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Jeffrey Scott "Jeff" Buckley (November 17, 1966 May 29, 1997), raised as Scotty Moorhead, was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. He is the son of Tim Buckley, also a musician. After a decade as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, Buckley amassed a following in the early 1990s by playing cover songs at venues in Manhattan's East Village, such as Sin-é, gradually focusing more on his own material. After rebuffing much interest from record labels and his father's manager Herb Cohen, he signed with Columbia, recruited a band, and recorded what would be his only studio album, Grace.
Over the following two years, the band toured widely to promote the album, including concerts in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Australia. In 1996, they stopped touring and made sporadic attempts to record Buckley's second album in New York with Tom Verlaine as producer. In 1997, Buckley moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to resume work on the album, to be titled My Sweetheart the Drunk, recording many four-track demos while also playing weekly solo shows at a local venue. While awaiting the arrival of his band from New York, he drowned during a spontaneous evening swim, fully clothed, in the Wolf River when he was caught in the wake of a passing boat. His body was found on June 4, 1997.
Since his death, there have been many posthumous releases of his material, including a collection of four-track demos and studio recordings for his unfinished second album My Sweetheart the Drunk, expansions of Grace, and the Live at Sin-é EP. Chart success also came posthumously: with his famous cover of Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" he attained his first No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs in March 2008 and reached No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart that December. Buckley and his work remain popular and are regularly featured in "greatest" lists in the music press.
Life and career
Born in Anaheim, California, Buckley was the only son of Mary Guibert and Tim Buckley. His mother was a Panama Canal Native of mixed Greek, French, American and Panamanian descent, while his father was the son of an Irish American father and an Italian American mother. Buckley was raised by his mother and stepfather, Ron Moorhead, in Southern California, and had a half-brother, Corey Moorhead. Buckley moved many times in and around Orange County while growing up with a single mother, an upbringing Buckley called "rootless trailer trash". As a child, Buckley was known as Scott "Scotty" Moorhead based on his middle name and his stepfather's surname. His biological father, Tim Buckley, was a singer-songwriter who released a series of highly acclaimed folk and jazz albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Buckley said he only met him once at the age of eight. After his father died of a drug overdose in 1975, he chose to go by Buckley and his real first name, which he found on his birth certificate. To members of his family he remained "Scotty".
Buckley was brought up around music. His mother was a classically trained pianist and cellist. His stepfather introduced him to Led Zeppelin, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Pink Floyd at an early age. Buckley grew up singing around the house and in harmony with his mother, later noting that all his family sang. Buckley began playing guitar at the age of five after discovering an acoustic guitar in his grandmother's closet. Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti was the first album he ever owned; the hard rock band Kiss was also an early favorite. At the age of 12, he decided to become a musician, and received his first electric guitar — a black Les Paul — at the age of 13. He attended Loara High School, and played in the school's jazz band. During this time, he developed an affinity for progressive rock bands such as Rush, Genesis, and Yes, as well as jazz fusion guitarist Al Di Meola.
After graduating from high school, he moved north to Hollywood to attend the Musicians Institute, completing the one-year course at the age of 19. Buckley later told Rolling Stone the school was "the biggest waste of time", but noted in an interview with Double Take Magazine that he appreciated studying music theory there, saying, "I was attracted to really interesting harmonies, stuff that I would hear in Ravel, Ellington, Bartók."
Buckley spent the next six years working in a hotel and playing guitar in various struggling bands playing in styles from jazz, reggae, and roots rock to heavy metal. He toured with the dancehall reggae artist Shinehead and also played the occasional funk and R&B studio session, collaborating with fledgling producer Michael J. Clouse to form X-Factor Productions. Throughout this period, Buckley limited his singing to backing vocals.
