number of people in rock have been gifted with unique and
Elvis Presley comes immediately to mind. Roy Orbison and Gene
Pitney gained distinction through their uncontested vocal
originality. Rod Stewart has a streamlined set of personalized
pipes, as do Robert Plant and Eric Burdon.
one extraordinary white rock vocalist tends too often to be
overlooked. Although he was relatively small, Tim Buckley
had a voice that reached peaks rarely touched by others. Through
a recording career that only seemed to lead from one frustration
to another, Buckley's voice just got better and better.
after his Washington, D.C., birth on St. Valentine's Day,
1947, his family moved to Amsterdam, N.Y., where they lived
for the next 10 years before moving to Bell Gardens, CA. Around
age 12, Buckley discovered a Miles Davis record in his mother's
collection. He was fascinated by some of the trumpet player's
that, Buckley's musical affections tended toward such music
artists as Johnny Cash, Hank Thompson and Hank Williams. Those
early influences had prompted him to learn to play the banjo.
But after hearing the upper reaches of the trumpet, Buckley
began trying to duplicate some of those brassy high notes
vocally. He'd heard Little Richard get up there, so he knew
it was possible.
his bicycle through traffic around his home he would practice
stretching his vocal chords with full-toned shrieks and screams.
Later, when he heard the low notes of the baritone saxophone,
he started working his voice in the opposite direction. Buckley's
self-disciplined voice lessons didn't resemble any sort of
formal training, but through more attention to trumpet and
sax records, and through more bicycle-pedaling practice sessions,
he was firmly absorbed in the early development of what came
to be a five-and-a-half-octave vocal range, practically unheard
of in pop music.
the time he was 15, Buckley was playing in local bands which
he later called "those 'Louie, Louie,' carburetor soul
bands." In high school he also found himself serving
as quarterback on the varsity football team. During his gridiron
tenure he broke the fingers of his left hand, leaving him
permanently unable to play barre chords on the guitar. In
time, though, the handicap was overcome somewhat by adapting
a system of open chording that contributed greatly to his
even halfway through high school, Buckley had had enough of
football, let alone classes. Recalling those days in a 1969
New York Times interview he said, "I was playing and
studying music all the way through the morning, then it was
time to go to school and I'd go and couldn't relate to anything."
country'n'western bands such as the Cherokee Riders came to
the area, Buckley would sometimes gig with them. His music
obsession quickened as he got to know some of the musicians
and hear their stories of the road. Solo gigs were soon coming
more frequently and he did some traveling along a southwestern
roadhouse circuit in Arizona and New Mexico.
repertoire he developed and stuck to was straight blues and
country. But on periodic truant officer-inspired returns to
high school, Buckley befriended a young poet named Larry Beckett.
Before long the two were writing songs, Buckley putting music
to Beckett's words. Buckley was also writing lyrics of his
own, though the association with Beckett as contributing lyricist
lasted throughout his career.
original songs steadily added to his club sets, a bass player
was added to make the act a duo. The bassist was Jim Fielder,
who became a charter member of Blood, Sweat And Tears. The
duo worked places such as the "It's Boss" club in
Los Angeles county.
working as a music teacher in a Santa Ana music shop, Buckley
met Jimmy Carl Black, an instructor at the shop by day and
by night, drummer with Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention.
night in early 1966 Black caught Buckley's act at a club and
was impressed by what he heard. He suggested that Buckley
get in touch with Mothers' manager Herb Cohen. Impressed by
the singer's versatile voice and by the quality of the original
material, Cohen signed Buckley and booked him into the Nite
Owl Cafe in New York City. During Buckley's Nite Owl debut
in summer 1966, Cohen assembled a six-song demonstration record
and presented it to Jac Holzman, then president of Elektra
didn't have to play the demo more than once," Holzman
was quoted as saying, "but I think I must have listened
to it at least two times a day for the next week. Whenever
anything was bringing me down, I'd run for Buckley."