Portrait of Jeff Buckley
|Birth name||Jeffrey Scott Buckley|
|Born||November 17, 1966|
|Origin||Anaheim, California, USA|
|Died||May 29 1997 (aged 30) |
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
|Genre(s)||Rock, Hard rock, Folk rock, Blues|
|Instrument(s)||Vocals, Guitar, Bass guitar, Harmonium, Organ, Drums, Dulcimer, Tabla, Sitar|
|Years active||1991 – 1997|
|Associated acts||Tim Buckley, Gary Lucas, Inger Lorre, John Zorn, Rebecca Moore, Shinehead, Chris Cornell|
Emerging in the 1990s, Buckley impressed critics and audiences with his versatile and haunting vocals. Known for his ethereal singing voice and natural vibrato, Buckley was considered to be one of the most promising artists of his generation after the release of a rough EP entitled Live at Sin-é, followed by his critically acclaimed 1994 debut album Grace.
His family, especially his mother and stepfather, encouraged his interest in music and supported his desire to become a musician. The family does have its foundation in the stability of an order which extends to a wider social order. Buckley sought to continue what his father began and to reproduce a new musical spirit. Yet, his blossoming career was tragically cut short when Buckley died in a drowning accident in 1997 at the age of 30.
By the time Jeff Buckley was born, his father had already left the family. Born in Anaheim, California, he was the only child of Mary Guibert and Tim Buckley, high school sweethearts whose marriage survived only a year.
His father was a singer-songwriter who released a series of highly acclaimed folk and jazz albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Buckley commented, "I never knew (my father)." In 1975, when he was eight years old, Jeff spent a few days with Tim Buckley, but two months later, his father died of a drug overdose. He was 28 years old.
Jeff Buckley was raised by his mother in Southern California. Ron Moorhead, his stepfather of only two years, was the first father figure in his life and the father of half-brother Corey Moorhead. Buckley, brother Corey and his mother bounced around many times to different homes in and around Orange County.
While growing up, Jeff Buckley went by the name Scott "Scotty" Moorhead based on his middle name and his stepfather's surname. After his father died, he chose to go by Buckley and his real first name which he found on a birth certificate. His family members continued to affectionately call him "Scotty."
As a child, Buckley sang around the house and harmonized with his mother, who was a classically trained pianist and cellist. At the age of six, he found an acoustic guitar in his grandmother's closet, which he began learning to play on, and at the age of 12, he decided to become a musician. He received his first electric guitar at the age of 13.
After graduating from high school in 1984, he attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, where he graduated from the one-year course at the age of 18.
In the following six years, Buckley played guitar and did backing vocals for several struggling bands, spanning a diverse range of styles from jazz, reggae, and roots rock to heavy metal. He also toured with the dancehall reggae artist Shinehead.
Jeff Buckley was introduced to Qawwali, the devotional music of India and Pakistan, and to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one of its most well-known singers. Buckley became a great admirer of Khan. Blues-legend Robert Johnson and hardcore punk also became his special interests during this time, further diversifying his influences.
Finding few opportunities to work as a musician, Buckley returned to Los Angeles in September when his father's former manager, Herb Cohen, offered to help him record his first demo of original songs. Buckley completed Babylon Dungeon Sessions, a five song cassette that included the songs "Eternal Life" and "Unforgiven" (later titled "Last Goodbye"). Cohen and Buckley hoped to attract attention from the music industry with the demo tape.
Public singing debut
The following spring, Buckley finally reached a turning point in his career when he performed at a tribute concert for his father called "Greetings from Tim Buckley." The event, produced by show business veteran Hal Willner, was held at Saint Ann's Church in Brooklyn, New York on April 26, 1991. He performed "I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain," a song Tim Buckley wrote about an infant Jeff Buckley and his mother, accompanied by experimental rock guitarist Gary Lucas, who he would later co-write several songs with. Buckley returned to the stage to play "Sefronia - The King's Chain," "Phantasmagoria in Two," and concluded the concert with "Once I Was" performed acoustically with an impromptu a cappella ending.
When questioned about that particular performance Buckley said, "It wasn't my work, it wasn't my life. But it bothered me that I hadn't been to his funeral, that I'd never been able to tell him anything. I used that show to pay my last respects." Ironically, the concert proved to be his first step into the music industry that had eluded him for years.
On subsequent trips to New York in the summer of 1991, Buckley began co-writing with Gary Lucas resulting in the songs "Grace" and "Mojo Pin." In the fall, he began performing with Lucas' band Gods and Monsters around New York City but decided to leave the band in March of 1992.
Buckley began singing and playing guitar at several clubs and cafés around Lower Manhattan, but Sin-é in the East Village became his main venue. Buckley first appeared at the small Irish café in April 1992, and quickly earned a regular Monday night slot there. His repertoire consisted of a diverse range of folk, rock, R&B, blues and jazz cover songs, much of it music he had newly learned. In addition to the covers,he played original songs from Babylon Dungeon Sessions and the songs he'd written with Gary Lucas.
