The Tim Buckley Archives



Melody Maker -1974

Starsailor - Part Two

Tim's vocal improvisations were beginning to upset a few folk club clients, however. One report, from Hollywood in late '68, records Buckley scat-singing trumpet parts, which went over like a 9pm curfew with most of the folkies that had followed him through the first two albums.

"It's very easy to confuse people in Hollywood," Tim observed. "Hollywood is like England. They're still totally preoccupied with image there. And they're so insular. They really have no idea what's happening musically in the rest of America."

It's not generally known that Blue Afternoon, Lorca and Starsailor were recorded in a burst of creativity that lasted for a couple of months in late 1969.

And it's generally supposed that Lorca, being Tim's final album for Elektra, before signing with Zappa's Straight label, was made prior to Blue Afternoon. In fact it wasn't.

"That was a complicated time, between labels. But Blue Afternoon was done immediately after Lorca".

And Lorca, the song itself, which Buckley had tremendous difficulty in compressing into anything less than a seventeen minute epic, was a pointer towards the cataclysmic Starsailor.

An astonishing collection of styles; Latin (Down By The Borderline), new-jazz aligned (Monterey, The Healing Festival), European influenced Ligeti-esque (Starsailor), 1966-type Buckley (Moulin Rouge), and a number of other things that defy any classification.

"But the Scots are nuts, aren't they? They'll argue about anything, and somehow they always seem to know more about what you're doing than you do... And you always end up buying them a drink because they've argued you into the floor..."

The album featured Buckley alongside the dynamite horns of Buzz and Bunk Gardner, and also marked the return of Larry Beckett and more obscurantist lyrics.

(Incidentally, Buckley's voice isn't doctored, altered or treated in any way on Starsailor, the only "trickery" of any kind is the common or garden overdub. On the title track there're no less than sixteen Tim Buckley's.)

I asked about the sleeve of Greetings From L.A. The front depicts the town of Los Angeles, all but invisible beneath a disgusting brown blanket of photochemical smog, and inside there's a grim photo of a very serious- looking Buckley clutching a gas mask.

All very ecological, but somehow it doesn't quite ring true. Buckley doesn't seem like any fresh-air-loving nature fiend.

Concern with pollution doesn't suit a guy who can say, "I can't stand animals, so I adopted a kid," and indeed the album cover was intended as an ironic statement.

"See, in L.A. you can't even get through the day without a sense of irony. And the message that the sleeve was intended to impart was that even in this horrific atmosphere there can still be a lot of musical activity going down. But of course, nobody picked up on that.

"I like the album a lot, though. We made it all in two days, and it has a kind of immediate energy about it."

Greetings was the first of Tim's albums that didn't feature Lee Underwood as lead guitarist, the jazzer being replaced by Joe Falsia--a New Yorker.

More rock-oriented, Falsia also produced Greetings and took most of the lead action on Sefronia. Underwood, apparently, has made the move from artist to critic, and is now a jazz and rock-writer for Down Beat.

With Sefronia, Buckley seems to be attempting to reach a wider audience, or at least to pick up old fans that have fallen by the wayside.

For while the groin-rock and oblique elements remain, most of the album is direct and conventionally melodic enough to convert folks that have never even heard of Roland Kirk or Franz Kafka.

The record even includes three songs that Buckley didn't have a hand in composing, among them Fred Neil's beautiful Dolphins.

"A lot of people prefer the older-type songs, and I'm happy to do them, as long as I can continue to experiment simultaneously."

Experimentation, innovation and invention are words that occur frequently in Buckley's conversation. His in an alert and inquisitive mind. For example, it's no accident that he chooses to play and compose on the twelve-string guitar.

"With the twelve-string there aren't any clichés that you have to try to consciously avoid, except maybe the old Leadbelly flicks."

So Buckley has worked at developing his own guitar style, and is now almost as individual instrumentally as he is vocally. The concerted energy that has got him to this point is currently sustaining him though the planning and execution of three albums -- a regular studio album, a concept album and a live double album.

He's already written more than enough new material for the studio record, and the concept album is well under way. It's a song cycle, another collaboration job with Larry Beckett and is based on Joseph Conrad's Outcasts Of The Islands further reflecting his literary fascinations.

The live album seems destined to produce rather more headaches. He intends to re-record all of his personal favorites from earlier albums, but is going to be restricted by time limits.

"I intend to use every musician that I've ever worked with somewhere on the album, though I'm not sure of specific songs yet.

"I'll definitely include a lot of Blue Afternoon, however. That album was only half-finished, and I particularly want to update and complete Cafe and The River. That album got kind of lost while I was changing labels."

© Rick McGrath/
Greetings from Vancouver - 1973

Whether or not this nostalgia for older songs has anything to do with Jim Fielder, who has now rejoined Buckley after some years with Blood, Sweat and Tears is an interesting point. But irrespective, Fielder will be playing with Buckley when the singer's band tours here in the autumn.

Further evidence of Buckley's passion for music is revealed when he speaks of his activities away from the concert rostrum.

"I work in the ethnomusicology department of the UCLA in California, and my main premise is with Japanese and Balinese music. I do notation and translating from the Balinese musicians to the kids that are there studying.

"The program was started years ago by Pete Seeger's father, and that's how I found out about it. Right now, that's my main source of new music and inspiration in the world.

"The courses aren't set up as a student/professor type thing. What you have is a group from Bali actually there, dancers and musicians, Gamelan Orchestra, the whole situation. What I have to do is to assimilate it all, and figure out how exactly to play the instruments.

"It's a near-impossible feat, but you try to understand about the people, the culture and the whole thing."

Speaking of unusual instruments prompted Buckley to ask after the Incredible String Band, with whom he played here briefly back in 1968.

He grimaced on hearing that Messrs Williamson and Heron were now heavily into Scientology.

"What? See ya, boys! It's hard enough to get along without signing your shit over to something like that. Religion is the ruin of a great many good musicians. You won't find me falling for any of that kind of stuff.

"But the Scots are nuts, aren't they? I mean that's not just my opinion is it? I mean they really are crazy. They'll argue about anything, and somehow they always seem to know more about what you're doing than you do.

"And you always end up buying them a drink because they've argued you into the floor."

The light-hearted turn that conversation had taken seemed agreeable to Buckley as he launched into a lengthy monologue, totally unsuitable for publication in a family magazine like this, on the sensual delights of young ladies from Oklahoma to Mexico and the liberating effects of Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and the Pill upon the same.

Okay. You got any ambitions, Tim?

"Yeah. I wanna get paid. No, seriously, I'm writing a book, my impressions of America, that I'd dearly like to see published..."

Tim Buckley, ladies and gentlemen.

"Interior war drives him, shorn of sleep...he takes the clear risk in new dance...crusading upwards from dearth. He will sign you his ten tales and then wander till spring."--Larry Beckett, 1967.

Clichés notwithstanding, if ever the title New Renaissance man was applicable to anybody in rock music, then Buckley's the artist to merit it.

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