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Tim Buckley

One of the great rock vocalists of the 1960s, Tim Buckley drew from folk, psychedelic rock, and progressive jazz to create a considerable body of adventurous work in his brief lifetime. His multi-octave range was capable of not just astonishing power, but great emotional expressiveness, swooping from sorrowful tenderness to anguished wailing. His restless quest for new territory worked against him commercially: By the time his fans had hooked into his latest album, he was onto something else entirely, both live and in the studio. In this sense he recalled artists such as Miles Davis and David Bowie, who were so eager to look forward and change that they confused and even angered listeners who wanted more stylistic consistency. However, his eclecticism has also ensured a durable fascination with his work that has engendered a growing posthumous cult for his music, often with listeners who were too young (or not around) to appreciate his music while he was active.

Buckley emerged from the same '60s Orange County, CA, folk scene that spawned Jackson Browne and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black introduced Buckley and a couple of musicians Buckley was playing with to the Mothers' manager, Herbie Cohen. Although Cohen may have first been interested in Buckley as a songwriter, he realized after hearing some demos that Buckley was also a diamond in the rough as a singer. Cohen became Buckley's manager, and helped the singer get a deal with Elektra.

Before Buckley had reached his 20th birthday, he'd released his debut album. The slightly fey but enormously promising effort highlighted his soaring melodies and romantic, opaque lyrics. Baroque psychedelia was the order of the day for many Elektra releases of the time, and Buckley's early folk-rock albums were embellished with important contributions from musicians Lee Underwood (guitar), Van Dyke Parks (keyboards), Jim Fielder (bass), and Jerry Yester. Larry Beckett was also an overlooked contributor to Buckley's first two albums, co-writing many of the songs.

The fragile, melancholic, orchestrated beauty of the material had an innocent quality that was dampened only slightly on the second LP, Goodbye and Hello (1967). Buckley's songs and arrangements became more ambitious and psychedelic, particularly on the lengthy title track. This was also his only album to reach the Top 200, where it only peaked at number 171; Buckley was always an artist who found his primary constituency among the underground, even for his most accessible efforts. His third album, Happy Sad, found him going in a decidedly jazzier direction in both his vocalizing and his instrumentation, introducing congas and vibes. Though it seemed a retreat from commercial considerations at the time, Happy Sad actually concluded the triumvirate of recordings that are judged to be his most accessible.

The truth was, by the late '60s Buckley was hardly interested in folk-rock at all. He was more intrigued by jazz; not only soothing modern jazz (as heard on the posthumous release of acoustic 1968 live material, Dream Letter), but also its most avant-garde strains. His songs became much more oblique in structure, and skeletal in lyrics, especially when the partnership with Larry Beckett was ruptured after the latter's induction into the Army. Some of his songs abandoned lyrics almost entirely, treating his voice itself as an instrument, wordlessly contorting, screaming, and moaning, sometimes quite cacophonously. In this context, Lorca was viewed by most fans and critics not just as a shocking departure, but a downright bummer. No longer was Buckley a romantic, melodic poet; he was an experimental artiste who sometimes seemed bent on punishing both himself and his listeners with his wordless shrieks and jarringly dissonant music.

Almost as if to prove that he was still capable of gentle, uplifting jazzy pop-folk, Buckley issued Blue Afternoon around the same time. Bizarrely, Blue Afternoon and Lorca were issued almost simultaneously, on different labels. While an admirable demonstration of his versatility, it was commercial near-suicide, each album canceling the impact of the other, as well as confusing his remaining fans. Buckley found his best middle ground between accessibility and jazzy improvisation on 1970's Starsailor, which is probably the best showcase of his sheer vocal abilities, although many prefer the more cogent material of his earliest albums.

By this point, though, Buckley's approach was so uncommercial that it was jeopardizing his commercial survival. And not just on record; he was equally uncompromising as a live act, as the posthumously issued Live at the Troubadour 1969 demonstrates, with its stretched-to-the-limit jams and searing improv vocals. For a time, he was said to have earned his living as a taxi driver and chauffeur; he also flirted with films for a while. When he returned to the studio, it was as a much more commercial singer/songwriter (some have suggested that various management and label pressures were behind this shift).

As much of a schism as Buckley's experimental jazz period created among fans and critics, his final recordings have proved even more divisive, even among big Buckley fans. Some view these efforts, which mix funk, sex-driven lyrical concerns, and laid-back L.A. session musicians, as proof of his mastery of the blue-eyed soul idiom. Others find them a sad waste of talent, or relics of a prodigy who was burning out rather than conquering new realms. Neophytes should be aware of the difference of critical opinion regarding this era, but on the whole his final three albums are his least impressive. Those who feel otherwise usually cite the earliest of those LPs, Greetings from L.A. (1972), as his best work from his final phase.

Buckley's life came to a sudden end in the middle of 1975, when he died of a heroin overdose just after completing a tour. Those close to him insist that he had been clean for some time and lament the loss of an artist who, despite some recent failures, still had much to offer. Buckley's stock began to rise among the rock underground after the Cocteau Twins covered his "Song for the Siren" in the 1980s. The posthumous releases of two late-'60s live sets (Dream Letter and Live at the Troubadour 1969) in the early '90s also boosted his profile, as well as unveiling some interesting previously unreleased compositions. His son Jeff Buckley went on to mount a musical career as well before his own tragic death in 1997. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Saw him at the Academy of Music NYC. Triple bill with Linda Ronstadt , and Van Morrison. He wrote the Most sensual music ever. Still listen to it regularly.
claricentp91 7
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jroven
Not only the voice, but a guy who was at or near the top of the genre with every album he created. New York kid saw him at Fillmore East, Max;s kansas City , Lincoln Center (following Happy Sad) Wollman Rink, Cafe au go go, Bitter End, everywhere (signed his first album for me on Bleecker St)

....and then..... Jeff.

