‘Evil and Here to Stay’ from ‘Feel This(Arista BMG 1992)

Welcome to the latest instalment of our Essential series.  Today we focus in on a specific album cut from the Jeff Healey Band’s third album, ‘Feel This’.  Although there are certainly other highlights, the song that merits ‘Essential’ status this time ’round is the back to basics, ‘Evil and Here to Stay‘ (the track was also released as a b-side to the German single for ‘Lost In Your Eyes‘).

Produced by studio vet Joe Hardy (ZZ Top, Steve Earle, Colin James, engineer at the legendary Stax studios…), this was the first album recorded at the band’s newly minted Forte Studios.   “Joe (Hardy) had a special chemistry that integrated very well with all of us – actually helping to push us to a higher performance plateau.Jeff Healey – Canadian Musician magazine, December 1992

Joining the band in the studio (and on tour) was renown Toronto keyboard player, Washington Savage.  

Sometimes things have to change,” Healey explained in December of ’92. “We’ve been going for seven years as a three-piece band. We wanted to add that keyboard element to the sound.” Savage (who passed away in 2009) would only be with the band for a brief period, but his playing added an undeniably fresh element to their performances during this period. In much the same way that the addition of guitarist Pat Rush (and later Philip Sayce) would free Jeff up on stage from having to concentrate on reinforcing the rhythm, Savage’s keyboards allowed Jeff to spread out and experiment a bit more within the structural confines of a song.

‘Feel This’ was an album whose mandate was to broaden and evolve the band’s sound – in part to try and shake the ‘blues/rock’ label that seemed to follow them no matter what they tried (the well intentioned inclusion of rap elements on ‘If You Can’t Feel Anything Else‘ – a cut that worked surprisingly well live – is the most extreme example). ‘Evil and Here to Stay’ however, stands in stark contrast, a firmly grounded heavy blues track, harkening back to the band’s earliest live performances.

The lick is a Willie Dixon thing turned upside down, but my opening lines – ‘I was born at midnight, I was up running by dawn’ – are really a rip-off of Jack Teagarden’s ‘Casanova’s Lament.’  But the whole blues improvisation thing is a borrowing process so what the hell.”  Jeff Healey – Guitar Player magazine, April 1993 …improvisation being a key element in much of Jeff’s playing. Much of this reflects back on Healey’s deep love and respect for the musical genius of Louis Armstrong. Jeff explains;

In many ways (Louis) Armstrong was and is the inventor of the whole improvisational game that has been picked up by instrumentalists from then on.  It just so happens that the rock ‘n’ roll music genre popularized the guitar as the front instrument.  People like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck realized what was missing in rock ‘n’ roll was improvisation and lots of it.  They capitalized on that whole improvisation medium through the guitar.  But it stems back to Armstrong’s complete concept of improvisation through a solo.  People before Armstrong improvised little breaks of a bar but very little – not full 32-bar solos.  The one thing that Armstrong did was show the correlation between his voice and his trumpet.  The two mirrored each other.  Take the trumpet away from Louis’ lips and he would probably sing the same phrase at that time.  It’s just the phrase that hit him which he was able to create either vocally or with the trumpet.  Out of my immense respect for Armstrong I would not want to say that I even come close to that sort of thing; but that mentality I can point to on the Feel This album in “Evil and Here to Stay,” which was a one-take solo.  I didn’t construct it or think too much about it.  It has bits that move around and use lots of notes and it has bits that stay on one note.  Or with the guitar you have the option of two or three notes at a time.”  Jeff Healey – Guitar magazine, April 1993

The playing is pure Healey, loose, but never sloppy; Jeff’s solo, all feel. His soulful voice adding emotional credence to lyrics that playfully border on cliché, while Washington’s keyboards fill the background with a wall of low-end sound, beefing up Jeff’s rhythm playing and giving Joe Rockman’s solid bass an extra kick. 

Definitely worth a fresh listen.

The studio version from ‘Feel This’:

A great live version from Germany in 1993: