2015 marks the fortieth anniversary of the death of one of the most talented, and innovative, vocalists of his generation, Tim Buckley. He died on June 29th 1975, aged just twenty-nine. That day, music lost a true visionary. Tim Buckley was, and always will be remembered as a musical chameleon, who believed his raison d’être was to constantly reinvent his music.
That’s why, the nine studio albums Tim released between 1966s Tim Buckley, and his 1974 swan-song, Look At The Fool, saw Tim Buckley constantly change direction. Over eight years and nine albums, Tim Buckley flitted between jazz, funk, psychedelia and avant-garde. Then on his three final albums, Tim even toyed with sex funk on 1972s Greetings from L.A., 1973s Sefronia and 1974s Look at the Fool. However, this alienated some of his fans and resulted in Tim’s music being banned by radio stations. This was just the latest in many twists and turns in the career of Tim Buckley.
Earlier in his career, during 1969, Tim decided to write and record trio of albums simultaneously. The first in this trio of albums was Blue Afternoon, released in November 1969. On Blue Afternoon, the first album Tim produced, he takes his folk rock sound as a starting point, and gives it a jazz tinged twist. After Blue Afternoon, came Lorca, released in May 1970.
Lorca, was without doubt, one of Tim’s most ambitious album. It was one of two avant-garde albums Tim released. On Lorca, Tim all but banishes his trademark folk rock sound, and pushes musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. That’s what people had come to expect from the twenty-three year old singer songwriter. By 1970, Tim Buckley had packed a lot of living into just twenty-three years.
Tim Buckley was born on 14th February 1947, in Washington DC, and later, moved to Amsterdam, New York. His first exposure to music was listening to his mother’s progressive jazz records. Throughout his childhood, he was introduced to a wide range of music, from the blues of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, to the jazz sounds of Miles Davis, and the country music of Hank Williams and Johhny Cash.
At high school, he sang he was inspired by the Kingston Trio and formed a group influenced by their music. Towards the end of his school career, he started missing classes to focus more of his attention on music. He was fortunate that he would meet Larry Beckett who was later, to write lyrics for Tim, and Jim Fielder who played bass in two of the groups he joined. These two groups were The Bohemians, who played popular music, and The Harlequin 3 who were a folk group.
Another fortunate meeting for Tim Buckley occurred in 1965, when he met Mary Guibert, a year younger than Buckley. Guibert became pregnant not long after, and they married in October 1965, giving birth to Jeff Buckley, who later became a talented singer songwriter. Mary Guibert would inspire much of Tim Buckley’s music. The marriage allowed Tim Buckley to spend time away from home, where his father a much decorated, US Army veteran, had became unstable, and sometimes violent. The marriage was turbulent, and Buckley soon moved into his own apartment, and soon after he realised he could not cope with married life, and the couple saw each other only occasionally thereafter. They divorced a year later in 1966, a month prior to Mary gave birth to Jeff.
After Tim left high school in 1965, he headed to college. However, college and music were too much for Tim to cope with, and he left college after two weeks to concentrate on his musical career. He spent time playing the folk clubs in LA during 1965, and then played a number of coffee houses in Orange County. In February 1966, Tim Buckley’s big break came.
He had played a concert at a club in LA called It’s Boss, when he was spotted by Jimmy Carl Black, the drummer in The Mother’s of Invention. He recommended Tim Buckley to Herb Cohen the manager of The Mother’s of Invention. Herb Cohen liked what he saw, and arranged for Buckley to play a concert at the Nite Owl, in Greenwich Village, New York. It was while Tim Buckley was there, that he met guitarist, Lee Underwood, who went on to be Buckley’s guitarist, playing on his albums. At the same time, Herb Cohen became Buckley’s manager, and arranged for him to record a demo with six tracks on it. This demo was sent to Jac Holzman at Elektra Records. Cohen liked what he heard, and after seeing Tim Buckley live, he signed him to Elektra.
Tim’s debut album was Tim Buckley, which Tim and Larry Beckett wrote whilst at high school. It was recorded during August 1966, at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles. Producing Tim Buckley were Jac Holzman, Paul A. Rothchild. Along with a small band of top session musicians, which included pianist Van Dyke Parks, the twelve tracks that became Tim Buckley were recorded. Tim Buckley was released later in 1966.
On its release in October 1966, Tim Buckley was well received by critics. They forecasted a bright future for Tim Buckley. The nineteen year old singer-songwriter looked like he was going places.
Goodbye and Hello.
Less than a year later, Tim Buckley returned with his sophomore album Goodbye and Hello. This would be the final album to feature lyrics penned by Larry Beckett. This was the end of an era in the Tim Buckley story. Producing Jac Holzman
Recording of Goodbye and Hello took place in in June 1967, in Los Angeles. Some of the same musicians who played on Tim Buckley returned. They played their part in what’s one of Tim Buckley’s finest albums, Goodbye and Hello.
