Buckley -- The Interview
by Michael Davis
following interview took place in April 1975,
two months before Tim Buckley's death by chemical misadventure.
He had just removed himself from the cross fire between his
management firm and his record company and had an upcoming
date at the Starwood club in Hollywood, so he was eager to
talk to the press.
was open to discussing his entire career and some of the philosophical
underpinnings of his music, not just his then-current situation,
and came off as one of the brightest people I've talked to
in twelve years of interviewing. After his stupid, tragic
death, some spoke of him as a burnout, but this was definitely
not the case.
His Starwood show was a success, a far cry from his Bitter
End West gig a few years earlier with the Starsailor
band, where he had had to charm the waitresses out of cleaning
all the tables off so he could do a couple more tunes at the
end of the night.
drew a healthy crowd to the Starwood and the music was fit
as well. Older tunes like Buzzin' Fly and newer ones
like Get On Top Of Me Woman both benefited from his
quintets solid if hardly exploratory, funk-rock style and
his voice was in fine form. Backstage, Buckley told me that
plans were in the works for a live album; it was never to
back to this interview tape, a chilling moment occurred at
the end when, after Buckley had mentioned Lenny Bruce several
times, I noted that Bruce had a reissue album on the charts.
The idea that Bruce could have a posthumous hit cracked Buckley
up but good.
in 1984, Rhino Records issued a Best of Tim Buckley
LP and his star is once again on the rise, particularly in
England. Ex-Teardrop Explodes leader Julian Cope has spoken
highly of him and a version of Song To The Siren (from
Starsailor) recorded by This Mortal Coil, a one-off
project featuring vocalist Elizabeth Frazer from British chart-toppers
the Cocteau Twins, has spent several weeks in the British
you wonder if somewhere, Buckley's spirit isn't enjoying an
ironic chuckle at it all.
Tell me about the management and record company changes that
are going down at this point.
Buckley: It's basically just a cleaning house. The management,
which I'm no longer involved with, has been a big problem
and that was tied in with Warner Bros. so there was bad blood
all around. I wasn't really involved with it but my music
was getting the bad end of it. My music wasn't getting promoted,
period, and since I feel really deeply about every project
I do, I hate to see 'em die like that. All I know is that
I'm free and it's great.
I assume you're searching for another record company at this
Buckley: Right, preferably one where one man makes the
decisions. The first record company I signed to was Elektra
and it was Jac Holzman that made it all happen. Talking to
one man is really phenomenal, knowing that something is going
to be done. When you're talking to a committee... I don't
know. There are large companies where one guy does it: Ahmet
Ertegun at Atlantic, Clive Davis at Arista, the ones that
have a genuine concern for the artist.
What were your reasons for leaving Elektra in the first place?
Buckley: Jac sold the company. That was the beginning
of my problems businesswise, though I didn't know it at the
time. I knew that it was real sad and I also knew that I probably
couldn't go on at that high pitch of big business. When he
left Elektra, a huge gap opened as far as quality in the music.
At the Newport Folk Festival, Newport, Rhode Island, 1968
with percussionist Carter Collins (left) and half of vibraphonist
Are there any musical changes going down at this point?
Buckley: Well, I'm not gonna write about record companies
and management (laughs). Musically, it's not the same as Greetings
From L.A. or Sefronia or Look At The Fool.
In a lot of ways, it's more simple but then again, more musical.
Have you ever met anyone who could successfully explain his
music at any given time? If you have, you've talked to a Top
40 artist (chuckles). I really don't know until I hear the
first tracks back.
Have you done any recording towards the next project?
Buckley: Uh, no. I've written a few things that are ready
to play but I still don't know how they're going to sound.
What sorts of artists were you listening to when you started
getting your music together?
Buckley: Well, I was never a folkie. I was always rooted
in African rhythms. I still listen to Duke Ellington; all those
people playing together as a quintet is just amazing to me.
That takes great writing and a great understanding of the people
in the group. I pretty much went on that principle with the
quintet; I try to understand the people that work for me as
well as he did his.
would write for what they were good at. If you don't do it
that way, the music just becomes a prop for the lyrics. It's
okay to .... one the same way. If you've said it once, you
should just leave it alone until you've gone through a process
where you either understand the situation better or put a
new slant on it or something.
How were you exposed to these African rhythms?
Buckley: Through dance groups and people like Olatunji.
In New York, African, Latin, Puerto Rican and African things
passed through from time to time. Also, working with Carter
(C.C. Collins), my conga player.
Out here, you were associated with the fabled Orange County
Buckley: It didn't exist. Jackson Browne was from there;
I wasn't. I just happened to play there a couple of times. I
was from New York and Washington, D.C.; when we moved here,
it was the City of Commerce, Bell Gardens. At that time, the
folk thing was really booming and the kids in the suburbs needed
guitars; it was very important to be just like the Kingston
Trio or the Limelighters.
I was buying up these Martin guitars at downtown L.A. pawnshops
-- the guys there didn't know what they had and some of those
Martins dated back to the '30s -- and I was running them out
to the suburbs and meeting these strange rich people who were
buying their kids guitars. Now those kids are probably lawyers
or wiretappers or whatever.
how I got into Orange County. I found a few clubs that served
sassafras tea and coffee that were actual coffee houses with
no liquor so a brat of my age could play there. Before that,
I had played in country bands, lead guitar and stuff, and
I could play in bars because they didn't care.