was now Buckley's watchword.
Dream Letter, recorded in 1968 at London's Queen Elizabeth
Hall, was already more diffuse than Happy/Sad, lacking the
pulse of Carter CC Collins's congas. The budget couldn't afford
him or bassist John Miller, so Pentangle's Danny Thompson
was drafted in to play an intuitively supportive -- and barely
rehearsed -- role.
got a call asking me to turn up and rehearse everything at
once," recalls Thompson. "He refused to get into
a routine of singing 'the song.' We did a TV show, and when
it came to doing it live Tim said, 'Let's do another song,'
which we'd never rehearsed. It was two minutes longer than
out time slot, and the producer was putting his finger across
his throat, and Tim looked at him with a puzzled expression
and carried on, like art and music was far more important
than any of this rubbish that surrounds it. He was fearless."
Selwood, who ran the UK branch of Elektra records, recalls
the same episode : "Tim had got a slot on the Julie
Felix Show on BBC. He turned up to rehearsals with Danny
Thompson an hour late; he shuffled in, nodded when introduced
to the producer, unsheathed his guitar, and they launched
into an extemporization of one of his songs that lasted over
producer and Felix watched open-mouthed, not daring to interrupt.
The most exhaustingly magical performance I have ever witnessed
-- and all to an audience of three. When it was done, Tim
slapped his guitar in the case, said 'OK?' to the producer,
year later, after a heady bout of touring, including the Fillmore
East's opening night alongside BB King, Buckley's muse was
flying high. In 1968 he'd sounded enraptured, a wayward choirboy
testing the limits of a new-found sound, but the voice of
1969 scatted and scorched, twisting and ascending like a wreath
of smoke. The music mixed blues, jazz and ballads, throwing
in calypso, even cooking on the verge of funk. A key Buckley
moment arrived at the climax of a simmering fourteen-minute
Gypsy Woman (from Happy/Sad), when he yelled,
"Oh, cast a spell on Timmy!", like an exorcism in
reverse. Few singers craved possession so hungrily.
little-known artifact from this period is his soundtrack music
for the film Changes, directed by Hall Barlett who
later went on to helm Jonathon Livingston Seagull. A live
set from the Troubadour, finally released two years ago, previewed
material that surfaced on Lorca (1970). The album was
named after the murdered Spanish poet, whose simultaneous
violent and tender poetics Buckley was vocally mirroring.
On the song Lorca itself, and on Anonymous Proposition
and Driftin', Buckley floats and stings over a languid
blue-note haze -- crooning and stretching half-tones over
never had any music to read from," bassist John Balkin
remembers. "We just noodled through and went for it,
just finding the right note or coming off a note and making
it right," Buckley regarded the title track as "my
identity as a unique singer, as an original voice."
timing wasn't great. Now tuning into such mellow songsmiths
as James Taylor, the Love Generation was in no mood to follow
in Buckley's wayward footsteps, any more than Buckley had
kowtowed to Elektra's craving for old-style troubadour charm.
As Holzman says, "he was making music for himself at
that point...which is fine, except for the problem of finding
enough people to listen to it."
artist has a responsibility to know what's gone down and what's
going on in his field, not to copy but to be aware,"
the creator responded. "Only that way can he strengthen
his own perception and ability."
this time Holzman was poised to sell Elektra, which upset
Buckley. Although major label offers were on the table --
"a lot of bread, which makes me feel really good"
-- he decided that money wasn't the issue : "That's not
where I'm at. I can live on a low budget."
some deliberation he signed to Straight, a Warners-distributed
label formed by Herb Cohen and Frank Zappa. "It would
be better for me to stay with one man who had taken care of
me," he said. "No matter what anyone thinks of Herbie,
he's a great dude." But he capitulated to Cohen's demand
to record a more accessible record : aptly named, Blue
Afternoon (1969) is a collection of narcotic folk-torch
always wrote about love and suffering in all their manifestations,"
says Lee Underwood. "He felt that underneath love was
fear, fear of love and success and attention and responsibility."
In the album's centrepiece, Blue Melody, Buckley keens
: "There ain't no wealth that can buy my pride/There
ain't no pain that can cleanse my soul/No, just a blue melody/Sailing
far away from me." In So Lonely, he confessed
that "Nobody comes around here no more". In press
material for the album, Buckley said the songs had been written
for Marlene Dietrich.
Afternoon beat Lorca to the shops by a month. With
two albums vying for attention, his already diminished sales
potential was halved. (Lorca didn't even chart). Buckley,
never commercially-minded, was still looking forward. "When
I did Blue Afternoon, I had just about finished writing
set songs," he told Zigzag. "I had to stretch
out a little bit...the next [album] is mostly dealing in time
any troubadour ever stretched out quite as Buckley did on
1970's Starsailor? Buckley's third album in a year,
in the words of bassist John Balkin, was ""a whole
different genre". Balkin, who ran a free improvisation
group with Buzz and Buck Gardner of the Mothers, had introduced
Buckley to opera singer Cathy Berberian's interpretations
of songs by Luciano Berio, inspiring the ever-restless Buckley
to new heights.
throbbing rhythms and atonal dynamics, the Gardners' blowing
was matched by Buckley's gymnastic yodels and screams : one
moment he sounded like an autistic child, the next like Tarzan.
Everything peaked on the title song, with its sixteen tracks
of vocal overdubs. Larry Beckett, recalled to add impressionistic
poetry to expressionistic music, also had a field day : to
wit, the likes of "Behold the healing festival/complete
for an instant/the dance figure pure constellation."
the Starsailor track itself," recalls Balkin,
"we wanted things like Timmy's voice moving and circling
the room, coming over the top like a horn section, like another
instrument, not like five separate voices. His range was incredible.
He could get down with the bass part and be up again in a
beautiful, Starsailor is a unique masterpiece. Aside
from Song To The Siren, the album was the epitome of
uneasy listening. "Sometimes you're writing and you know
that you're not going to fit," Buckley responded. "But
you do it because it's your heart and soul and you gotta say
it. When you play a chord, you're dating yourself...the fewer
chords you play, the less likely you are to get conditioned,
and the more you can reveal of what you are."
Starsailor came close to Coltrane's 'sheets of sound',
it was hard not to see it as commercial suicide. Attempts
to reproduce Starsailor live didn't help. "The
shows Tim booked himself after Starsailor were total
free improvisation, vocal gymnastics time," recalls Balkin.
"I can still see him onstage, his head down, snoring.
There was one episode of barking at the audience too. After
one show, Frank Zappa said we sounded good, and he wasn't
one who easily handed out compliments."