Welcome Beautiful People to our latest installment of ‘Jeff Healey Rarities‘! Here we spotlight various rare audio and video clips of Jeff (…sometimes along with some special guests).
Today we are taking a look at the Louis Armstrong penned track, ‘Back O’ Town Blues‘, taken from the 2002 indie release, Live At Healey’s: The Thursday Night Recordings.

Shortly after the turn of the most recent century, long brewing divisions withing the JHB, both business and creative, signaled the oncoming demise of the band. Jeff was growing tired of the music industry and was looking for a change of pace, one that he could dictate on his own terms. He turned his attentions to performing Traditional American Jazz… and to opening a nightclub.

Jeff Healey: “It’s meant to be a very special place of good music. I don’t care what type of music or how you want to classify it, the club is there for musicians who show integrity and people who want to come out to see such musicians.” (Arlene R. Weiss & Ward Meeker – Vintage Guitar Magazine)

Part of the great allure of having a club with his name on it was so that he’d have a place to play whenever he wanted. Jeff lived to make music, to jam. Not perform mind you, but to create with other musicians in the moment…

To that end (and of course to build a solid foundation for Healey’s) Thursdays were set up as Jeff’s nights. There would be featured performers and whenever Jeff was in town he would play, and then sit in with the night’s guest… They could be local, regional and oftentimes international players.

It was on just such a Thursday that the cut we’re looking at today was recorded.

A Louis Armstrong tune, originally recorded in 1946, ‘Back O’ Town Blues’ was a perfect cover for Jeff. Indeed he’d been performing it live on and off since the mid-80s and it highlighted Jeff’s deep love and respect for Louis Armstrong.


Louis Armstrong’s 1946 version


(this quote previously appeared in our ‘Evil And Here To Stay’ Essential entry, but it bears repeating…) “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…” Jeff Healey, Guitar Apr 1993

On this Thursday Night recording, Jeff is backed by an early version of the Healey’s House Band; Jerome Godboo on Harp, Henry De Clemente on Drums, Rod Phillips playing some tasty Organ and Ben Richardson (Jerome’s old bandmate in Toronto indie legends- The Phantoms) on Bass.

The resulting jam is over 7 1/2 minutes of pure blues perfection. Jeff’s playing is relaxed, effortless and endlessly emotive. You can feel the cigarette smoke sting your eyes as you hear the slight, late night rasp in his voice… Then there’s Jerome Godboo’s harp solo, it tells a story of its own, crying and bleeding in blues drenched pain.

But don’t take my word for it. Grab your drink of choice, get comfortable and push play… ~Rog

Jeff Healey – ‘Back O’ Town Blues’