He moved to New York City in February 1990, but found few opportunities to work as a musician. He was introduced to Qawwali, the Sufi devotional music of India and Pakistan, and to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one of its best-known singers. Buckley was an impassioned fan of Khan, and during what he called his "cafe days," he often covered Khan's songs. In January 1996, he interviewed Khan for Interview and wrote liner notes for Khan's Supreme Collection, Vol. 1 compilation. Buckley also became interested in blues musician Robert Johnson and hardcore punk band Bad Brains during this time. Buckley moved back to Los Angeles in September when his father's former manager, Herb Cohen, offered to help him record his first demo of original songs. Buckley completed Babylon Dungeon Sessions, a four-song cassette that included the songs "Eternal Life", "Unforgiven" (later titled "Last Goodbye"), "Strawberry Street" (a different version of which appears on the Grace Legacy Edition), and punk screamer "Radio". Cohen and Buckley hoped to attract attention from the music industry with the demo tape.
Buckley flew back to New York early the following year to make his public singing debut at a tribute concert for his father called "Greetings from Tim Buckley". The event, produced by show business veteran Hal Willner, was held at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn on April 26, 1991. Buckley rejected the idea of the concert as a springboard to his career, instead citing personal reasons regarding his decision to sing at the tribute. With accompaniment by experimental rock guitarist Gary Lucas, Buckley performed "I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain", a song Tim Buckley wrote about an infant Jeff Buckley and his mother. Buckley returned to the stage to play "Sefronia The King's Chain", "Phantasmagoria in Two", and concluded the concert with "Once I Was" performed acoustically with an impromptu a cappella ending, due to a snapped guitar string. Willner, the show's organizer, later recalled that Buckley's set closer made a strong impression. Buckley's performance at the concert was counter-intuitive to his desire to distance himself musically from his father. Buckley later explained his reasoning to Rolling Stone: "It wasn't my work, it wasn't my life. But it bothered me that I hadn't been to his funeral, that I'd never been able to tell him anything. I used that show to pay my last respects." The concert proved to be his first step into the music industry that had eluded him for years.
On subsequent trips to New York in mid-1991, Buckley began co-writing with Gary Lucas resulting in the songs "Grace" and "Mojo Pin", and by late 1991 he began performing with Lucas' band Gods and Monsters around New York City. After being offered a development deal as a member of Gods and Monsters at Imago Records, Buckley moved back to New York to the Lower East Side at the end of 1991. The day after Gods and Monsters officially debuted in March 1992, Buckley decided to leave the band.
Buckley began performing at several clubs and cafés around Lower Manhattan, but Sin-é in the East Village became his main venue. Buckley first appeared at the small Irish café in April 1992, and quickly earned a regular Monday night slot there. His repertoire consisted of a diverse range of folk, rock, R&B, blues and jazz cover songs, much of it music he had newly learned. During this period, he discovered singers such as Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Van Morrison, and Judy Garland. Buckley performed an eclectic selection of covers from a range of artists from Led Zeppelin, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bob Dylan, Édith Piaf, Elton John, The Smiths, Bad Brains, Leonard Cohen, Robert Johnson and Siouxsie Sioux. Original songs from the Babylon Dungeon Sessions, and the songs he'd written with Gary Lucas were also included in his set lists. He performed solo, accompanying himself on a borrowed Fender Telecaster. Buckley stated that he learned how to perform onstage from playing to small audiences.
Over the next few months, Buckley attracted admiring crowds and attention from record label executives. Industry maven Clive Davis even dropped by to see him. By the summer of 1992, limos from executives eager to sign the singer lined the street outside Sin-é. Buckley signed with Columbia Records, home of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, for a three-album, essentially million-dollar deal in October 1992. Recording dates were set for July and August 1993 for what would become Buckley's recording debut, an EP of four songs which included a cover of Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do". Live at Sin-é was released on November 23, 1993, documenting this period of Buckley's life.
