The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews

2011

The Making Of 'Tim Buckley'

An expanded reissue of his first album sheds
new light on one of the great voices of folk-rock.

By Richie Unterberger

Though he was only 19-years-old when it was released in October 1966, Tim Buckley’s self-titled debut album was an astonishingly mature maiden effort for a singer-songwriter yet to leave his teens.

Whether writing on his own or with close friend Larry Beckett, Buckley’s compositions were haunting, poetic pieces suffused with both youthful
romanticism and melancholy philosophical musings. The unusual, angular folk-rock melodies were graced with Tim’s magnificent, at times operatic tenor voice, as well as lush baroque-folk production, including some soaring string arrangements by Jack Nitzsche.

So assured was the record, and so young was the artist, that one could be forgiven for assuming that Buckley used up most or all of the original material available when he entered the studio.

It comes as a pleasant shock, then, to find that the second disc of Rhino’s new two-CD deluxe reissue of Tim Buckley contains no less than 21 previously unreleased tracks predating the sessions for the LP. Of the twelve recorded on November 8, 1965 as part of The Bohemians, Buckley’s pre-solo rock band, only two were redone for the album; the other ten, in fact, never appeared on any of his other records, whether issued in his lifetime or afterward.

Also revelatory are nine acoustic bedroom demos recorded in mid-1966, just before the sessions for Tim Buckley, including not just five of the tunes that showed up on the LP, but four others that make their first appearance here.

Combined with the first disc, which contains the official Tim Buckley album in both stereo and mono, it comprises a major addition to the Buckley canon that sheds unexpected light on his early evolution. With Buckley as singer and rhythm guitarist, The Bohemians had been together for only six months or so when they entered a piano showroom in a mall in Anaheim, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, to record a dozen demos in November 1965.

On drums was Larry Beckett; on guitar, Brian Hartzler; and on bass Jim Fielder, who’d soon go on to short stints in the Mothers Of Invention and Buffalo Springfield, before landing a long-term spot in Blood, Sweat & Tears.

“It was in a separate room from the showroom, but it wasn’t sound-proofed or anything like that,” remembers Fielder today.” There was no control booth as such, just a reel-to-reel tape recorder and two microphones, one in the left channel, one in the right. Everything was live.

“The vocal mike was closer to Tim’s mouth; the other just kind of picked up ambient room sound. It was pretty much one, maybe two takes on each of these tunes. At that point, we’d played each of those a few times, but we were still kind of feeling our way through them.”

Under these basic conditions, The Bohemians bashed out a dozen originals. Only two (She Is and It Happens Every Time) would later be re-jigged for Tim Buckley. A half-dozen were Buckley/Beckett collaborations, Buckley writing five others on his own, and Fielder contributing the rudimentary Don’t Look Back – the only song he wrote for The Bohemians and, surprisingly, one of only two songs he’s ever written to completion.

It’s also surprising to hear Tim’s familiar gorgeous voice singing numbers that are, by and large, bluesier and harder-rocking than the folk-rock in which he’d specialize on his first few albums.

“We were trying to be a Top 40 band in order to get jobs at high school dances. Though we would salt them in with Highway 61 Revisited, which I would sing on account of me being the only one who could remember all the words!” laughs Beckett, today a poet in Portland, Oregon.

” We had all kinds of cover songs to get our foot in the door, and then we would kind of play it by ear, or Tim would, and try to gauge the audience and see if we could sneak some originals in there, which we would invariably do.”

And how did those Orange County teens react to those originals, which by the standards of garage bands were pretty unusual?

“They were pretty indifferent, I would say,” Beckett shrugs. “It was the wrong audience, but we didn’t care. We really liked our stuff.”

Buckley would also sneak some highly unconventional cover tunes into the mix, like Bob Dylan’s then-unreleased Quit Your Low Down Ways:

“[Buckley learned] that song out of Sing Out magazine, where Dylan regularly got published,” reveals Beckett.” It wasn’t on any record, so he invented this fiery rock’n’roll arrangement. He used to just absolutely scream that song. It was pretty great. Too bad it didn’t make it to the demos, but we were trying to highlight our originals.”

Those originals, if more derivative for the most part than even Buckley’s earliest Elektra work, feature some down-and-dirty garage-ish blues-rock on Put You Down; almost jazzy moodiness, yet married to raw rave-up British Invasion sounds, on Let Me Love You; and almost punky blues-rock on Come On Over.

There are also unexpected echoes of the early Beatles at their most country-influenced on I’ve Played That Game Before and Won’t You Please Be My Woman. As Beckett admits, “We were listening to Beatles ’65 (Capitol’s rough US equivalent of Beatles For Sale) every second.”

Yet there are also ventures into the more fragile, lilting romantic folk-rock ballads that would ultimately prove to be the early Buckley’s strong suit. Call Me If You Do (the first Beckett/Buckley collaboration, and Fielder’s favorite of the dozen tracks) and Here I Am certainly fit that bill admirably, though it’s the Beckett/Buckley composition She Is that’s both the strongest of these demos and the truest indication of Tim’s future direction.

“When I wrote that, and then Tim wrote the music, we looked at each other going, ‘Whoa,’” says Larry, who cites She Is as one of their first “arty” songs. “You mean, we can do this? OK, that’s a path! We have to follow up on this. We both clearly saw it as a direction to pursue. That’s a kind of wisdom, just to understand what was good about their own stuff.”

But as Beckett emphasizes, the tape is “a nice balanced selection of the lyrical and the rock’n’roll sides of The Bohemians. I really enjoy the wild variety of music. And this is only really a small range of the different musics that Tim explored.

“On Won’t You Please Be My Woman, you hear Tim rocking out pretty hard, grinding his voice and really going for it. He just kind of dropped that side of himself. But it was there all along, like a Little Richard-derived sound. I have no idea where Tim learned to sing like that, but one day, he said, ‘Hey, listen to this.’ He rocked out, and I went, ‘Wow!’”

“I shouldn’t have been surprised, ’cause he was such a great singer, but for this person with a golden tenor voice to suddenly be rocking out was amazing. I loved that music with a passion, so I would always wait for when we would do Won’t You Please Be My Woman at a gig. In a way, we kind of drifted into that folk-rock sound, the She Is kind of thing.”

At the end of the day, then, The Bohemians had an album’s worth of demos, abeit in a rough form that couldn’t have been released as a commercial LP in late 1965. So what was the next step? “As far as why we did it, I don’t think we knew!” laughs Fielder.” It was pretty much an off-the-cuff session. It’s sort of: we were a band, and that’s what a band did. Where the demo really made a difference is when we went to Herb Cohen.”



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