Essential Jeff Healey – Live At Grossman’s – 1994
Recorded at Grossman’s Tavern, Toronto 1994 (Released in 2011)
In early 1994, Jeff and the band gathered up their team and made their way back into the studio to record. They were coming off of a short break following the ‘Feel This‘ tour and they were ready to start demoing songs for what would become the next JHB release, ‘Cover To Cover’. Initially, it had been conceived as an album of cover songs meant to satisfy contractual obligations and appease the record company’s constant need for fresh material. The idea was, that freed from the process of writing new material, the band could concentrate on arrangements and on the performances themselves. The net result being a record that would take less time to make… Best of intentions, but things just weren’t gelling.
Pat Rush: “At the time, the band was not really getting along at all, and they were going in and doing all their parts separately, at different times. It was all just being pieced together after the fact.”
Jeff found himself lacking in inspiration, dreading the prospect of going in to record. It was really no surprise that by all accounts, the resulting sessions were less than stellar. Their label Arista, agreed…
PR: “The record company rejected pretty much everything the band was sending. Jeff told me that they’d do 10 songs, send them to the label and they would say ‘yeah’ to maybe one or two of them….”
A drastic shift in gears would be needed if the album was to be salvaged. After much debate, the decision was made. The band would step away from the studio and record live.
It would be a return to the band’s roots, still a cover album, but performed live off the floor with an audience. Thematically, it would echo the old days when the band was first starting out… Concept decided upon, there could be no more fitting a place to record than at Toronto’s legendary Grossman’s Tavern. The very club where the JHB was formed in November of 1985…
A vital part of the Toronto Blues scene for over seventy years, Grossman’s has played host to veterans and rookies alike. The poured stone floors, ancient wooden tables, constant smell of stale beer, and an unwavering commitment to local music created a unique atmosphere that has remained relatively unchanged across the decades.
Many a player cut their teeth on that tiny stage, eagerly plying their craft. Week in, week out, a constant stream of musicians from all walks of life would show up and try to win over their peers.
For a 19 year-old Jeff Healey, there was no place that felt more like home.
Joe Rockman: “Grossman’s featured a weekly Sunday Blues jam where musicians with the night off could hang out, play together and drink cheap beer.“
It was a boon for woodshedding and networking. Over the years, countless bands were created under that storied roof…
JR: “At that first jam in ’85… Jeff and I immediately locked in musically. Within a few seconds we had a flow.
There was an intense power, command and passion coming from stage right that I’d never encountered before. Jeff’s unorthodox technique, as mesmerizing as it was, was an afterthought. His creativity transcended that and immediately he challenged me more than anyone had before.
The JHB officially began the following day when Jeff called to confirm my interest in joining his band.“
8 ½ years later in 1994, lifted by the history and familiarity of the place, the band headed back to Grossman’s Tavern. Back to where it all began, to start work on the newly conceived live album…
At this point in the JHB’s career, the temporary shift away from larger venues and concert halls was a more than welcome distraction.
Jeff Healey: “We felt like we’d sort of gotten off track, so I wanted to do something different and fun and reminiscent of the days when we made very little money.” (Guitar Player, July 1995)
“The amazing, the incomparable Pat Rush! A man who every one of us in this city has taken a lesson or two from…” – Jeff Healey
Arguably, the best thing to come out of those Grossman’s shows was the addition of veteran guitar player Pat Rush to the band.
Jeff and Pat first met back in the late ‘80s, coincidentally, at Grossman’s. Pat was playing there one night with the McDonald/Rush Band (Mike McDonald) when in walked Jeff.
He showed up to the gig and introduced himself to Pat between songs. “Hi, I play a little guitar, can I sit in?” Unfamiliar with Jeff at this point, Pat looked over at Mike who was enthusiastically nodding, Yes, Yes! So Pat said ‘sure!’ and took a break so Jeff could join the band for some tunes.
PR: “Jeff did a few songs with Mike using my guitar and amp (which he cranked to ‘10’!) and he was just killer. I was watching him play and thinking to myself, ‘holy crap’!”