In mid-1993, Buckley began working on his first album with record producer Andy Wallace, who had mixed Nirvana's multi-platinum album Nevermind. Buckley assembled a band, composed of bassist Mick Grondahl and drummer Matt Johnson, and spent several weeks rehearsing. In September, the trio headed to Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York to spend six weeks recording basic tracks for what would become Grace. Buckley invited ex-bandmate Lucas to play guitar on the songs "Grace" and "Mojo Pin", and Woodstock-based jazz musician Karl Berger wrote and conducted string arrangements with Buckley assisting at times. Buckley returned home for overdubbing at studios in Manhattan and New Jersey where he performed take after take to capture the perfect vocals and experimented with ideas for additional instruments, and added textures to the songs.
In January 1994, Buckley left to go on his first solo North American tour to support Live at Sin-é. It was followed by a 10-day European tour in March. Buckley played clubs and coffeehouses and made in-store appearances. After returning, Buckley invited guitarist Michael Tighe to join the band and a collaboration between the two resulted in "So Real", a song which was recorded as a late addition to the album. In June, Buckley began his first full band tour called the "Peyote Radio Theatre Tour" that lasted into August. Pretender Chrissie Hynde, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, and The Edge from U2 were among the attendees of these early shows.
Grace was released on August 23, 1994. In addition to seven original songs, the album included three covers: "Lilac Wine", based on the version by Nina Simone; "Corpus Christi Carol", from Benjamin Britten's A Boy Was Born, Op.3, a composition that Buckley was introduced to in high school, based on a 15th-century hymn; and "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, based on John Cale's recording from the Cohen tribute album, I'm Your Fan. Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah" has been called "Buckley's best" and "one of the great songs" by Time, and is included on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
Sales of Grace were slow and it garnered little radio airplay, despite critical acclaim. The Sydney Morning Herald proclaimed it "a romantic masterpiece" and a "pivotal, defining work". Despite slow initial sales the album went gold in France and Australia over the next two years, achieving gold status in the U.S. in 2002, and selling over six times platinum in Australia in 2006.
Grace won appreciation from a host of revered musicians and artists, including members of Buckley's biggest influence, Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page considered Grace close to being his "favorite album of the decade". Robert Plant was also complimentary, as was Brad Pitt, saying of Buckley's work, "There's an undercurrent to his music, there's something you can't pinpoint. Like the best of films, or the best of art, there's something going on underneath, and there's a truth there. And I find his stuff absolutely haunting. It just... it's under my skin." Others who had influenced Buckley's music lauded him: Bob Dylan named Buckley "one of the great songwriters of this decade", and, in an interview with Village Voice, David Bowie named Grace as the one album he would take with him to a desert island. The album eventually went on to feature in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, appearing at #303.
Buckley spent much of the next year and a half touring internationally to promote Grace. From the album's release, he played in numerous countries, from Australia, to the UK (Glastonbury Festival and the 1995 Meltdown Festival — at which he sang Henry Purcell's 'Dido's Lament' — at the invitation of Elvis Costello). Following Buckley's Peyote Radio Theater tour, the band began a European tour on August 23, 1994, starting with performances in the UK and Ireland. The tour continued in Scandinavia and, throughout September, numerous concerts in Germany were played. The tour ended on September 22 with a concert in Paris. A gig on September 24 in New York dovetailed on to the end of the European tour and Buckley and band spent the next month relaxing and rehearsing.
A tour of Canada and the U.S. began on October 19, 1994 at CBGB's. The tour was far reaching with concerts held on both east and west coasts of the U.S., and a number of performances in central and southern states. The tour ended two months later on December 18 at Maxwell's in New Jersey. After another month of rest and rehearsal, the band commenced a second European tour, this time mainly for promotion purposes. The band began the tour in Dublin; Buckley has remained particularly popular in Ireland. The short tour largely consisted of promotional work in London and Paris.
In late January, the band did their first tour of Japan, playing concerts and appearing for promotion of the album and newly released Japanese single "Last Goodbye". The band returned to Europe on February 6 and toured various Western European countries before returning to the U.S. on March 6. Among the gigs performed during this period, Buckley and his band performed at a 19th-century-built French venue, the Bataclan, and material from the concert was recorded and later released in October of that year as a four track EP, Live from the Bataclan. Also, songs from a performance on February 25, at the venue Nighttown in Rotterdam, were subsequently released as a promotional-only CD, So Real.
Touring recommenced in April with dates across the U.S. and Canada. During this period Buckley and the band notably played Metro in Chicago, which was recorded on video and later released as Live in Chicago on VHS and later on DVD. In addition, on June 4 they played at Sony Music Studios for the Sony Music radio hour. Following this was a month long European tour between June 20 and July 18 in which they played many summer music festivals. During the tour, Buckley played two concerts at the Paris Olympia, a venue made famous by the French vocalist Édith Piaf. Although he had failed to fill out smaller American venues at that point of his career, both nights at the large Paris Olympia venue were sold out. Shortly after this Buckley attended the Festival de la Musique Sacrée (Festival of Sacred Music), also held in France, and performed "What Will You Say" as a duet with Alim Qasimov, an Azerbaijani mugham singer. Sony BMG has since released a live album, 2001's Live à L'Olympia, which has a selection of songs from both Olympia performances and the collaboration with Qasimov.
Buckley's Mystery White Boy tour, playing concerts in both Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, lasted between August 28 and September 6 and recordings of these performances were compiled and released on the live album Mystery White Boy. Buckley was so well received during these concerts that his album Grace went gold in Australia, selling over 35,000 copies, and taking this into account he decided a longer tour was needed and returned for a tour of New Zealand and Australia in February the following year.
Between the two Oceanian tours Buckley and the band took a break from touring. Buckley played solo in the meantime with concerts at Sin-é and a New Year's Eve concert at Mercury Lounge in New York. After the break, the band spent the majority of February on the Hard Luck Tour in Australia and New Zealand, but tensions had risen between the group and drummer Matt Johnson. The concert on March 1, 1996 was the last gig he played with Buckley and his band.
Much of the material from the tours of 1995 and 1996 was recorded and released on either promotional EPs, such as the Grace EP, or posthumously on albums, such as Mystery White Boy (a reference to Buckley not using his real name) and Live a L'Olympia. Many of the other concerts Buckley played during this period have surfaced on bootleg recordings.
Following Johnson's departure, the band, now without a drummer, was put on hold and did not perform live again until February 12, 1997. Due to the pressure from extensive touring, Buckley spent the majority of the year away from the stage. However, from May 2 to May 5 he played a short stint as bass guitarist with Mind Science of the Mind, with friend Nathan Larson, then guitarist of Shudder to Think. Buckley returned to playing live concerts when he went on his "phantom solo tour" of cafés in the Northeast in December 1996, appearing under a series of aliases: The Crackrobats, Possessed by Elves, Father Demo, Smackrobiotic, The Halfspeeds, Crit-Club, Topless America, Martha & the Nicotines, and A Puppet Show Named Julio. By way of justification, Buckley posted a note on his Internet site stating that he missed the anonymity of playing in cafes and local bars:
Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk
After completing touring in 1996, Buckley started to write for a new album to be called My Sweetheart the Drunk. Buckley worked with Patti Smith on her 1996 album Gone Again and met fellow collaborater Tom Verlaine, an ex-Television member. Buckley asked Verlaine to be producer on the new album and he agreed. In the middle of 1996, Buckley and his band began recording sessions in Manhattan with Verlaine. Eric Eidel played the drums through these sessions as a stop-gap between the dates drummer Matt Johnson left and before Parker Kindred joined as full-time drummer. Around this time Buckley met Inger Lorre of The Nymphs in an East Village bar, and struck up a fast and close friendship. Together, they contributed a track to Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness, a Jack Kerouac tribute album. After Lorre's backup guitarist for an upcoming album quit the project, Buckley offered to fill in. He became very attached to one of the songs from the album, "Yard of Blonde Girls", and covered it on Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Another recording session in Manhattan followed in early 1997, but Buckley and the band were unsatisfied and the album was not considered finished.
