driven and dangerous
folk rocker to jazz-inspired visionary in three short years.
Ben Edmonds uncovers
the story of Tim Buckley's musical legacy.
BUCKLEY DEPARTED THIS SWEET SWINGIN' SPHERE
in his 30th year, without having completed a second album. By contrast, Tim Buckley
was two years younger than his son when he died, and yet graced us with no less
than nine albums, a recorded legacy that has been enlarged and illuminated by
the release of several supplemental recordings in recent years.
the David Browne's forthcoming book Dream Brother, and Martin Aston's fine
biographical piece in Mojo 22, we learn much about the life of Tim Buckley.
But it is in the recordings he left behind that Buckley truly lives. Like old
friends, these works have something new to tell us whenever we encounter them.
Taken together, his first three albums: Tim Buckley (I966), Goodbye
And Hello ('67) and Happy Sad ('69) - represent his coming of age as
an artist, roughly the same stage in his son's life represented by the making
Buckley on record is like hearing a snapshot of a performance. He was a performing
artist in the sense that Paul Williams has applied it to Dylan - an artist who
rewrites his song each time he opens his mouth to sing it. Though a snapshot can
freeze an eternally pleasing moment, its subject will always be somewhere else
the moment the shutter has clicked. Tim Buckley was forever on his way somewhere
artistically, the many stylistic stops on his restless journey all handled with
ease and fire by a voice that is said to have made fans of Jacques Brel, Paul
Robeson and Leontyne Price.
was that magnificent instrument - a high, pure Irish tenor, beneath which lurked
a three-and-a-half octave range its possessor would spend the rest of his life
exploring - that leapt off an acetate given to Elektra Records president Jac Holzman
in 1966. It had been cut to promote a young Orange County, California band called
The Bohemians, in which Buckley sang and played rhythm guitar, seems to have been
I can't remember it ever being spoken about," says group bassist Jim Fielder,
who would go on to play with The Mothers Of Invention, Buffalo Springfield and
Blood, Sweat And Tears. "But it was always understood that, ultimately, it
was about Tim. He was the one, and there were no hard feelings whatsoever when
it turned into a solo situation."
debut album recorded a few months later, produced by Paul Rothchild and Jac Holzman,
was based on The Bohemians' repertoire, pleasant enough folk-rock that functions
primarily as a showcase for a remarkable new voice. But with this artist, even
the conventional was never ordinary, as a closer look at the beginning of Tim
the opening notes of I Can't See You, the first song on his first album,
you can hear Tim Buckley's career and his soul," ventures Larry Beckett.
The Bohemians' drummer was Buckley's creative partner during this early period,
a poet who would collaborate on songs with Buckley throughout his career.
hammers on a flatted fifth, doubled by the lead guitar. It's normally a blue note,
when it resolves to another note inside the chord. But this one doesn't resolve,
it's pure dissonance, and that atonality becomes even more striking as the song
unfolds and the note returns. I wrote the verses in five lines instead of the
usual four so the melody couldn't be a standard 32 bars. Then Tim added the riff
that didn't resolve; it was there, in your face. I think he felt like that flatted
fifth, like he didn't belong anywhere. That dissonance was expressing him inside
and out, and all the experiments to come are in seed in those first notes."
rhythm section assembled to back Buckley included Jim Fielder, Mothers drummer
Billy Mundi, and Van Dyke Parks on various keyboards. On lead guitar was Lee Underwood,
a Californian the singer had met in New York who would be an influential fixture
for years to come.
(with lovely strings courtesy of Jack Nitzsche) and Song For Jainie are
about as good as folk-rock gets, but Beckett concedes that the song selection
tended toward the conservative. "We had total control," he says, "but
I think we favoured the ones that audiences had responded to live. It was like
putting what we thought was our best foot forward. But there was another side
to the Bohemians that Tim loved just as much, these extended, drifty pieces of
which only Song Slowly Sung made the album."
myth has it that the letters 'LSD' are hidden in the wrinkles of Buckley's trouser
leg on the cover.
afraid it's just a legend," Beckett laughs. "Like the faces of The Beatles
were supposedly hidden in the cover of John Wesley Harding. It's a product
of the hallucinations of the time."
so often happens with a volcanic young talent, Buckley was light years beyond
his debut album before it even reached the shelves. He had agreed to work with
producer Jerry Yester, the former Modern Folk Quartet member who was also managed
by Herb Cohen. (The manager's stable of Fred Neil, The Mothers Of Invention, Linda
Ronstadt And The Stone Poneys and Judy Henske would frequently intersect the Buckley
timeline.) Before beginning what would be the singer's first masterwork, they
took a little-known test drive when Elektra asked Tim to record a single.