After the set, Jeff sat down with Pat and they chatted over drinks.
PR: “He knew all about me… said he’d been a fan of mine for some time, and that he’d learned a lot of guitar from listening to me play. Apparently he’d been to other gigs of mine, I just never met him before that day.”
Heading back to the stage, impressed by this baby faced guitar player, Pat dialed back the volume on his amp to a less strident level and checked the tuning on his guitar. Each strum brought with it a fresh assault of loud, flatulent, static. A quick inspection confirmed that in the few short songs Jeff played, he managed to blow out one of the speakers in Pat’s amp! (a scenario that would unintentionally play out more than once over the years, and across the world at various jams…)
PR: “So, that was my introduction to Jeff… (laughing)”
Over the next few years, Jeff and Pat would go on to form a friendship, running into each other at various gigs and jamming together from time to time.
JR: ”’Live At Grossman’s’ was a unique JHB record, and a catalyst for our first Quartet, featuring Pat Rush. Despite the expanded ‘Feel This’ band being put to rest (…check HERE for a fine example of that killer lineup ~Rog) , Jeff was continuing to lean towards a supplemented lineup beyond the original trio. He was growing tired of shouldering all fronting and guitar duties and wanted another player as a foil so he could lay back a bit.”
PR: “In 1994, Jeff called me up out of nowhere and said ‘Listen. We’re going to be doing this recording over a couple of nights at Grossman’s, and we want you to play with the band on the gig. I said great! What are you going to be playing? He said, ‘You know, a few covers. It’ll be a bunch of songs we’re doing for a record.’ And I said are you going to send me a tape or something… some demos so I can hear what you’re doing? He says, ‘Nope.’ And I said, what do you mean ‘nope’? And he said again, ‘Nope.’ Ok… So what do you want me to do? And Jeff said, ‘You just come in and do what you do man. Sort of… put the icing on the cake.’ And I was like… Wow.”
Grossman’s was the JHB’s first show with Pat. He would end up performing with Jeff on and off for the next 20 years…
JR: “Pat became an integral fourth member. On the record, Pat’s technical prowess and diversity on several guitars provided a rich atmosphere for Jeff to soar along with. His proficiency on lead guitar allowed them both to launch into unique double leads that transcended the “usual suspect” dual guitar teams. “
Jeff was known for being incredibly generous on stage, routinely giving solo spots to others. He loved the freedom of having talented players to perform with. He fed off of it and it made him push his own virtuosity even further.
JH: “In his younger days, Pat did a lot of support duty for the Allman Brothers… he learned a lot from Duane… We play very similarly, so if I want to lay back for a minute, Pat can step up without us missing a beat.” (Guitar Player, July 1995)
Jeff had a unique relationship on stage with all of his brilliant “other” guitarists, but with Pat, he arguably had the most intuitive. There was a constant give and take. Pat would routinely slide in under a guitar part of Jeff’s with a spot on harmony, which Jeff would then seize upon and run with in a whole new direction. Likewise, as exemplified on the Grossman’s album, Jeff would listen for cues in Pat’s playing and play to Pat’s lead.
JR: “Jeff relished not having to play as lead and rhythm guitar simultaneously at this stage in the Band’s career. His rhythms could be complex and varied which was a joy for me, but Pat knew how to create a solid rhythm which complimented all of us. I always enjoyed grooving with Pat while Jeff took off on a solo.
Both guitarists were feeling each other out and experimenting with improvisation. Who was doing what in any given moment wasn’t pre-planned or discussed. That in itself makes this record an important piece in the JHB’s history; foreshadowing the group’s progression, including the seamless improvisation and interplay between the two guitars…”
That Friday night in April of 1994, the small club was jammed to the rafters. The atmosphere was absolutely electric.
PR: “We were playing the middle slot each night between sets by The Phantoms, and it was unadvertised, unannounced… just word of mouth. We had a line up around the block to get in. The place was so packed, and the Comfort Sound 24-track unit was parked outside, recording…”
Local music legend Jerome Godboo (of The Phantoms) recalled a few years back, “Grossman’s was the place to be that one weekend in April 1994, when The Phantoms and The Jeff Healey Band recorded there live for two days.