"I figured if I played in the no-man's land of intimacy, I would learn to be a performer," Buckley said. Of his own music, he commented, "I want the idea and the sound of the idea to intoxicate—not the voltage"
Over the next few months, Buckley attracted admiring crowds and attention from record label executives. Buckley signed with Columbia Records, home of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, for a three-album, essentially million-dollar deal in October 1992. Recording dates were set for July and August 1993 for what would become Buckley's recording debut, an EP of four songs. Live at Sin-é was released on November 23, 1993, documenting this period of Buckley's life.
After assembling a band, comprised of bassist Mick Grondahl and drummer Matt Johnson, Buckley began working on his first album in September 1993 inBearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York. They spent six weeks recording basic tracks for what would become Grace. Buckley invited ex-bandmate Lucas to play guitar on the songs "Grace" and "Mojo Pin," and Woodstock-based jazz musician Karl Berger wrote and conducted string arrangements with Buckley assisting at times.
Buckley returned home for overdubbing at studios in Manhattan and New Jersey where he painstakingly performed take after take to capture the perfect vocals, experimenting with ideas for additional instruments and added textures to the songs.
In January 1994, Buckley left to go on his first solo North American tour to support Live at Sin-é]. It was followed by a short ten-day European tour in March, where he played at clubs and coffeehouses and made in-store appearances.
After returning, Buckley invited guitarist Michael Tighe to join the band. Buckley co-wrote "So Real" with Tighe, recorded as a late addition to the album. In June, Buckley began his first full band tour called the "Peyote Radio Theatre Tour" that lasted into August.
Grace was released on August 23, 1994, including seven original songs and three covers. Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah," a Leonard Cohen cover, is included on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
While sales were slow and the album garnered little radio airplay, it did quickly receive critical acclaim. The UK's Melody Maker called it, "a massive, gorgeous record," while The Sydney Morning Herald proclaimed it, "almost impossibly beautiful."
The album did go gold in France and Australia over the next two years, eventually achieving gold status in the United States in 2002. Grace has now sold over two million albums worldwide and has gone platinum in Australia over six times.
Grace won appreciation from a host of revered musicians, including members of Buckley's biggest influence, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan named Buckley "one of the great songwriters of this decade," according to NOW magazine. Paul McCartney, Thom Yorke, Matthew Bellamy, Chris Cornell, Neil Peart, U2 and Elton John were among others who have held Buckley's work in high esteem.
Buckley spent much of the next year and a half touring to promote Grace. It seemed to be a tiring yet effective means for him to keep his independence from his record company, with which he had a strained relationship. From the album's release, he played in numerous countries, from Australia, to the UK (Glastonbury Festival and the Meltdown Festival at the invitation of Elvis Costello. In 1995 Buckley played a concert at the Paris Olympia, a venue made famous by the French vocalist Édith Piaf, that he considered the finest performance of his career. Sony has since released a live recording of that performance.
Afterwards, his venues shrank as he returned to playing bars and cafés as he once had before fame hit. Buckley went on his "phantom solo tour" of cafés in the Northeast in December 1996, appearing under a series of aliases: The Crackrobats, Possessed by Elves, Father Demo, Smackrobiotic, The Halfspeeds, Crit-Club, Topless America, Martha & the Nicotines, and A Puppet Show Named Julio. By way of justification, Buckley posted a note on the Internet stating that he missed the anonymity of playing in cafes and local bars:
There was a time in my life not too long ago when I could show up in a cafe and simply do what I do, make music, learn from performing my music, explore what it means to me, i.e., have fun while I irritate and/or entertain an audience who don't know me or what I am about. In this situation I have that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender. I worked very hard to get this kind of thing together, this work forum. I loved it and then I missed it when it disappeared. All I am doing is reclaiming it.
Much of the material from the tours of 1995 and 1996 was recorded, and has been released posthumously on albums such as Mystery White Boy and Live a l'Olympia.
After completing touring in 1996, Buckley started to write for a new album to be called My Sweetheart the Drunk. In 1997 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he rented a shotgun house of which he was so fond he contacted the owner about the possibility of buying it. Buckley started recording demos on his own 4-track recorder. He went into the studio again, recruited a band, and plans for the new album looked hopeful.
On May 29, 1997, Buckley went for an evening swim in Wolf River Harbor, a tributary of the Mississippi River, while wearing steel-toed boots, all of his clothing, and singing along to a radio playing Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." A roadie of Buckley's band, Keith Foti, watched from the shore and cautioned him not to swim too far out. Foti looked away for a few moments to move the radio and a guitar out of reach of the wake from a passing tugboat. When he looked up, Buckley was no where in sight. Despite a determined rescue effort that night, Buckley remained missing, and the search was called off the following day due to heavy rain. Three days later his body was spotted by a tourist on a riverboat marina and was brought ashore.
The biography Dream Brother, written about him and his father, reveals that the night before his death Buckley reportedly admitted to several loved ones that he suffered from bipolar disorder. The autopsy confirmed that Buckley had taken no illegal drugs before his swim and a drug overdose was ruled out as the cause of death. He was 30 years old.
A recent statement from the Buckley estate insists:
Jeff Buckley's death was not "mysterious," related to drugs, alcohol, or suicide. We have a police report, a medical examiner's report, and an eye witness to prove that it was an accidental drowning, and that Mr. Buckley was in a good frame of mind prior to the accident.
After Buckley's death, a collection of demo recordings and a full length album he had been reworking for his second album were released as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk - the compilation being overseen by Chris Cornell. Three other albums composed of live recordings have also been released, along with a live DVD of a performance in Chicago. A previously unreleased 1992 recording of "I Shall Be Released," sung by Buckley over the phone on live radio, was released on the album For New Orleans.
Buckley's significance as a performer
He combined technical skill and talent with intense passion, making him a charismatic performer, who was able to evoke deep emotional give and take with his audiences. According to a BBC documentary, Buckley wanted to "find his own voice," to transcend the legacy his father had left and to produce unique, original work which he alone could contribute.
Jeff Buckley captivated and continues to enchant audiences not only with his talent and broad vocal range but with the degree of emotion and vulnerability exposed while performing. As he sang, audience members felt that he was singing personally to them and could simultaneously feel the emotion he expressed.
Buckley remains to be an influential and iconic figure in music. In 1998, he was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for his song Everybody Here Wants You and in 2000, music television station VH1 included Buckley's album Grace in the "100 Greatest Albums of Rock and Roll," ranked at No. 73.
Grace has sold over two million albums worldwide, and despite his brief career, Buckley's mysterious and powerful presence in music continues to draw fans from around the world.
Director Brian Jun has announced plans to make a film biography of Buckley, in cooperation with his mother, called Mystery White Boy: Live '95, '96 released in 2008.
|1993||Live at Sin-é||November 23, 1993|
|1994||Grace||August 23, 1994|
|1995||Live from the Bataclan [EP]||October 1995|
|1998||Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk||May 26, 1998|
|2000||Mystery White Boy||May 9, 2000|
|2001||Live a L'Olympia||July 3, 2001|
|2002||Songs to No One 1991-1992||October 15, 2002|
|2002||The Grace EPs||November 26, 2002|
|2003||Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition)||September 2, 2003|
|2004||Grace (Legacy Edition)||August 24, 2004|
|2007||So Real: Songs From Jeff Buckley||May 22, 2007|
|2000||Live in Chicago||May 9, 2000|
|2007||Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley||TBA|
Awards and nominations
- Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for "Everybody Here Wants You," 1998
- MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best New Artist in a Video for "Last Goodbye," 1995
- Rolling Stone Magazine nomination for Best New Artist, 1995
- Triple J Hottest 100 awarded No. 14 best song for that year in the worlds largest voting competition for "Last Goodbye," 1995
- "All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun"
- "Dendrils of Death"
- "Dido's Lament"
- "Don't Listen to Anyone But Me"
- "Edna Frau"
- "Let's Bomb the Moonlight"
- "Open Up and Bleed"
- "Peace Offering"
- "Pleasure Seeker"
- "River of Dope"
- "Sky Blue Skin"
- "The Morning After"
- "We All Fall in Love Sometimes"
- David Browne, Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley (New York: Harper Entertainment, 2002, ISBN 038080624X).
- Browne, 2001, 16
- Aidin Vaziri, Jeff Buckley Interview Raygun Magazine, 1994. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Question about Jeff’s Name, Family, and Historyjeffbuckley.com Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Ray Rogers, Jeff Buckley: Heir Apparent to … Interview Magazine, February, 1994. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Questions about Jeff’s Musical life, Places, and History jeffbuckley.com. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Paul Young, Talking Music: Confessing to Strangers Buzz Magazine, 1994. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Jim Testa, Making It In New York: Jeff Buckley New Jersey Beat Magazine, 1993. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Phillip Dodd, The Book of Rock: From the 1950s to Today (New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 2005, ISBN 156025729)
- Jeff Buckley Biography jeffbuckley.com. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Taylor Parkes, Grace reviewed by Taylor Parkes Melody Maker, August 13, 1994. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Shane Danielsen, You read it here - album of the year Sydney Morning Herald, October 1994. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
- Moojan, The Chilling Story Behind Jeff Buckley, A Rising Star Who Was Literally Swept Away Throwbacks, January 17, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Brooks, Daphne. Jeff Buckley's Grace. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005. ISBN 0826416357
- Browne, David. Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. Harper Entertainment, 2002. ISBN 038080624X
- Buckley, Jeff. Jeff Buckley Collection. Hal Leonard, 2002. ISBN 0634022652
- Cyr, Merri and Jeff Buckley. Wished for Song: A Portrait of Jeff Buckley. Hal Leonard, 2002. ISBN 0634035959
- Dodd, Phillip. The Book of Rock: From the 1950s to Today. New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 2005. ISBN 1560257296
All links retrieved July 30, 2022.
- Official site
- Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley Documentary that explores Jeff Buckley's legendary music
- Jeff Buckley Lyrics
- MojoPin.org - A Tribute to Jeff Buckley
- Jeff Buckley at Find-A-Grave
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