If you loved this guy and you havent read it . I highly recommend the book Dream Brother by David Browne. The other book by Lee Underwood is ok and heartfelt too, but it is no
I have always found him over rated and annoying
jcadmus7
Who is in charge of the Similar Artists dept? Can Dylan and Buckley sound any different? Saw them both in the village. You have to start working on this list ;)
Buzzy on vibes?
a true poet with an amazing voice i still get tery when i hear hello goodbye
Saying that Buckley was similar to Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel et. al. is just plain silly and inaccurate, especially considering the transformati o n s he unerwent in his brief lifetime. I would ask the Pandora researchers to dig a little deeper (or a lot deeper) in providing music for this channel.
beachtee1
Followed him in his concerts late 60's. Beautiful face and voice. Last concert I saw him perform was in Ann Arbor. He was pacing back and forth and saying that his words didn't mean anything... disillusione d me because I thought he wrote pure poetry. Named my dog, Buckley, and I still listen almost daily to his music. Music of my youth!
lexluthier49 1
"Greetings From L.A." is one of the greatest albums of the 70's-the critics(as usual) get it 180 out of phase. What a bunch of morons.
Taking away too sone from us. A true giant vocalist which I compare to Harry Nilison....O u t s t a n d i n g talent the both of them...What made them so great was they chose the road less traveled and became what they both are now. True "GIANTS", that will always lead future volcalist in roads less traveled! Luv u guys both, God Bless!!!
Saw him at the Cafe Au Go Go in the Village, back before mega concerts, where you could see Tim Buckley and his trio when he had this great big Afro,like on the "Goodbye and Hello" album,The Youngbloods, etc etc. in a more intimate setting where you could nurse a 5 buck milk shake to cover your minimum and see performers who'd now, if still living, fill mega concert venues with tickets for $50 and up and up.
We were more blessed back then, in our youth, than we could ever realize.
self-taught? you bet-like the best....
maybe should have chosen opera--sure had the voice for it...MacDoug a l St/winter '69 a mad look in his eye=searchin g for an angry fix-levitate d the Fillmore East on a sweltering summer night-doors open for even the bums to hear and groove and weep....keep movin' on Tim-just keep movin' on-
bgf31649
last saw tim @ The Golden Bear/hunting t o n beach ca in 69/70 i think, had to hitchhike down from LA ha ha he was amazing as always!!
patti185
saw him at the Troub in 69, listened all thru high school and on into the next generation (s), Tim and his son both had something... . . different, special tho maybe it was the time
iamadogsowha t
Met him, loved him then and now. Very seminal part of my formative years in the sixties, incense and fine wines...la de da
capable of conjuring emotions you didn't know you had!
I won a lead acting role in a stage play( musical of sorts) with a prestigious company...au d i t i o n e d for 2 days against one other actor. Fought it out til I sang "Goodbye Hello" and the deed was done, the prize was won...I never sang a song as diificult as that. He was amazing and I love him to this day.
saw him lookin' for an angry fix/ yes he could fly and make u2/Fillmore Filthy summer of '69
themedicalma t r e . d
I Met Tim When I Was Not Legal To Hang At Mc Donalds By Myself! My Older Brother Took Me To Hear Him At The Troubadour When I Was Around Ten Years Old.. A Few Years Later, Tim Made Sure I Had His Most Prolific Guitar To Play On, Now That I Was Singing His Tunes At The Very Same Club I First Saw Him Mesmorize The Audence In! It Has Been My Proud Honour To Say I Knew ""The Man," And His Music For Most Of My Entire Life! An Impression On Me He Made, An Impression On The Entire World He Left Behind.
where is Greetings From L.A.
jmanning24
Still amazes me.
resedajohn
His Voice and his early music-Great! H a p p y Sad is a good album to play when youre feeling down-youll go to 1960's L.A. again within minutes
"Buzzin' Fly" still makes me melt when I listen to his voice.
annoise
this was a totally amazing performance (live at the folklore center, nyc: 3/6/1967).. tim at his early best. there was no microphones, no staging.. tim stood there and played and sang. his power filled the whole room, and this was the set list. way before star sailor, etc. phenominal performance.
easykushin
Where the hell is Starsailor?! ? ! you can't leave out what he considered his masterpiece!
so unique,he is probably now the official eternal troubador for robin hood and his band of merry men!!!
i love tim buckley now as much as ever. He was such a part of my coming alive years, and continues to amaze me.
Talking about albums in the bio that arent even in the "selected" discography makes it look like there's a couple of departments that need to communicate a little more often. I really hope you don't leave out whole chunks of artist's work in all of your discographie s , that would definitely discourage me from reading many more of them. Just give me all the data, please. I'll take it from there.
david.grant1
The needle and the damage done.What a shame.
jsfamas
B^U
lazylog111
would have made a good deciple of the good word, he sure reached and touched my soul
I still love this guy very much as I did way back then...a lamentable loss when he OD'd
almost cut my hair the crosby chestnut is well covered but im longing to hear greetings from LA
anamaleigh
I LOVE YOU TIM BUCKLEY...YO U TOUCH THE DEPTHS OF MY SOUL!

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