Never mind standing room only – the place was so packed with people that they were squeezed together sitting on the floor! Grossman’s definitely pulsated with spectral energy and good vibes that entire weekend.”
PR: “It was the most nervous I ever was before a gig, ‘cause I didn’t know what we were going to play y’know? (chuckling)”
The set kicked off with an opener that was new to the band’s repertoire, but which they’d end up playing on and off during the next year or so.
PR: “We went in to do a soundcheck in the afternoon, and I thought we’d run through some of the stuff we’d be recording, and I asked Jeff and he said, ‘No. What we do need is though is an instrumental song to warm up and start the set with. Have you got any ideas?’ And there was this cool song Mike McDonald and I used to play called, ‘Comin’ Home Baby!’. I told him about that and he said, ‘Well, show us how it goes.’ So we learned the song in soundcheck (laughing) and played it that night!”
Written by Bob Dorough, (best known for his legendary ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ work) and Ben Tucker (of ‘Sunny’ fame), ‘Comin’ Home Baby!‘ is a full on, butt kicking letter of intent (…it was erroneously listed in the Grossman’s credits as the Ten Years After song, ‘I’m Going Home’). The band charges out of the gate, full throttle, all flex and power. Pat lays down the first scorching solo, then Jeff. The two trading licks back and forth egging each other on until the notes end up swirling around each other in a barely controlled guitar frenzy. One can’t help but smile at the raw energy of this shining performance.
Jeff is clearly in his element, jumping from strength to strength on this record. Another highlight on the opposite end of the spirited scale is a great rendition of the Albert King classic, ‘As The Years Go Passing By’. Breathtakingly emotive, Jeff’s solo is a textbook in the use of dynamics. Stunning.
JR: “I’m so familiar with Jeff’s astounding guitar playing that I don’t expect any surprises when I listen to our work. Nonetheless, Jeff always surprises me. This recorded version of “As The Years Go Passing By,” has Jeff’s screaming, soulful lead driving down to my bones. His playing transcends any listening I do as a band mate or co-producer. No other guitarist alive or deceased profoundly affects me the same way.”
Although an uncommon Beatles cover, ‘Yer Blues’ really works and makes complete sense in the context of Jeff’s playing.
JH: “This is a great piece of writing and I’ve always liked the version on The Plastic Ono Band’s ‘Live In Toronto’ album. It’s a very angry kind of tune, yet it’s slow to mid-tempo. A satisfying blues…”
Heavy and dark, the JHB’s live cover wrings every drop of angst and frustration out of John Lennon’s composition. Vocals and Guitar, thick with emotion, Jeff is metaphorically bleeding across the stage. Even when the tempo kicks up a notch, it still feels like a steamroller, relentless…
Pat’s cleaner slide sound serves as the perfect counterpoint to Jeff’s venomous guitar tone. His solo, hearkening back to the strongest parts of Pat’s Southern roots, dances effortlessly over the unabating snarl of Jeff’s rhythm guitar. As Pat digs in, Jeff’s shouts of enthusiasm can be heard off mic… Then it’s Jeff’s turn to cut loose, his solo all feel. Controlled chaos at its finest.
PR: “Yeah. The band was pretty damn shiny that night. “
“We’re going to bring up a long-time acquaintance and good friend, who’s gonna let out with some serious music for ya, Mr. Michael Pickett and his harp!” – Jeff Healey
The next two songs benefit from the addition of veteran Toronto player Michael Pickett on harp. Member of the seminal Blues band Whiskey Howl, Michael’s virtuosity has been a fixture on the Toronto music scene for decades.
His harmonica performance on ‘Live At Grossman’s’ is a driving force, tastefully pushing the band forward and adding a whole new dimension to the proceedings.
