we didn’t understand subtlety, he added, “I don’t know if you noticed, but you boys are white.”

“I don’t know too much about that,” Jeff answered. “I’m blind. But I can tell you this. I like what I smell right now.”

We happened to be at a light, just beside a chili dog restaurant. Jeff ordered the driver to pull over to the curb.

“Are you guys crazy?”

Jeff and food could never be parted. In we went. The customers seemed genuinely concerned for us. A few asked if we were lost.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’m following him.”

They looked at Jeff, they looked at the cane, and they started to laugh.

No matter where you’re traveling in the world, humor’s a wonderful thing.

We paid for our chili dogs, returned to the cab and found our way to the club. Like the cab driver, the doorman seemed to question our logic.

“This is Jeff Healey,” I pointed out, “world-famous guitarist.” The doorman looked over at Jeff holding on to his cane and chomping on his hot dog.

“You boys know who we are?”

“That’s why we’re here.”

“Well, it’s up to you guys.”

We were hanging out, grooving to the band. Jeff couldn’t have been happier. He once told me that African-Americans were the “angels of the planet,” explaining, “The old jazz cats, the old blues cats, they created the foundation of everything we love and care about.”

Suddenly, Albert Collins himself walked in. He’d jammed with Jeff in the past, had witnessed his 15-minute version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and was intrigued to see us hanging out in the hood. Of course, once the crowd noticed the type of company we kept, the mood completely changed. Jeff was lost in the music. When he liked what he heard, he had a tendency to shake his hands and direct the band. The more he drank, the more he directed, and the more fun the night became.

By this point, Joe had also caught a cab to the bar and been introduced to Albert Collins — or, as we called him, “Mr. Collins.” We were all enjoying each other’s companionship when Collins blurted out, “Jeff, you do realize that you’re a Black man. And both of your boys with you, I think they’re Black men. At least, they have some big-ass Afros.”

That’s the benefit, I guess, of having a Jewish bass player and a Lebanese guy behind the drums.

When Collins stepped up to the front to perform, we were invited to join him. To sit in on a session featuring Jeff Healey and Albert Collins was truly a privilege. As I was playing, the regular drummer was giving me tips. “You’re not bad,” he said. “But one thing you’ve got to figure out is the rearview mirror.”

I looked at him, confused.

“You know, man. You gotta look in the rearview mirror. When you look in the rearview mirror, what you see behind you? That there’s the beat.”

As funny as it sounded, none of us ever forgot it. If we’d been having a bad night onstage, Jeff would shout, “Rearview mirror!” That got the point across — pull it back, man. Pull it back.

Jeff didn’t mind putting up a battle. He fought with me enough. The fights could be good-natured or vicious. He could slice you to pieces with a phrase. I’d be scrambling for a comeback and he’d hit me with something else. Once I stooped low enough to tell him to leave the music business and sell pencils on the street corner.

He burst into laughter. He knew he was a genius and was never insecure about that stuff. Nor was he awed by the giants of our industry. And that could drive me out of my mind. When we had the chance to open for the Rolling Stones, he acted completely indifferent, mumbling something about having to do his laundry the day of the proposed gig. He didn’t think they were that good — the same way he believed Hendrix was just “okay” without his stage show. I managed to convince him otherwise, and years later, he even admitted to me that the Stones were a crucial part of rock history. But before that he flat-out insulted Keith Richards’s guitar playing and got us booted off a potential Rolling Stones tour.

You’ll hear more about that later.

George Harrison and Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits both contributed songs to our second album. And although there was certainly a respect for all they’d accomplished, Jeff bruised some pretty big egos with his self-veneration. The same was true with Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun. That’s Clive, the founder of Arista Records, and Ahmet, the founder of Atlantic and chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Both guys couldn’t wait to sign Jeff Healey. And he eventually walked away from both labels. Why? Artistically, Jeff was always convinced that he was right.

Maybe he was. But, Jesus — Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun!

At the same time, Jeff was the greatest guy in the world, and the funniest. Late at night on the tour bus, he’d challenge everyone to that electronic game that involved shooting ducks off the screen. And he wanted to bet on it. Giving in to greed, we all took the dare. Who couldn’t beat a blind man at a video game? But Jeff always won, sometimes clipping us for hundreds of dollars.

“I know you’re a fuckin’ hustler,” I told him, “I’m just trying to figure out your system.”

“It’s the quacks,” he admitted. “I count the quacks. It’s a rotation. Every time, they quack, I know where the ducks are and knock them off.”

I still remember Jeff’s face grinning with satisfaction. I knew he couldn’t see me, but I felt that he was looking right into my eyes. When I think about moments like that, I can’t believe that a man with so much life — more life than the rest of us — could leave us so quickly.

I miss him, and thank him for giving me his musical mentorship, friendship — and all the stories you’re about to read here. Admittedly, some of the details may be shrouded by the haze of drugs and booze, the delirium of touring, the passage of time and the general bullshit of the music business. As best as I can tell, my recollections are true, although when I look at them objectively, they do seem pretty out there. But hey, welcome to rock ’n’ roll.

Let the jam begin.

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