On February 4, 1997, Buckley played a short set at The Knitting Factory's tenth anniversary concert featuring a selection of his new songs: "Jewel Box", "Morning Theft", "Everybody Here Wants You", "The Sky is a Landfill" and "Yard of Blonde Girls". Lou Reed was there to watch and expressed an interest in working with Buckley. The band played their first gig with Parker Kindred, their new drummer, at Arlene's Grocery in New York on February 9. This set featured much of Buckley's new material that would appear on Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk and a recording has become one of Buckley's most widely distributed bootlegs. Later that month, Buckley recorded a spoken word reading of the Edgar Allan Poe poem, "Ulalume", for the album Closed on Account of Rabies. This would be his last recording in New York; shortly after, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee.
Buckley became interested in recording at Easley McCain Recording in Memphis, at the suggestion of friend Dave Shouse from the Grifters. He rented a shotgun house there, of which he was so fond he contacted the owner about the possibility of buying it. Throughout this period, February 12 to May 26, 1997, Buckley played at Barristers', a bar located in downtown Memphis underneath a parking garage in an alley off of Jefferson Avenue. He played numerous times in order to work through the new material in a live atmosphere, at first with the band then solo as part of a Monday night residency. In early February, Buckley and the band did a third recording session with Verlaine, in Memphis, but Buckley expressed his dissatisfaction with the sessions and later called Grace producer, Andy Wallace, to step in as Verlaine's replacement. Buckley started recording demos on his own 4-track recorder in preparation for a forthcoming session with Wallace. Some of these demos were sent to his band in New York, who listened to them enthusiastically, and were excited to resume working on the album. These recordings would go on to compose the second disc of Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. However Buckley was not entirely happy with the results and he sent his band back to New York while he stayed behind to work on the songs. The band was scheduled to return to Memphis for rehearsals and recording sessions on May 29.
On the evening of May 29, 1997, Buckley's band flew to Memphis intending to join him in his studio there to work on the newly written material. That same evening, Buckley went swimming in Wolf River Harbor, a slackwater channel of the Mississippi River, while wearing boots, all of his clothing, and singing the chorus of the song "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin. Buckley had gone swimming there several times before. A roadie in Buckley's band, Keith Foti, remained on shore. After moving a radio and guitar out of reach of the wake from a passing tugboat, Foti looked up to see that Buckley had vanished. Despite a determined rescue effort that night, Buckley remained missing. On June 4, two locals spotted his body in the Wolf River near a riverboat, and it was brought to land.
Buckley's autopsy showed no signs of drugs or alcohol in his system and the death was ruled as an accidental drowning. The following statement was released from the Buckley estate:
Buckley's voice was a particularly distinguished aspect of his music. He possessed a tenor vocal range, he had a vocal range of between three and a half to four octaves. Buckley made full use of this range in his performance, particularly in the songs from Grace, and reached peaks of high E in the tenor range at the culmination of "Grace" and "So Real". These high notes were unusual for a rock musician in that he sung them with his head voice, rather than in a falsetto, and that he sung them for sustained periods. "Corpus Christi Carol" was sung entirely in a high falsetto. The pitch and volume of his singing was also highly variable, as songs such as "Mojo Pin" and "Dream Brother" began with mid-range quieter vocals before reaching louder, higher peaks near the ending of the songs.
Buckley played guitar in a variety of styles ranging from the distorted rock of "Sky is a Landfill", to the jazz of "Strange Fruit", the country styling of "Lost Highway", and the guitar picking style in "Hallelujah". He occasionally used slide guitar in live performances as a solo act and used a slide for the introduction of "Last Goodbye" when playing with a full band. His songs were written in various guitar tunings which, apart from the EADGBE standard tuning, included Drop D tuning and an Open G tuning. His guitar playing style varied from highly melodic songs, such as "Twelfth of Never", to more percussive ones, such as "New Year's Prayer".
