Jimmy Bowskill will always be thankful to the late Jeff Healey for giving him his first big break.
In 2001, then all of 11 years old, the Peterborough native was discovered playing blues guitar outside of Healey’s Bathurst-Queen West nightclub, hoping its owner would hear his playing and offer him an invite to play some blues.
“Somebody told us he had an open jam every Thursday, so my dad called the club and asked if we could come down to do some jamming,” Bowskill, now 17, recalls. “And the response was, “No, your 11-year-old son isn’t getting into the club.” But my parents and I went down anyway; I busked outside for a couple of hours. He came out and introduced himself and invited me to the club later for a jam.”
The Juno-nominated Bowskill will be among some 30 artists — including Randy Bachman, Colin James, Alannah Myles and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan — honouring Healey in tribute concerts this weekend. The first, tomorrow at the Sound Academy, will spotlight his blues and rock contributions. The second, on Sunday at Jeff Healey’s Roadhouse, will pay homage to his jazz career. Proceeds from both concerts will be donated to the Daisy’s Eye Cancer Fund and to The Healey Family Trust.
Healey first rose to prominence leading the Jeff Healey Band, achieving platinum-record success with its 1988 debut, See The Light. Over a six-album career, the group earned a Grammy nod, a Juno Award and appeared alongside Patrick Swayze in the film Road House.
During that period, he discovered and helped develop Amanda Marshall’s music career.
Healey also owned 30,000 78 rpm jazz recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, many of which he played on his own radio shows on CBC and what’s now JazzFM. As well, his clubs Healey’s and Jeff Healey’s Roadhouse on Blue Jays Way allowed the singer, lap-playing guitarist and sometime trumpeter to occasionally perform and lead jam sessions in both blues and jazz formats.
Prior to his passing on March 2 at age 41, Healey completed a blues-rock comeback of sorts called Mess Of Blues, released on April 22.
Healey had battled cancer since age one, when a rare form of retinal cancer known as Retinoblastoma claimed his eyesight.
“He never really complained about that,” says Bachman, who shared stages with Healey in recent years. “He was always a very happy, upbeat, wonderful smiling guy. It is truly a great loss.”