The Tim Buckley Archives





TIM BUCKLEY was born on Valentine's Day Washington, D.C. in 1947. He spent the first ten years of his life in Amsterdam, NY, before moving to southern California, first to Bell Gardens, then to Anaheim. “I was only about 12 years old, and I had about five or six notes to my voice. I heard a recording of a trumpet player playing things way up there. So I tried to reach those notes - Little Richard got them. It was like a falsetto scream. I’d ride my bicycle around the neighborhood screaming at the buses until I couldn't go any higher. Then one day I heard the opposite end, a baritone sax ... I said, there's got to be a way to do that. So I practiced and screamed until I finally ended up with a five-and-a-half octave range.”

As a boy, he loved Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Hank Thompson, along with the occasional Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis or Miles Davis albums his mother used to play. By the time he graduated from high school, he and his poet friend Larry Beckett had written some 20 songs together, which they took to Herb Cohen, who signed Tim to Elektra. Tim was 18.

Buckley regarded his first release as naive, stiff, and innocent. Because he played a guitar and sang, he was dubbed a “folkie”, a misnomer from which he never freed himself. He began playing his 12-string in solo concerts at small clubs and colleges on the East Coast. By the time he cut his second record, Goodbye and Hello, his musical style and point of view perfectly matched the searing energy of the times. He had begun writing his own lyrics with a personal commitment and vulnerability he had never shown before. I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, in which he first incorporated asymmetrical rhythms, awed his listeners not only with the round, seductive tonal qualities of his voice, but the technical dexterity with which he was able to use it.

Buckley was an uneducated, lower-middle-class, street kid. He knew nothing about the formal and academic aspects of music, nor could he even make a barre chord on the guitar due to broken fingers warned during his stint as an unlikely high school quarterback. But he inhaled knowledge, inhaled personalities. His voracious creative and intellectual appetites made tremendous demands on the people around him.

After Goodbye and Hello, he began to move away from the "literary” world of Beckett and into the personal world he was developing on his own. He began to shun politics and social movements, and resented being cast as a rock 'n' roll savior. He had come to regard the blues-oriented rock of the day as white thievery and emotional sham. He also began his war with the business world, when he walked out on a Buffalo, New York, TV show after they asked him to lip-sync the words to Pleasant Street, a darkly powerful song about the illusory and destructive nature of drugs. “I live in a hundred-dollar-a-month house in Venice, California, and I don't need anything. You could take all the money away, and I could make it anyway. I did it before and I could do it again,” he said in an interview for Changes.

He turned his ears to jazz, listening to Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Mingus, Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman. He was learning how to select words not only for their meaning, but for their sound. Happy/Sad was the result and included the beautiful ballad Dream Letter, written for his son, Jeffrey Scott.

In performance, Tim began to improvise at exhausting length. The band no longer rehearsed, just tried to keep up with him as he introduced new material onstage. He wanted his musicians to stay close to their instincts. But even as he worked at staying fresh and original, problem arose. “You're supposed to move on artistically, but the way the business is ... you're supposed to repeat what you did before ... It's very hard to progress.”

Having done his “folk”, “rock” and “jazz” things, he now wanted to delve into areas virtually uncharted. He began to listen to Luciano Berio, Xenakis, John Cage, Stockhausen, Ihlan Mimaroglu. His long-time guitarist, Lee Underwood, introduced him to Cathy Berberian, “the musical friend [he’d] been looking for.” After hearing Berberian, he no longer doubted himself. He regarded the title cut of Lorca, recorded in 1969, to be his debut as a unique singer, an original force. He held notes longer and stronger than anyone in pop music ever had. He explored a wide range of vocal sounds, which in pop contexts were revolutionary. He began his odyssey into odd-time signatures, which at that time were unheard of. In the ballad, Anonymous Proposition, he composed one of the most voluptuous and demanding personal ballads any singer had ever recorded.

The record bombed. Most of the critics regarded the music as being morbid, “weird”, and decidedly uncommercial. After the first three records, still embraced by the majority of Buckley fans to this day, his sales dropped, and dwindling audiences demanded the old material and resented the new. At the insistence of his advisors, Tim grudgingly dipped back into his past and pulled out eight previously unissued songs, including Blue Melody and Café (which he loved and continued to perform) and released the album, Blue Afternoon.

But the performances were perfunctory; his heart wasn't in them. With the imperfect beginnings of Lorca, and the interruption of Blue Afternoon behind him, Tim threw himself with a passion into his magnum opus, Starsailor.

