Melody -- An Appreciation of Tim Buckley
music of Tim Buckley has always meant more to me than that of any other musician
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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