A Conversation With ... Roger Costa re Jeff Healey

I fondly recall those anecdotes about concert pianist Glenn Gould up all night calling friends. Gould found it much easier to socialize through phone lines than face to face. Jeff Healey did both!

I enjoyed those unexpected dial-ups and conversations - none of it trivial – always about the music. We never got into politics or personal issues, only music speak about rare recordings, mastering – technical stuff – or inquiring if I had an opening on the Beaches Jazz Festival for his semi - trad band – the Jazz Wizards. I’d bug him and plead that he let me book his power guitar trio and he’d kindly shut me down, “this is what I’m doing now.”

Jeff was a force – a major player on the local scene which I think was of far greater interest to him than jetting around the planet. Healey painted this town in music. He was everywhere and heard everywhere. The bandstand was his living room and fascinating stuff occurred as the furniture got shoved around. Friends would drop in, a new song delivered, people crazy danced and Jeff would stomp that big rhythm foot.

March 25 marks Healey’s 50th birthday – a milestone. To celebrate the occasion, Convexe Entertainment/Universal Music are releasing Heal My Soul – the lost album of unheard recordings. The sides crackle with ripping guitar and lovingly restored audio. I spoke with Roger Costa, archivist/co-administrator of the Jeff Healey Estate - about the restoration process and celebratory marketing plans.

Bill King: Are you all set for the release?

Roger Costa: Yes and no. There’s still a ton of work to do but it’s been a great exciting process the whole way.

B.K: You’ve kept this under wraps - timing the release for his 50th birthday.

R.C: Yes, for sure. We wanted to do this for so long and it worked out that Jeff’s birthday was right around the corner. We decided to synch everything up to make it that much more special.

B.K: What do you mean by lost album?

R.C: All of this material was recorded in the same time period. It wasn’t an album on its own sitting there that had been finished waiting to be released. It was material intended for the same time period. Basically what happened is between 1996 and 1998 the band got together and started writing and recording stuff for what would have been their next album. It was the usual cycle of being on the road, off the road and record for a couple months put out a new album and go back on the road. Because of the issues going on in the business side and Jeff’s personal life, this ballooned into almost four years of writing and recording. There are approximately 36 songs recorded and put away and ultimately only twelve of those saw the light of day on an album called  Get Me Some in 2000. All these alternate tracks in my opinion are stronger than any of the material on Get Me Some and were sitting there gathering dust.

It’s the tracks in his own words, Jeff was really proud of. I remember him distinctly playing me “Daze of the Night” and “Baby Blue” a very, very rough draft of those songs early on and he was really happy with the work he did. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – it was amazing. And then, as these things go, there were a lot of fingers in the pie – poor decisions and unhappiness all around. A decision was made these weren’t the songs that were going to be used but in spite of all of that and as Jeff moved on with his career and his life after that time period – he kept copies of these recordings with him throughout, which I think was really telling.

B.K: What was the aggravation – the business dealings – being on the road too long?

R.C: All of the above. It was all more complicated than an easy answer. His business partnership was crumbling and at that point there was a lot of animosity all around. Being a self -managed band there were a lot of bad management decisions. You get to the point in your organisation where you don’t have people who are considered equals who can tell you when you are making bad choices and it’s a lot harder to gain perspective. They were very unhappy with their label at the time which was Arista which had seen them well through the first six years. They left the label and landed briefly on Atlantic with no material released. There was a lot of turmoil going on.

B.K: While listening I couldn’t get past comparing this to the Jimi Hendrix Experience – just full out 60’s like blowing sessions – blistering guitar lines and loose ensemble.

R.C: That was certainly what Jeff got behind. The guy would play at the drop of a hat. There are hundreds of stories worldwide people have shared either online or privately or even people in his band. No matter what country he was in, no matter what size of venue - 50,000 people in a stadium or 2,500 in a soft-seater in Amsterdam – the gig would be over and he’d grab somebody and go off on his own and look for the nearest jam. That’s where his heart was – it was in the playing.

What I think you are hearing as far as the guitar goes is all the crap that was going on personally and professionally with Jeff. It was just coming out through his guitar and voice. He was always a passionate player with an incredible voice but I’ve never heard him play the way he plays on these recordings.

B.K: That’s what caught my attention. Full throttle – all fire! What was the restoration process all about?

R.C: These recordings were taken down straight to the bone. I knew which songs we were looking for and which recorded takes in most cases and once we got the green light to go, we dove in and started pulling the tapes. They all had to be baked and transferred to digital. There are a couple surprises along the way – reference copies in the vault – “All the Saints” and “Temptation.” When we heard them – we were floored. “All the Saints” is beautiful.

The idea was to make these recordings sound not contemporary but timeless. We stripped back what dated veneer of effects was on these recordings – there wasn’t much. A lot of the drums on these recordings were place-holders; some electronic drums and some drums that were obviously kind of laid down by whoever was in the studio. Jeff would do that from time to time – lay down a drum track to play to. We had to replace most of the drums. We had a brilliant player and dear friend of ours Dean Glover who came in. He’s from Toronto and has been on the scene playing with different bands from blues to punk to country and been at it some 25 years.

B.K: I guess the biggest criticism in those days was the players playing alongside Jeff. People wanted to hear an all-star drum and bass section much like Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan carried with him, but Jeff stayed loyal to the players he began with.

R.C: For sure. I can agree with that. As far as your rhythm section goes, you are as strong as your weakest link. Joe Rockman plays bass on all these tracks except the last which is Jeff. We added in a slight amount of bass on “All the Saints.”

B.K: Universal distributing worldwide?

R.C: In Canada its Convexe Entertainment which is distributed by Universal Music and the Mascot Group has picked it up worldwide – which I think is distributed by Warner around the world.

B.K: Pretty excited?

R.C: It’s unreal at times. We’ve been talking about this off and on since the year Jeff passed away. It all began six or seven months after Jeff passed and the conversation started – wouldn’t it be great if we could share this with people because it’s so damn good.  We put together some tracks during quiet periods and noodle, then figure how we work it. There were a lot of legal hurdles that had to be cleared. Once that was done we sort of dove in and started figuring this stuff out.

My audio team were incredible – they are a company called Echosound Studiolab: Paul Kehayas & Neil McDonald and they did all the work for Super Duper Alice Cooper and work for Banger Films a lot. The album was mastered by one of the greats in this city Phil Demetro at Lacquer Channel. 

B.K: Vinyl too?

R.C: Vinyl as well! Bill, people throw this crap around all of the time but honestly – this was a labor of love – we just threw everything into it. We’d pop up harmony vocals on the console and every time we saw there was more than one vocal and we’d have to stop and marvel at how locked in they were and so perfect. Jeff was bang on with all of his vocals – just a joy!

B.K: I’m really impressed with the mixes, the sound – it’s now.

R.C: You would never know the drums were recorded fifteen years later.





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