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Timothy Charles Buckley III (February 14, 1947 – June 29, 1975) was an American vocalist and musician who went through many distinct phases spanning the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which he incorporated aspects of folk, jazz, psychedelia, funk, soul, and avant-garde rock. He died when he was 28 years old, survived by his wife and adopted son Taylor, and his biological son from an earlier marriage, Jeff (who would later become a well-known musician in his own right).


Early life and career

Tim Buckley was born in Washington DCmarker to Elaine and Tim Buckley Jr., people of Cork, Irelandmarker descent. He spent his early childhood in Amsterdam, New Yorkmarker, before his family (like many others at the time) moved to southern Californiamarker, initially to Bell Gardensmarker when he was ten and later to Anaheimmarker when he was 17. His grandmother introduced him to Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, his mother introduced Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and his father to the country music of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

At the age of 11, Buckley taught himself to play the banjo, an instrument his mother bought to occupy him following a bout of mumps. He attended Colmar Elementary School, Bell Gardens Junior and Senior High in Bell Gardens and briefly attended Loara High School in Anaheimmarker, Californiamarker, where he made friends with Larry Beckett, Jim Fielder and future wife, Mary Guibert. At Bell Gardens Junior and Senior High he was a popular student and was elected to many class offices. He was also an accomplished high school athlete, becoming a quarterback for the school team in addition to getting a place on the baseball team. During this period playing as quarterback, Buckley broke the first two fingers on his left hand, which were permanently damaged. He later claimed that it was this injury which prevented him from playing barre chords on the guitar, although this inability may have led to his use of extended chords, which often don't require barres.

One other consequence of his time as a football star was his friendship with Dan Gordon, a Jewish transplant from the Atlantic coast to California. Gordon and Buckley teamed up with various other friends from Loara High School including Jim Fielder and Larry Beckett to form a band called The Bohemians. The band initially played standards, drawing inspiration from The Kingston Trio, but soon added originals co-written by Tim and Larry. The trio also formed a separate band consisting of the same members, the Harlequin 3, and when performing as this outfit they would incorporate spoken word sections and beat poetry in to their gigs.

While Tim was bonding with the Bohemians, he was also bonding with Mary Guibert, a Zonian transplant of Greek and French descent one year below him in school. They met during a French class at Loara High School, when Tim passed her a note. Mary excused herself from the class and read the note in the bathroom; it turned out to be a love note. Soon after, they began hanging out on the school quad with Larry Beckett and others from Tim's group of friends. Their relationship inspired many of Tim's songs, as well providing both of them a sense of relief from their turbulent homes.

Late during Tim's senior year, Mary developed a hysterical pregnancy, and in November of that year, they were married.. Mary's father was too angry to appear at the wedding; Tim's father attended, but joked to the priest as he left the chapel, "I give it two months". Although Mary soon found out that she was not in fact pregnant, she was in fact pregnant shortly after, with a son, Jeff Buckley.

Buckley graduated high school and had already written over twenty songs with lyricist Beckett; and many of these made up a large portion of his debut album. "Buzzin' Fly", also written during this period, later featured his 1969 LP Happy Sad. After playing gigs in the L.A.marker area, under the moniker of either "The Bohemians" or "Tim Buckley", the band started to generate considerable interest, being labelled in Cheetah magazine in 1965 as one part of the up-and-coming "The Orange County Three", with Steve Noonan and Jackson Browne. In September 1965 Buckley started attending Fullerton College but dropped out only two weeks later, unable to cope with the pressure of combining this with his fledgling music career. After dropping out of college, Buckley fully dedicated himself to music, playing L.A. cafes and folk clubs, such as Nite Owl Café and The Troubadourmarker.

The prediction Tim's father made about his the future of the marriage came true. Tim found himself falling out of love with Mary when she was several months pregnant, perhaps also fearing his future responsibility. Tim began dating Jainie Goldstein, to whom debut album track "Song for Jainie" is dedicated.

Following a gig at the venue It's Boss, Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black enthusiastically recommended Buckley to his manager, Herb Cohen. Seeing the potential of the young group, Cohen decided to manage their affairs. Cohen landed Buckley a gig at the Nite Owl Café, where Buckley met guitarist and keyboardist, Lee Underwood, and they collaborated on material and began doing gigs together with Fielder as bassist. After seeing the group develop, Cohen sent an acetate disc of the band's demo to Elektra records owner Jac Holzman. In August, Holzman saw Buckley play live and offered him a recording contract and an opportunity to record his first album.

Folk Rock

One of Herb Cohen's early decisions was to sign only Tim and not The Bohemians as a group. "It was always understood that, ultimately, it was about Tim," their bassist, Jim Fielder, said. "He was the one, and there were no hard feelings whatsoever when it turned into a solo situation". Tim recorded his debut album, Tim Buckley, over three days in Los Angelesmarker in August 1966. Tim later denigrated the album, describing it as "like Disneylandmarker". The album's folk-rock style was largely typical of the time, but critics noted Tim's distinctive voice and tuneful compositions. The tracks featured were written with Larry Beckett while the two were in high school.

