The Tim Buckley Archives



A Happy Sad Starsailor from Washington D.C.

By Andy Childs

Before I entered the glamorous and exciting world of the rock n' roll business on a full-time basis, I used to "work" (a rather loose expression you understand) for one of the country's larger construction companies, not as you'd wickedly like to imagine in the guise of a bricky or a road-digger, but in a laboratory staffed by agreeable and well-meaning people most of whom probably thought I was completely mental.

There were however three or four such people to whom music, in one form or another, meant a great deal and who would happily while away the day discussing the merits of anybody from Wild Man Fischer to David Ackles.

One of the subjects that did arise more than any other it seemed, was the music of Tim Buckley, and this article is, in a way, a result of the interest and enthusiasm that came about whenever his name was mentioned. That, and the fact that astonishingly enough, I was given the chance to interview him only weeks after starting at ZigZag.

He'd come over as part of Warner Brothers' campaign to launch the DiscReet label in this country, and as well as being interviewed about a dozen times, he recorded a spot for the Old Grey Whistle Test, and made a couple of radio appearances.

When I met him, he was accompanied, as always, by his manager Herb Cohen who tried to keep a watchful eye on the proceedings, but soon succumbed to the dreaded "jet-lag" and promptly snored his way through the whole interview. Anyway, I talked to Tim for a couple of hours more and we went through the whole story, one which I hope you'll find as interesting to read as it was to compile.


Timothy Charles Buckley III was born in Washington DC on February 14th 1947 and spent the first ten years of his life living in Amsterdam, New York, before moving with his family to Southern California, first to Bell Gardens, then Anaheim. According to an ancient Elektra press hand-out: "Tim's mother listened to Sinatra, Damone, and Garland, and Tim listened to Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash. When he was in the ninth grade at school he taught himself to play the banjo-- and that was the beginning."

Encouraged by his father, he "took up guitar, and played in a bunch of country bands. The only one that toured was Princess Ramona and the Cherokee Riders. I got to dress in a yellow hummingbird shirt and a turquoise hat and play lead guitar. I was about 15. I'd get $60 a week plus gas money and a room, I'd usually stay at a motel next to the bar."

At the advice of Princess Ramona herself, Tim turned his attention to folk music and started playing the folk clubs around LA where he soon earned himself quite a reputation. Cheetah magazine, in their admiration for Buckley, christened him, Jackson Browne, and Steve Noonan, The Orange County Three, a title that brought him wide recognition and respect, and was a fair indication of the media's reaction to him.

"I met Jackson and Steve at a club... folk music and stuff... and they were working, viable writers at the time-- early 60s. And comparatively recently Jackson has come out on his own, which is a very long time overdue."

By that time, Tim's own personal taste in music had expanded to include jazz, and rock n' roll, as well as folk and country music... people like Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. His own close musical associates included high school friend and poet Larry Beckett, whose words he has put to music with great success throughout his recorded career, and Jim Fielder, whose own musical past includes spells with Buffalo Springfield, The Mothers of Invention, and Blood Sweat & Tears.

The three of them worked together around LA until one day, at a club called It's Boss, they met Jimmy Carl Black, drummer with the Mothers, who offered to arrange a meeting with Herb Cohen (the Mothers' and Lenny Bruce's manager), in order to secure some sort of management deal. Tim got to see Cohen at a club on Sunset Strip called The Trip, and "I just told him that I was a singer/songwriter with a repertoire of twenty or so songs."

Herb was sufficiently impressed to take him on, and he booked him into New York's Night Owl Cafe in the summer of 1966. To throw a young lad of nineteen in at the deep end, as it were, may have seemed something of a risk, but despite the fierce competition in New York at the time, Herb was smart enough to realize that Buckley's obvious talent would show through and that he wouldn't go unnoticed.

In fact Herb did more than that. He knew exactly which record company to approach for a contract and made sure that Tim got the best possible treatment. The company was of course Elektra Records , and the following quotes, again from an old obscure Elektra press hand-out, are Jac Holzman's:

"Herb called to tell me that he had a new artist, that he though we were the best label for that artist, and that he was sending us, and no one else, a demo disc with about six songs on it. I didn't have to play the demo more than once, but I think I must have listened to it at least twice a day for a week... whenever anything was bringing me down, I'd run for the Buckley; it was restorative. I asked Herb to arrange a meeting, but I had my mind made up already.