Starsailor was a pop monster of odd-time signatures, bizarrely dissonant criss-crossing shrieks, moans and wails, and virtually unparalleled exoticism and sensuality in the lyrics. “I even started singing in foreign languages - Swahili, for instance - just because it sounded better. An instrumentalist can be understood doing just about anything, but people are really geared for hearing only words come out of the mouth. If I had my way, words wouldn't mean a thing.”

When Starsailor came out and proved to be a terrifying failure, Tim became furious, then profoundly depressed. He could not produce his own records anymore; eventually, he couldn't get any bookings. When he ran out of money, he took out his anger on himself, descending into the depths of drug and alcohol abuse. After two years, he was strapped in every way. He desperately needed the adulatory recognition of his vanished public. For that reason, he came back with three rock albums - Greetings from LA, Sefronia and Look at the Fool

He did it “their” way, but it didn't work, primarily because he despised the conventional r&b formats, the thin, canned arrangements and the necessity of having to record other people's songs - with the exception of Fred Seaman's Dolphins, which he dearly loved and remained a staple of his live performances. He felt forced to endure the pitifully pedestrian, inadequate and unfulfilling r&b context (though he was a fan of r&b), especially on those few excellent songs that were for him achingly impassioned – Sweet Surrender, Because of You, and Who Could Deny You. Ironically, his voice never sounded better, more technically controlled or emotionally capable.

His sense of isolation became excruciating. Although in his effort to regain an audience, he had made effective and constructive strides in controlling his substance abuse, he was still liable to binges. Following a gig in Dallas on the weekend of June 28, 1975, he began one at a friend's house. With his system relatively clean, the combination proved to be too much for him. On many occasions, Buckley had ingested considerably more, and his friend, thinking he was only drunk, took him home. As his friend discussed the situation with Tim's wife, Judy, Tim lay on the floor with his head on a pillow. When the friend knelt beside him to ask how he was feeling, Tim whispered quietly, “Bye-bye baby,” and was gone. At the time, all he owned was his guitar and amplifier.

Tim Buckley held hands with the world for awhile. He gave in fire and fury and perverse humor the totality of his life's experience, which was far beyond his mere 28 years. He stood courageously on the stages of arenas, barrooms, and auditoriums, singing from within his own flames like a demon possessed. He had a beauty of spirit that etched the face of the lives of all who ever truly heard him sing.

- excerpted from Lee Underwood's Remembrances of Tim Buckley, Downbeat, June 16,1977

This was initially an idea for the show, Night Music -- one hour of different interpretations of Tim Buckley's music on network television; just the type of thinking that kept that show alive. Anyway, it didn't happen. Janine Nichols heard about it and wanted to do the Buckley show here.

For some reason, I thought that Buckley's music (in this type of multi-artist situation) would work better live than on lp. I agreed to do it thinking it would never happen. It happened.

Without going into stories about why the current personnel only slightly resembles the cast from two weeks ago, and the fun of putting on one of these things live, I must say that this show may be alright! You'll probably go through a lot of emotions, including wanting to confess, but stay through the whole show if you can. You’ll leave a better person and we’ll have you out of here by Chanukah.

I’ll be seeing you.


GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY was Hal’s idea. It seemed like a good subject for an attempt to bring one of his records to life in concert. All of Buckley's music had been recently re-released by Enigma and Elektra, with the exception of Tim Buckley and Lorca, which was as obscure then as it is out-of-print now. We spent months listening to the music on our own; then got together for several marathon sessions to finalize a list for performance.

A tape was made of the selected songs in alphabetical order, and the skeleton of a running order was born from some of the transitions revealed on the tape. We included music from every aspect of Buckley’s career, including the experimental and more emotionally exposed music, which we really like, that cost him most of his audience.

Artists were approached by our thinking they could do something interesting with the music. In some cases, the artist was already a fan of Buckley’s. This was the case with Shelley Hirsch, the Horse Flies (who had to drop out because of their touring schedule), G.E. Smith. Loren Mazzacane and Suzanne Langille, known then as Guitar Robert got wind of the project and got in touch with us.

Other times, the music was new to the artist but the affinity was instant -- Mary Margaret O’Hara (who also had to withdraw in order to finish a film soundtrack) and Richard Hell fell into this category. Herb Cohen, Buckley's manager, revealed that Buckley had a son, now a young man and a remarkable musician in his own right. Jeff Scott Buckley told me that he had never performed his father’s music in public, and this seemed like a good time to finally do so. Listen and be amazed.

Our intention was to reveal Buckley's courage and imagination as a composer, and enormous continuing influence as singer. I hope we did him justice.

Janine Nichols


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