The Tim Buckley Archives


Holding Together

Blue Melody -- An Appreciation of Tim Buckley

by Steve Watts

The music of Tim Buckley has always meant more to me than that of any other musician who evolved from the glut of singer-songwriters in the late sixties. The most outstanding feature was his incredible voice which could create a variety of moods, both within or between the songs that he performed.

Tim Buckley was born on St. Valentine's Day (how appropriate) 1947, in Washington DC. He had a very musical upbringing and by the age of twelve he was appearing in a country and western band which went by the name of Princess Ramona and the Cherokee Riders. At home, he listened to his mother's favorites: Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. These influences continued into his teens and led him to discover the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Stan Kenton.

His family had moved to Anaheim in California, and by the age of sixteen he was regularly appearing in LA folk clubs and news of the young singer began to spread. Along with Jackson Browne and Steve Noonan, two other rising starlets of the time, he was dubbed one of the Orange County Three (referring to the area's chief form of produce).

By 1966 he had signed a recording deal with Elektra and his eponymously title first album was released in the same year. It was a pleasant, although not great, collection of wistful love songs. Seven of the songs were co-written with an old school friend and long-time associate, Larry Beckett. Beckett was to continue to collaborate with Buckley for the remainder of his career.

Today the album sounds dated and was typical of the type of record Elektra were releasing at that time. The inevitable "New Dylan" tag was hung around his neck, but the one feature that separated him from the rest was his amazing vocal range.

His voice, as well as his songs, were developed more fully on the next album entitled Goodbye And Hello. Generally the melodies were more memorable and the arrangements more complex, especially on the heavily orchestrated title track. Like the first LP, Goodbye And Hello promised more than it actually delivered. There was, however, a hint in the last track, Morning Glory, of what was to follow.

Happy Sad, the third album was a giant step forward in Buckley's musical progression. It had a far more melancholic and plaintive air, and the first strains of his jazz influences, which were to take his career into another phase, began to show through. The record is a classic from start to finish and is the most complete he ever made. Overall, Happy Sad has a mellow, laid back feel but, paradoxically, the playing could not be tighter.

The songs are generally longer and give the band an opportunity to improvise freely; with the vibes playing of David Friedman being of particular note. The maturity of the recording belied Buckley's twenty-one years and one can only be amazed at the speed of his development over the two years since his first album.

Buckley then signed to Frank Zappa's Straight label, which was probably due more to his lack of commercial appeal than for any other reason. His next two albums, Blue Afternoon and Lorca (released on Elektra to complete his contract), went more in the direction of modern jazz, but retaining the individual traits of the previous records.

In a later interview he admitted to writing the songs for these and part of the next album, Starsailor, in the same month. Commenting on this fact all he had to say was "I was hot", and on listening to the music concerned this can't be denied. However, no matter what had previously been hinted, nothing had prepared his fans for the aforementioned Starsailor.

The influence of artists such as Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Thelonius Monk met Buckley's rock sensibility head-on to produce one of the most uncompromising records of modern times. It was an explosion of ideas that alienated many of his diehard supporters. The music defies description; suffice to say that for most of the time Buckley screams like a banshee, while the band race along behind him, without attention to any traditional musical form.

It does, however, have its more reflective moments -- such as the beautiful Song For The Siren, on which Buckley sings like an angel, and the pretty Moulin Rouge. All in all, a difficult album to get into, but perseverance brings its rewards -- and I doubt if a more successful fusion of two musical styles has ever been recorded.

Starsailor acted as a catharsis for Buckley and he then took a two-year break from recording. In this gap, he took driving jobs and spent time with his family. He also acted in two films entitled No Exit and Zoo, and it was his intention to involve himself more fully in this medium, both as an actor and a scriptwriter.

The musical hiatus was broken in 1972 with the release of his seventh album, Greetings From LA and could not have been more different from Starsailor in terms of musical style.

Recorded with a new line-up, Greetings was a very tight, hard-hitting collection of R'n'B. In subject matter, however, Starsailor and Greetings were two sides of the same coin. Buckley's music had always veered to the erotic as opposed to the romantic and this was now brought out to the full, as highlighted by such titles as Move With Me, Make It Right and Get On Top. As always, this side of his music was not just evidenced in the words of his songs, but in the way he sang and played them.

Two more albums followed before his death, but neither were to come anywhere near the greatness of his earlier work. Sefronia was a patchy affair which included passable cover versions of Tom Waits' Martha and Fred Neil's Dolphins, the latter having been a favorite in his live set for some time.

Among the original material, Honey Man was the best and could easily have been an outtake from Greetings, but the feeble I Know I'd Recognise Your Face deserved no place on a Tim Buckley record. The final album, Look At The Fool (originally to be called An American Souvenir was a more evenly balanced collection than Sefronia, but overall it was largely uninspiring.

Sadly, Look At The Fool was to be his last recording. Like many of rock's casualties, he lived his life to excess -- and in doing so he gave us a wealth of great music that will live on for many years. On June 29th, 1975, he died from an overdose of heroin and morphine.

Just prior to his death, he was working on an album with Larry Beckett based on Joseph Conrad's book, An Outcast Of The Islands. He was also talking of releasing a double live album featuring recordings from all stages of his career. It is particularly tragic that the latter project never reached fruition as he was a very powerful live performer.

Although there are no official concert recordings, a few bootlegs do exist. Happy Mad features tracks from a Danish radio broadcast and a Top Gear Session. It is notable for the inclusion of The Troubadour which is unavailable elsewhere. Blue Obsession is a recording from a performance at the Starwood Club in 1974 and features a similar selection of tracks to a tape of his appearance at the Knebworth Festival in the same year.

There are two compilations available on import only -- The Late Great Tim Buckley and The Best Of Tim Buckley. Neither offer a truly reflective sample of his style or diversity and are not recommended. It is doubtful if any collection of his songs on one record could do this, and anyone who wishes to investigate his music for the first time could do no better than listen to Happy Sad and Greetings From LA.

Despite being cited as an influence by many artists, his music has never risen above being any more than a cult attraction. In view of the difficulty in tracking down some of Buckley's albums nowadays, it would be nice if one of the companies specializing in re-issues took a look at his back catalogue and made it available to a new generation of music fans. There can surely be few more deserving causes.

Holding Together is Planet Earth's finest - and longest running - Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Hot Tuna and psychedelic/West Coast music fanzine...

This website formerly used Adobe Shockwave , Adobe Flash, and Photodex Presenter to play photo slideshows.

Browsers no longer support these players as of January 12, 2021.
Please excuse limited navigation and missing audio files while modifications are being made.


Home Contact us About The Archives

Unless otherwise noted
Entire contents © 1966 - 2021 The Estate of Timothy C Buckley III
All rights reserved.