“We spent a late afternoon together, and my belief in Tim was more than confirmed. I explained to Tim that Elektra was growing in a creative direction at that time, and that he was exactly the kind of artist with whom we wanted to grow --young and in the process of developing, extraordinarily and uniquely gifted, and so "untyped" that there existed no formula or pattern to which anyone would be committed. Tim understood that we understood, and he knew we wanted him for the right reasons."

Not surprisingly, in the light of Elektra's reputation at the time, the admiration was mutual, as Tim explains:

"Jac Holzman was great because he didn't sign anybody that wasn't multi-talented. He signed people who could take care of themselves pretty much. That's what made him great. And that's what made every album he put out a piece of work. He had an uncanny ability for coupling a producer with a group or artist that could make magic.

And on my second album Jerry Yester and I got together and he did what a producer is supposed to do--not get in the way of the song, and the artist's feeling for it. It's very tricky sometimes with a singer/songwriter because you just cannot be objective about what you're doing. Sometimes it's not commercial and you overdo it for the general public's ear. But yeah, Elektra was a very sturdy label and I was lucky to be a part of it. I really loved it."

Tim Buckley (Elektra EKS74004)

So Buckley was signed to Elektra and released his debut album Tim Buckley in October 1966.

"Most of the songs on that album are high-school songs or just after that, and the musicians on the album, well we were living together-- Lee Underwood (lead guitar), Jim Fielder (bass), Billy Mundi (drums), and Van Dyke Parks (keyboards)."

You no doubt know that Mundi was once with the Mothers and later with a band called Rhinoceros, who later themselves produced three albums for Elektra. The name of Van Dyke Parks of course speaks for itself and as he was one of the many people that Pete and John interviewed in the States, there just might be the chance that we'll be printing his own story in the future.

The string arrangements on the album are by Jack Nitzsche, it was produced by Paul Rothchild and Jac Holzman, engineered by Bruce Botnik, and recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles.

All twelve songs on the album are originals, and seven of them were written with Larry Beckett.

"Larry's in Portland now... he's still a writer and a poet. He's writing a thing now on Paul Bunyon [sic]-- has been for the last three or four years. It's nearly completed and there's no way to explain it--- it's an eighty page poem. It's stuttered with American slang and the whole legend of Paul Bunyon. It's just a whole American legacy he's working on, quite removed from commercial antics and music. He's not too involved with that. However, he can write a hell of a song. He writes pornographic songs and plays piano and guitar."

Well I don't think that any of the songs on this album could be termed pornographic... most of them are love songs of some sort or another and they're all marked to some degree by the innocence and confusion of adolescence. There are however some really excellent compositions here, "Valentine Melody " and "Song Slowly Song" being my two personal favorites.

But above the quality of the songs and the instrumental work, there is one feature that stands out on this album, and indeed all of Buckley's albums, and that's his incredible voice. It's an opinion often quoted by many people who usually seem to know what they're talking about, that the two most expressive, versatile, and controlled voices in contemporary music belong to Van Morrison and Tim Buckley. It only takes one listen to any of his songs to realize the truth of that statement. Lillian Roxon summed it up quite nicely in her Rock Encyclopedia when she said:

"Nothing in rock, folk-rock, or anything else prepares you for a Tim Buckley album, and it's funny to hear his work described as blues, modified rock n' roll, and raga rock when, in fact, there is no name yet for the places he and his voice go.... His albums are easily the most beautiful in the new music, beautifully produced and arranged, always managing to be wildly passionate and pure at the same time."

During late 1966 and early 1967 Tim made a prolonged visit to New York where he shared a bill at the Balloon Farm with The Mothers of Invention, and then later, Downstairs at the Dom with Nico. Appearances in California included the Troubadour in Los Angeles and a number of festivals including the Magic Fountain Music Fair in San Francisco.

In April '67 he was playing the famous Cafe Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village where, by now, admirers flocked from all over to see him. One such person was apparently Brian Epstein who had been advised by George Harrison, on the strength of the album, to take a look at this bright new talent.

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