Digging Deeper to the Roots
a world that seems grossly over-populated with singer/songwriters whose
crotchets and quavers reflect their personal attitudes and experiences, Tim Buckley
stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. He doesn't preach, he doesn't claim
a right to solve the world's problems and he doesn't bore the listener with waves
of songs of interest only to himself or immediate friends.
does not slot conveniently into the category that encompasses the drifter with
the guitar and few simple songs. Instead his music comes from an endless variety
of influences fused together into a complex assortment of rhythm patterns, ideas
short, he is original.
is no spaced-out American hippy, nor pretentious underground figure. He's a serious
young man with thoughts on all manner of subjects apart from music; he's educated
and articulate more in the fashion of a forward-thinking college professor than
a contemporary musician.
appearance, too, is deceptive: his curly black hair is short if unkempt; he could
not be called stylish and the head shot on the sleeve of his Sefronia album flatters
was born in Washington, but his musical roots seem to have strayed far and wide,
lingering not a little in the Southern States where he picked up on both country
music and jazz.
was in 1966, though, that Buckley headed West, met up with Frank Zappa's manager,
Herbie Cohen, and became a professional musician.
kept working ever since. Initially, he put a band together in New York to play
whatever dance craze was going in the discotheques, working to survive, getting
his name known in influential circles -- including the Andy Warhol clan -- and
building gradually on the foundations he laid.
strange how temperamental the voice can be from one evening to the next. One night
it can be poor, and another night it can be pure and clean..."
made albums for Elektra before changing to Cohen's Straight and Discreet labels,
played two tours of Europe and largely retained the same musicians over the years.
own material has dominated all his albums.
depend largely on the instrument you learn to play and when you start to learn,"
said Buckley after some thought when we met at Cohen's offices on Sunset Boulevard
last week. "In 1960 when I started thinking about music, there was rock and
roll and jazz and some folk stuff to look at. Folk and country-blues were the
first things I learned to play well, and then as you progress you get into more
America, if you are brought up here, you grow up with music whether you like it
or not. You know about country music and all the ethnic music and although I was
born in Washington I traveled around a lot hearing all kinds of things.
parents listened to Miles Davis and Coltrane, Jerry Mulligan, Stan Kenton and
the big bands and when Elvis broke, the media started playing Little Richard and
Chuck Berry. On record I've touched on all these influences, but I'm still in
the process of learning now."
is shortly to embark on a two-month US college tour.
to play smaller venues than as supporting attraction at sports stadiums holding
five figure attendances.
to about 4,000 is the limit; in the arenas it's stupid," he says. "The
Stones can fill those places and we've done a few supporting Curtis Mayfield and
Zappa. They're too big to mean anything and the music is too loud to mean anything.
of the big English groups cannot get through to an audience at a medium volume,
they have to play loud. I'm not putting them down for that, but it isn't as musical
and there has to be music if you want to cook with an audience. Curtis Mayfield
managed it at a lower volume and I'd enjoy playing with him more than with an
English group. Clubs, too, I like when I am visiting a town for the first time."
a lesser extent, Buckley has become involved with films,
both as an actor and as a scriptwriter.
America, films are part of one's development -- more so than school in many cases.
I got the bug when they called me up to do a singing bit in one film, but it was
a turkey (US term for movie that's never released) just as was another in which
I had a straight acting role.
love Orson Welles because he knows America better than most directors do, and
America is a hard place to know. It's so big and there are so many different kinds
of people who are Americans, and the amazing thing is that they get along as well
as they do. Welles has captured it as well as any.
was when I was sitting round the lights watching one film that I knew I had to
try one and check out the whole process, but this one was with a Russian director
trying to do an American film and understand the climate of America. He couldn't
now I'm waiting for something better to come along. I've written two scripts;
one is a million-dollar comedy which nobody will finance, but I'd love to do some
parts. All the parts I get offered are those of musicians. The caster says, 'You're
a musician so act that way' and you don't even get a script half the time. Then
they want you to talk about heroin, drugs and bi-sexual sex and all the things
they think a musician is supposed to know about, but I don't want that. I'd play
any part other than a musician."
Tim Buckley in 1974
around America says Buckley, is essential for someone who expects to make a successful
movie -- and he feels few people other than musicians actually know the whole
of America well.
politicians don't travel around enough, but those that do and understand about
how certain sections of the country will vote are the ones that know America better
than anyone. Knowing how someone will vote, I think, is next to God; far more
intelligent than knowing whether a person will lay out three dollars for a record
or going to see a film.
all has a bearing on a musician, one that is presenting a show around the country
rather than one who is just out to make a record. To present a show, you have
to be able to present different styles because you never know where they're from,
especially in colleges where they're from everywhere.
great to be able to get young and old, black and white and others all in one concert
hall and see them relate to the whole thing while you are playing. To see a mixed
audience congenially relate to one thing while you are playing is phenomenal.
I've never even seen it in a church. It's the one thing that music has that's
never been captured by anything else. I've managed to do it a few times and you
can notice it from the stage."
is this rapport between artist and audience that Buckley hopes to capture on a
live album in the near future.
strange how temperamental the voice can be from one evening to the next. One night
it can be poor, and another night it can be pure and clean which is the style
I went for on my last album. If you have the pipes to begin with, there's a lot
you can do to change your voice to get a certain sound.
think all rock and roll people do a lot of drinking because they want to sound
black when they sing, especially the English singers. I don't know why they do
it because it's limiting their music when they have so much else to offer. The
Kinks never did that and they've always been one of my favorite English bands.
They've written some great songs and Ray Davies is one of the most under-rated
songwriters there is."
to other personal likes, Buckley says he is a great admirer of Rodgers and Hart.
"The hard thing about writing within a rock and roll beat is that it's difficult
to write a good chord pattern, unlike the stuff that Rodgers and Hart wrote. It's
so rigid, it's like a march. I think the Beatles songs are really great for playing
at half-time during football matches. The Beatles wrote a lot of great marching
songs and so did Burt Bacharach.
the Americans, I like Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Hoagy Carmichael, Louis Armstrong
and Ray Charles. I know Charles doesn't write but his interpretations and arrangements
are fantastic. I never heard 'Yesterday' until Charles did it, and that always
gets my quarter in the juke-box."
feels that an artist who is influenced by another artist should discover the background
of that influence.
now the problem in America is getting new artists to learn what other artists
have done before them, to really get the roots. When you are talking about roots
in America you are talking about all sorts of things, newspaper reporting and
Walter Winchell, crime, old singers and writers, old shows and old movies.