Soul to Soul

25 11 2009

In this kind of job, you get used to having intersecting lives—brief moments shared with people, often artists, that can have a lasting impact on your own life. Maybe it’s that blatant fan interview where you get a few minutes with a seminal rock star from your childhood (thank you, Pat Benatar) or maybe it’s using your media platform to support artists as they emerge, develop and blossom into mature members of the arts community (numerous theatrical talents leap to mind here). And sometimes it’s just another assignment your editor hands you, but one that turns out to be a conversation that lingers through the years.

Such was the case with Haydain Neale of Jacksoul fame, who passed away in Toronto on November 22 at the age of 39 following a seven-month battle with lung cancer. I interviewed the Hamilton-born singer twice during the past decade, most recently back in 2006 in advance of Jacksoul’s JazzFest appearance promoting their latest disc, MySoul—which, no word of a lie, has since become one of my favourite albums of the past few years. Partially it’s because of the material (a surprising mix of covers for a jazz-soul artist—Blue Rodeos “Try,” the Guess Who’s “These Eyes,” Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come” and one solid original, Neale’s own “One Song”), and partly it’s because Neale himself was involved in a serious traffic accident not too long after the album’s release. (A vehicle hit him while he was riding his scooter in his Toronto hometown.) Every time I slipped that disc into my stereo, I would wonder how he was doing, how his family was coping, how long it would be till I heard his seductively sandpaper sound once again.

But it wasn’t just his voice that made him special. While talking to Neale, it became clear he put a lot of true soul into his sound—and I’m not just talking about the style of music. “For me, soul isn’t just about a type of groove or having horns in the background,” he told me. “It’s also about making you feel something through the lyrics and the melody. Back in the ’50s, soul music was black and pop music was white, but we live in a very different time—and a great time to make music—where everybody is trying to be more emotive and really speak from the heart.”
A CBC favourite, the story of Neale’s accident and hopeful recovery was never far from the airwaves, but even when word came that he was fit enough to start completing the album he’d been working on at the time of the accident—Jacksoul’s fifth full-length, Soulmate, due to drop December 1—there was no public hint of the lung cancer which would soon take his life. And while the haunting single “Lonesome Highway” that was released a couple of weeks ago may have lacked the usual Jacksoul pizzaz, it now plays as a reflective memorial for yet another artist taken from us too early.

A quick flip through MySoul‘s liner notes reveals an almost prophetic statement by Neale: “If Jacksoul never makes another recording, I’ll always be proud that our music was a positive force for not just love between couples, but love of self, community and the world.” And it was during that last interview when I asked Neale if we could all use some more soul in our lives. “Music can be used to help people have better days and get through hard times,” he replied. “It’s always been a powerful motivator for me that way.”

Now it can be one last gift Neale has left us all.

—John Threlfall

Haydain Neale is survived by his wife and daughter, and all proceeds from the upcoming release of Soulmate will go to the Haydain Neale Family Trust. Messages of condolence can be left at




One response

26 11 2009

What a very sad loss for us all.

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