We dedicate our interview blog posts with Jeff to Doug Heisholt, 1951-2012.
Part One: The Early History Of Jeff
Born and raised in Thunder Bay, ON, Jeff is the only child of Doug and Donna Heisholt, with whom he has been close his whole life. Although neither parent was particularly musical, both were huge music fans and the joke in the family is that Jeff’s first words weren’t in fact words per se, but something influenced by his parents’ large record collection.
“They joke – eh, it’s probably close – that my first words in the crib were what sounded like ‘rucka rucka row row’,” he tells us one beautiful summer day on a patio in Toronto’s west end, “and they were trying to figure out, like, ‘what’s he saying??’ And then they were listening to Chicago, and it’s the wah guitar solo from ’25 Or 6 To 4′. So where the wah pedal kicks in in the solo, it’s like the best part of the song – and that’s what I was doing, I was singing this guitar solo before I could really say anything else.”
His earliest memory of music is playing some of his parents’ collection.
“The Beatles’ red [1962-1966] and blue [1967-1970] records, and maybe ‘Take The Money And Run’, Steve Miller – you know, the outro part where he goes ‘ooooooh Lord’, I remember that was the part I was like, ‘oh, this part’s awesome, I’m just gonna play the end of this song over and over again.’
“My parents had a great record collection,” he continues. “As soon as I could spin and destroy the records – which I did, a couple – I would play the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin III, Steve Miller Fly Like An Eagle, Chicago’s Greatest Hits. They were the records I would play non-stop as soon as they would leave me alone near the record player.
“It was a Beatles’ record,” he deadpans about the destroyed albums. “I think I thought it would sound better with peanut butter on it. I guess it depends on your taste. But it was just not understanding. And with record players, too, you had to be so careful.” He mimes tossing the playing arm onto a record.
His parents were members of the Columbia House Record Club, and he remembers a record he asked his parents to buy for him, one of the first of his own albums.
“This would have come from my grandfather’s influence – I wanted a Hank Williams record. So I remember getting – before I went out and bought my first record – it would have been Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits, the yellow cover. That was one I remember requesting they order. What was the song I liked the most – ‘Jambalaya’.”
His parents loved live music, too.
“They went to see the Dead before I was born, my dad went to see Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly in Winnipeg right before Led Zeppelin III came out. That was an early road trip for him.”
Even though his parents didn’t play, both sets of grandparents did; in one household he had access to an organ and a guitar, and at the other there was an piano. “It was at my grandparents’ place where I finally started hitting instruments – probably literally.”
“My grandmother on my mom’s side, Lenora, was the piano player in the family and she passed away in ’82 – I would have been 7 – so that was when we brought her piano into the house. We didn’t keep it – we sold it for some reason – but I would always sit and play the instruments when I was at the grandparents’ places. But once we had the piano in the house, I played it.
“Sometime around that same time – I don’t know why – my mom enrolled her and I in Suzuki violin lessons. Suzuki method is different from like conservatory, it’s based on ear training, and so I remember – we didn’t do it long, I think we only did a couple lessons – having a tape that I had to listen to. And you’d have to listen to it and, I don’t know if was like learn to play what you were hearing, but that was kind of the idea of it. So around that time I dabbled in violin.
“I’ve always wanted to look more into it,” he says, “because I do probably identify that as a bit of the basis of the way that I wound up learning how to play music. But yeah, it’s based on ear-training as opposed to reading music.” (“Can you read music?” we asked. “Yep,” he replied. “Not well.” with a laugh.)
With the piano in the house, like every 7 year old he sat in front of it and banged on it to get sounds.