Buckley used several guitars, but mainly played a 1983 Fender Telecaster and a Rickenbacker 360/12. When touring with his band he used Fender Amplifiers for a clean sound and Mesa Boogie for overdriven tones. He was primarily a singer and guitarist; however, he also played other instruments on various studio recordings and sessions, including bass, dobro, mandolin, harmonium (intro to Lover, You Should've Come Over), organ, dulcimer (Dream Brother intro), tabla, esraj, harmonica.
After Buckley's death, a collection of demo recordings and a full-length album he had been reworking for his second album were released as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk — the compilation being overseen by his mother, Mary Guibert, band members and old friend Michael J. Clouse, as well as Chris Cornell. The album achieved gold sales in Australia in 1998. Three other albums composed of live recordings have also been released, along with a live DVD of a performance in Chicago. A previously unreleased 1992 recording of "I Shall Be Released", sung by Buckley over the phone on live radio, was released on the album For New Orleans.
Since his death, Buckley has been the subject of numerous documentaries: Fall in Light, a 1999 production for French TV, Goodbye and Hello, a program about Buckley and his father produced for Netherlands TV in 2000 and Everybody Here Wants You, a documentary made in 2002 by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). An hour long documentary about Buckley called Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley has been shown at various film festivals to critical acclaim. The film was released worldwide in 2009 by Sony BMG Legacy as part of the Grace Around The World Deluxe Edition. In the spring of 2009 it was revealed that Ryan Jaffe, best known for scripting the movie The Rocker, had replaced Brian Jun as screenwriter for the upcoming film Mystery White Boy. Orion Williams is also set to co-produce the film with Michelle Sy. A separate project involving the book Dream Brother was allegedly cancelled.
Buckley's premature death inspired many artists he knew or influenced to write songs in tribute to the late singer. PJ Harvey knew him personally and in the song "Memphis" she takes lines from a song on his unfinished album, "Morning Theft", and in her own words reflects on Buckley's death: "In Memphis...die suddenly, at a wonderful age, we're ready to go". Rufus Wainwright, whose fledgling career had barely started when he met Buckley, wrote "Memphis Skyline" in tribute to him, singing "then came hallelujah sounding like Ophelia, for me in my room living, turn back and you will stay, under the Memphis Skyline". Duncan Sheik's "A Body Goes Down", from his 1998 album Humming, was a response to Buckley's death. Steve Adey wrote a song tribute entitled "Mississippi" on his 2006 album All Things Real. The song contains the lyrics "Until the morning thief steals the humming of the Lord", a reference to Buckley's song "Morning Theft".
In May and June 2007, Buckley's life and music were celebrated globally with tributes in Australia, Canada, UK, France, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Macedonia, Portugal and the U.S. Many of Buckley's family members attended the various tribute concerts across the globe, some of which they helped organize. There are three annual Jeff Buckley tribute events: the Chicago-based Uncommon Ground, featuring a three-day concert schedule, An Evening With Jeff Buckley, an annual New York City tribute, and the Australia-based Fall In Light. The latter event is run by the Fall In Light Foundation, which in addition to the concerts, runs a "Guitars for Schools" program. The name of the foundation is taken from the lyrics of Buckley's "New Year's Prayer".
On March 7, 2008, Buckleys version of the Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah, went to No. 1 on the iTunes chart, selling 178,000 downloads for the week, after being performed by Jason Castro on the seventh season of the television series American Idol. The song debuted at #1 that week on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs chart, giving Buckley his first #1 on any Billboard chart.
In a similar vein, the 2008 UK X Factor winner, Alexandra Burke, released a cover of "Hallelujah" with the intent to top the UK Singles Chart as the Christmas number one single. Buckley fans countered this, launching a campaign with the aim of propelling Buckley's version to the number one spot. The campaign picked up support through social networking websites and it soon spread to the mainstream media. Burke's version eventually reached Christmas Number One on the UK charts in December 2008. Buckley's version of the song entered the UK charts at #49 on November 30 and by December 21 it had reached #2, in spite of the fact that it had not been released in a physical format.
Awards and nominations
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