Goodbye and Hello was released in August 1967, just two months after the recording sessions were completed. Released to critical acclaim, Goodbye and Hello is today, is regarded as one of Tim’s finest albums. After Goodbye and Hello, it was nearly two years before Tim released another album.
When Tim Buckley returned with Happy Sad in July 1969, this proved to be the start of Tim Buckley’s experimental period. There’s a departure from the binary form of Tim’s first two albums. The songs on Happy Sad were longer, jazz tinged and marked the debut of the vibraphone, which gave the tracks a much more laid back sound. However, the main difference was the way Tim used his vocal.
On Happy Sad, Tim transformed the way he used his voice. Just like Leon Thomas, Tim Buckley’s voice became another instrument. Combined with his wide vocal range, this would prove hugely effective throughout the remainder of Tim’s career.
Happy Sad was the first album where Tim Buckley wrote all of the tracks. Having stepped out of Larry Beckett’s shadow, Tim proved to be a talented songwriter, often, drawing upon personal experience for inspiration. This proves effective. One of the most personal songs was Dream Letter. It’s akin to an apology to his former wife, Mary Guibert, and their song Jeff Buckley. Strange Feelin’ was inspired by Tim new-found appreciation of Miles Davis. All Blues, a track from Miles Davis’ classic album, Kind Of Blue, inspired Strange Feelin’. These two tracks, plus the rest of Happy Sad, were recorded during December 1968 at Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles.
Eight months later, Happy Sad was released in July 1969. This was the start of what was, without doubt, the most prolific period of Tim’s career. Happy Sad was released to the same critical acclaim as his two previous albums. The only difference was Happy Sad sold in greater numbers, reaching number eighty-one in the US Billboard 200. Many thought Tim Buckley was about to become Elektra’s latest rising star.
After the commercial success and critical acclaim, many critics thought that having found the winning formula, Tim would stick with it. That wasn’t to be. Tim was a musical chameleon, who constantly, changed direction. He seemed to enjoy reinventing his music. That’s what he did on Blue Afternoon.
As a starting point for Blue Afternoon, Tim Buckley took his trademark folk rock sound. However, he took this in the direction of jazz. Coupled with his newly discovered vocal dexterity, that he showcased on Happy Sad, Blue Afternoon was the start of an experimental period in Tim Buckley’s career.
The eight songs on Blue Afternoon were a mixture of new songs, and some songs that Tim intended to record on his three previous albums. These eight tracks, plus the five tracks on Lorca, Tim’s fifth album, and part of Starsailor were recorded at Whitney Studios, Glendale, during a four week spell in 1969.
By then, the lineup of Tim’s band was fairly settled. All he needed was a drummer for the recording of Blue Afternoon. Luckily, Jimmy Madison was able to fill the void. He played his part in what was the beginning of another chapter in the Tim Buckley story.
Having recorded Blue Afternoon, Elektra released the album in November 1969. Despite the change in style on Blue Afternoon, it was well received by critics. They admired Tim constant striving to reinvent his music. After all, too many artists remained within their comfort zone. Not Tim Buckley.
Although Lorca was recorded at the same time as Blue Afternoon, it’s a very different album. Lorca is best described as an album of avant-garde music. Tim turned his back on traditional musical structures. Gone was the binary form of his previous albums. It seemed the verse, chorus, verse, style was no longer for Tim. Replacing it, was a fusion of free jazz, folk, experimental, avant-garde style. Even Tim’s songwriting style change. His lyrics became more abstract and descriptive. This isn’t surprising. At the time, Tim was heavily influenced by poet Federico García Lorca. So much so, that Tim paid homage to the poet in the album title. However, this change of style didn’t please some of Tim’s closest allies.
Larry Beckett, Tim’s former songwriting partner, saw Lorca as Tim trying to alienate his fan-base. Lorca, he believed, was Tim trying to sabotage his burgeoning career. Lee Underwood, Tim’s guitarist, was, however, another disciple of Federico García Lorca. He welcomed the Tim’s change of style. However, critics and record buyers had the casting vote.
On its release in May 1970, critics hailed Lorca as an ambitious and innovative album. They realised that Lorca was very different from Blue Afternoon, but had come to expect each new Tim Buckley album to be very different from what’s gone before. When Lorca was released, it wasn’t as successful as previous Tim Buckley albums. It seemed that many record buyers didn’t understand Lorca, Tim’s fifth album. Since then, Lorca is an album that’s been overshadowed by some of Tim Buckley’s better known albums. That’s a great shame, as Lorca is a captivating, album from a musical chameleon.
Opening Lorca, is the title-track, Lorca. It’s a nine minute, genre defying epic. A myriad of beeps, shimmering strings and an urgently strummed guitar combine. They create a free jazz arrangement. Soon, a rocky guitar, Tim’s scatted, vampish vocal and swathes of strings unite. A dark, mesmeric guitar and keyboards join in. By then, Tim’s vocal veers between heartfelt and dramatic. Elements of folk, free jazz, classical and rock melt into one. When Tim’s vocal drops out, neo classical strings and Doors’ inspired keyboards play leading roles. They then become yin to Tim’s yang, playing their part in a track that’s variously melodic, mesmeric, dramatic and soul-baring.