Jumping in on the killer Howlin’ Wolf cut, ‘Who’s Been Talking’, Michael brings the noise, kicking out a great solo then sliding in underneath, supporting the guitar wizardry that follows…
On ‘Crossroads’, Pat takes the first brilliant lead with Jeff happily moving to the support role, egging him on and sliding on through to Michael Pickett’s masterful solo. A clearly inspired, Jeff *rips* into the last solo of the song, ramping everything up to a new level.
The album closes off with a stunning version of the Dylan penned, Hendrix classic ‘All Along the Watchtower’. Jeff’s history with ‘Watchtower’ runs pretty deep. It was an important part of the band’s earliest repertoire and was always a show stopper.
On the Grossman’s performance, Jeff and Pat weave incredible sonic shapes. Their playing meshing effortlessly. At one point the two of them start musically quoting ‘Layla’. Pat and Jeff trade licks so organically. It is a master class in intuitive playing, and it is a joy to listen to.
PR: “The energy was great between Jeff and I. It was undeniable.”
The weekend, by all accounts, was a tremendous success. Edits and mixes were prepped and the band was pleased with the results…
Unfortunately, as it turned out, their label, Arista, had little stomach for a live album at the time and rejected the record outright. Joe recalled, “When we pitched the idea of a return to roots live record at tiny Grossman’s in Toronto, it was met with a rather… muted lack of enthusiasm.”
PR: “So we recorded all that and they gave the live tapes to Clive Davis and said ‘let’s put this out.’ Apparently Clive said, ‘It’s great. It’s really great, but we’re not going to put out a live album at this point, we want a studio album.’”
They liked the idea of a covers record, but insisted the band take it back into the studio for a more polished release.
The JHB scrapped the Grossman’s album and ended up spending the next year in the studio, recording, re-recording, and generally obsessing over cover songs, essentially scuttling what was to have been a quick, painless process.
The end result was 1995’s Cover To Cover album (featuring the Grammy nominated version of the Yardbirds classic, ‘Shapes Of Things’). It would mark the last album to be recorded for Arista, and the start of a 4 year struggle on the road to their final studio effort, Get Me Some (see also Heal My Soul). But that as they say, is another story…
Live At Grossman’s was finally released in 2011. The original production by Thom Panunzio (Dylan, Springsteen, U2 and many, many more, including the JHB’s debut album, ‘See The Light’… ) is bang on. A brilliant, unvarnished, document of a band in transition, shifting backwards to move forward…
Thom Panunzio: (on working with the JHB again…) “It’s great… There’s not too many people I leave home for anymore, but for this band I made an exception.”
JR: “There’s a timeless quality to the performances and production. In a way, this live record went beyond any nostalgic inspiration we originally sought. All we need to do is turn the volume to “11” and we’re immersed in Jeff’s innovative guitar playing, and singing at its most passionate and soulful level.”
It is truly a shame that this record wasn’t released at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20, and while indeed ‘Cover To Cover’ would earn the JHB their second Grammy nod… ultimately, it was the beginning of the end.
Unencumbered by set lists and record company expectations, the Grossman’s tapes capture the raw energy of the band. Jeff is a player at the top of his game, in his most comfortable element.
There is a long and storied history of music careers being revitalized by live records. Had this been given its proper due with a full release at the time, I honestly think it could have re-established Jeff and the JHB as a formidable force in the Rock and Blues world. Now it serves as a reminder, a fly in amber, preserving a thrilling moment of lightning, lost to time.
01. Comin’ Home Baby!
(NOTE: erroneously credited on CD as ‘I’m Going Home’ by Alvin Lee )
W: Ben Tucker, Bob Dorough
02. Killing Floor
W: Chester Burnett
03. As The Years Go Passing By
W: Deadric Malone
04. Ain’t That Just Like A Woman
W: Claude Demetrius, Fleecie Moore
05. Yer Blues
W: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
06. Who’s Been Talking
W: Chester Burnett
W: Robert Johnson
08. Dust My Broom
W: Elmore James
09. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)*
W: Jimi Hendrix
10. All Along The Watchtower
W: Bob Dylan
* UK release only
6, 7 Michael Pickett guests on harp
All tracks feature Pat Rush on ‘other’ guitar