“I remember learning a song – I think I even had, there was a book that I somehow figured out how to play – – something. But then I got my own first keyboard when I was 9. It was a little Cassio keyboard – it had, like, coloured buttons on it. D’you remember Consumer’s Distributing? It was a catalogue store, so I’d go through the catalogue and I’d be, like, ‘I want THAT G.I. Joe guy and THAT G.I. Joe guy’ and there was a Cassio keyboard. I think it was solely the picture that made me wanna get it. ‘That’s what I want – ninth birthday,’ I’m like, ‘I want this Cassio keyboard.’ It had a little cartridge that you put into it and it would play, like, a song and the keys would light up as to where to play. I had a Michael Jackson cartridge, I had a Beatles, and there was somethin’ else. I still have that keyboard.” And he still has one cartridge – the Beatles one. “It had ‘P.S. I Love You’, ‘Obla-Di Obla-Da’, I can’t remember, something else – four songs on it.”
At that age, Jeff was also into drawing.
“I always drew…I never drew in the lines, I could never manage to get it all in the lines in my colouring books but I was always really interested in drawing.” He still likes to draw to this day; he also paints and his mother is a professional artist.
When it came to playing the piano, though, Jeff’s parents never pressured him into doing anything he didn’t want to do.
“I had a buddy who lived behind me,” he continues. “I remember he took piano lessons and he would have to, you know, stop playing to go practice his piano and that was seen as a real bummer. (But) I was never forced into it at all – if anything, just having the instrument around, you know, I’m sure me playing the piano wasn’t the best-sounding thing to my parents, but they never said, you know, ‘you’re gonna have to’ – the same with violin. Obviously I wasn’t interested in doing the lessons so they stopped it for me.
“I think, though, when I did learn the song on my own, I did have an urge to learn more.”
At an age when most of his friends were into sports in a smaller town like Thundery Bay, Jeff was into his music and art, but his friends never seemed to mind.
“All my buddies growing up were all into hockey,” he states. “They played street hockey and they did like leagues and everything – and it just never caught me. I was never interested in sports as a kid. I dunno why, no sport ever got me.” His friends didn’t have a problem with that, though. “I think I’d probably like play street hockey with them or something, and, like, do whatever I could, but it was never a dividing factor. If anything, it was like the fact that, when I did get my own keyboard, I’d bring it to school with me, and play it at lunch and stuff.
“Even through high school I was never in any particular clique, but I was the guy – I was the musician who was friends with everybody.”
Jeff’s family moved around a bit while he was younger (when he was four and again when he was 9) and he ended up in a couple of public schools before settling down for awhile and – well, sort of attending high school.
“I went to Forest Park Elementary in Thunder Bay, we moved – I went to Riverdale. I bounced around through a couple different high schools,” he admits. “I mighta had a problem with skipping classes…
“There was one high school I went to that, I think I went there for a week, stopped going, and then I got a call from the music teacher at the school who called and he’s like, ‘Jeff! I hear you’re enrolled at our school! Do you wanna come down and play guitar in the school musical that’s going on?’ Which was ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’.
“So, I was going to rehearsals and playing in this musical but not attending any classes. And I’d see the teachers of the classes I was skipping,” he adds with a considerable chuckle, “in the school and at the rehearsals, and I’d be like, ‘Hey…yeah, I’m just going to a musical rehearsal, okay…”
Jeff didn’t really realize that music was more than just a hobby for him until he was actually doing it. From the time he was 11 or 12, though, he’d wanted to start a band because he just wanted to play.
“Maybe I wanted to play in front of people – I think I was always, as a kid, too, I was always kind of the kid who, maybe I wanted to tell a joke at a party…I dunno, I guess I was looking for attention. And music was a good way to do it.”
Was he perhaps the class clown (when he was in class)?
“Yeah – kinda. Maybe the class clown, with respect, though – I chose my moments.”
And it wasn’t always just the keyboards for Jeff, either, again thanks to his grandparents.
“My grandfather who had the organ also played accordion and harmonica and guitar, so I would pick those up. And I had a guitar, an old guitar of his that I probably got when I was 10 or 11. And I found it was harder – maybe because of my hand size if anything – to play it but I definitely would pluck away at guitar. Eventually I played guitar through high school and I still do – I studied it at university for a bit. Guitar was always the other thing I played.
“And accordion, yeah! I have his accordion; his was a button one so it was weird – I still don’t know how to play it. Just the button ones are so strange…I’m sure it’s easy if I actually tried, but yeah, lazy.”