Just like Lorca, Anonymous Proposition is another lengthy track, clocking in at nearly eight minutes. It’s very different though.Against an understated, jazz-tinged backdrop of standup bass and jazz guitar, Tim delivers a slow, deliberate and emotive backdrop. His delivery is impassioned, full of sadness and regret. He highlights words and phrases, lengthening them, as if desperate to draw your attention to them. The result is a beautiful, moving song, that’s akin to an outpouring of emotion.
As I Had A Talk With My Woman unfolds, Byrdsian guitars, and keyboards combine. They provide an understated backdrop for Tim’s heartfelt vocal. He combines power, clarity and emotion. Gone is the vocal gyrations of Lorca, where his vocal was transformed into an instrument. Here, Tim returns to his “old” style, that featured on his first three albums. In doing so, you’re able to concentrate more on the lyrics. They’re personal, and tell of Tim’s troubled relationship. As the song unfolds, toys with the lyrics. It’s as if he’s still coming to terms with the breakup of his relationship. Later, he resists the scatted, vampish style of Lorca. He does however, accentuate words or phrases. So does Lee Underwood’s guitar, as another beautiful, soul searching ballad concludes.
Hesitantly, chiming guitars play, before Tim’s vocal enters and Driftin’ slowly, shows its secrets. Tim’s vocal is tinged with sadness and regret. “I’ve been Driftin’ in bad dreams.” Memories come flooding back, as he realises what he’s lost. Meanwhile, a suitably understated arrangement provides the perfect backdrop. Just guitars, bass and congas accompany Tim’s vocal. It veers between needy and hopeful, as quivering,and soaring emotively and hopefully above the understated backdrop. Later, as Tim scats, his vocal becomes an outpouring of hurt, that’s akin to a confessional.
Closing Lorca is Nobody Walkin.’ Urgently, Tim’s guitar and congas drive the arrangement along. They’re joined by a bass and keyboards. Meanwhile, Tim is hollering and scatting. Soon, it’s all change, and Tim delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of power and emotion, where memories come flooding back. This time, Tim transforms his vocal into another instrument. Highlight words, phrases or even parts of words, this effectively changes their meaning. Behind him, his band play with a sense of urgency. This spurs Tim on. He unleashes his wide vocal range, combining elements of blues, folk, jazz and rock. What follows, is one of Tim’s most potent vocals. It helps lift the song to the next level, resulting in Lorca ending on a dramatic, emotive high.
On Lorca, the chameleon-like Tim Buckley began the next chapter in his career. For the past four years, Tim Buckley had constantly reinvented himself, changing his sound and style. He flitted between folk, jazz, funk and soul. Now, on Lorca, Tim Buckley’s music headed in the direction of an avant-garde, experimental, folk and free jazz. This was quite unlike his four previous albums. However, that was no bad thing.
If after the release of Happy Sad, Tim had stuck to the same formula, he would’ve been castigated by music critics. Standing still, was in the eyes of music critics and record buyers, was the equivalent of going backwards. This was something Tim Buckley could never have been accused of. He was a musical adventurer.
With each album, Tim Buckley’s music evolved. Lorca was Tim’s fifth album in four years. This was the start of the most prolific period of his career. Eleven months later, Starsailor, Tim’s second avant-garde album was released in November 197o. After this, Tim Buckley’s music headed in the direction of sex funk.
From Greetings From L.A., which was released in October 1972, was the first in a trio of sex funk albums from Tim Buckley. Sefronia followed in May 1973. Then nineteen months later, in November 1974, Tim released what would prove to be his final album, Look at the Fool. Just seven months later, on June 29th 1975, Tim Buckley died.
On June 28th 1975, Tim Buckley played what would prove to be his final concert in Dallas, Texas. The day after attending an end of tour party, Tim Buckley died of an heroin overdose.
For some time, Tim had managed to control his drug habit. However, in doing so, Tim’s tolerance level was no longer as high as it had been. So when Tim took a combination of heroin and alcohol at a party, he reacted badly. His friends took him home, where it’s thought Tim took more heroin. At some point, Tim collapsed on the floor. When his wife Judy found him on the floor, she put Tim to bed. Later, when she went to see how Tim was, Judy found Tim blue and unresponsive. Tim Buckley was dead, aged just twenty-nine. He left behind a rich musical legacy.
Although Hello and Goodbye and Happy Sad are regarded as Tim Buckley’s finest albums, an oft overlooked album is Lorca. Many people shy away from Lorca, when they hear it’s an avant-garde album. However, it’s much more than that. Everything from blues, experimental, folk, free jazz and rock shine through on Lorca. That’s why Lorca is a truly captivating album of music that’s veers between understated to dramatic, right through to beautiful, emotive and melodic.