The record featured Buckley and a backing band of Orange County friends, as well as Lee Underwood, a former poet and high school English teacher who Tim met in Greenwich Villagemarker. Underwood's mix of jazz and country improvisation on a twangy telecaster became a distinctive part of Tim's early sound. Jac Holzman and Paul Rothchild's production style and Jack Nitzsche's string arrangements cemented in the record's mid-sixties sound.

On later reflection, those involved with the album saw it as demonstrative of the potential of the group but not the finished product. Lee Underwood summed it up as "a first effort, naive, stiff, quaky and innocent [but] a ticket into the marketplace". Producer Jac Holzman expressed similar sentiments, stating in 1991 in the periodical Musician that Tim "wasn't really comfortable in his own musical skin". Larry Beckett suggested that the band's desire to please the prospective audience held them back.

Elektra released two singles promoting the debut album; "Wings" appeared in December with "Grief in My Soul" as a b-side, and "Aren't You the Girl" with "Strange Street Affair Under Blue" the next month. Herb Cohen suggested that Buckley should work with producer Jerry Yester and Elektra's demand for a new single represented their first challenge. Buckley and Beckett planned a songwriting session and listened to the radio relentlessly in search of making a hit record. The results were "Once Upon a Time" and "Lady Give Me Your Key". The former was not well regarded by the pair but they felt the latter had much potential. Despite this, Elektra decided not to release it as a single and the songs are assumed to remain in Elektra's record vaults. Rhino Records hoped to include "Lady Give Me Your Key" on Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology, but could not find the songs in time for its release.

Goodbye and Hello, released in 1967, featured late 1960s-style poetry and songs in different timings and has been described as an ambitious release for the then 20-year-old Buckley. Reflecting the confidence Elektra had in Buckley and group, they were given free rein on the music and content of the album. Beckett continued as lyricist and the album consisted of half Buckley originals and half Beckett–Buckley collaborations. Critics noted the improved lyrical and melodic qualities of Buckley's music. Buckley's voice had also developed since the last release and the press appreciated both his lower register and higher falsetto in equal measure.

The topic matter of the album also distinguished it from its predecessor. Beckett addressed the psychological nature of war in "No Man Can Find the War", and Underwood welcomed Buckley's entry into darker territory with "Pleasant Street". "I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain" represented a confessional lyric to his estranged wife and child. Underwood also judged that the mix of introspective folk songs and political-themed content attracted folk fans and anti-war audiences alike. Elektra owner Jac Holzman had much faith in the young up-and-comer, renting advertising space for the musician on the Sunset Strip which was virtually unheard of for an unestablished solo act. The album reflected the feeling in the USmarker at the time, Holzman stating: "the combined effect of his words, his music, his passion, his persona struck a particular resonance." Despite having some aspects in common with Bob Dylan, in terms of musical style and fashion sense, Buckley distanced himself from comparisons, expressing a general apathy towards the artist and his work. Whilst Goodbye and Hello did not make Buckley a star, it performed better in the charts than his previous effort, peaking at #171.

His higher profile also led to more opportunities; the album was used as a soundtrack to Hall Bartlett's 1969 movie Changes and Micky Dolenz landed Tim a spot to perform "Song to the Siren" on the final episode of The Monkees TV show. However, Buckley was wary of the press and media, often avoiding interviews or being unresponsive when they were necessary. After scoring a slot on the Tonight Show, Buckley was standoffish and insulting towards the host and on another TV appearance he outright rejected a plan to lip-synch to "Pleasant Street" and refused to play. Buckley did not see the album's sales as a path to commercial success, but rather an opportunity to express his musical creativity.

After Beckett left for the Army, Buckley was free to develop his own individual style, without the literary restraints of before. Uneducated both vocally and instrumentally in the finer aspects of melody and lyric structure, the quality of the tracks he produced demonstrate the natural talent he possessed.

He described the jazz/blues-rock that he was associated with at the time as "White thievery and an emotional sham." With this opinion strongly set, he rebelled against what was commercial, and persevered on a course of development that alienated many of his fans.Drawing inspiration from jazz greats such as Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Roland Kirk, and vocalist Leon Thomas, his subsequent independently-recorded music was vastly different from previous recordings.

In 1968, Buckley recorded the jazz-sounding folk-structured Happy Sad. This would be his best charting album, peaking at #81. Dissatisfied with playing the same old material continuously, and disenchanted with the music business that he felt was restraining him from producing new material, he began to weave in new songs into his performances, featuring an increasingly minimalist sound from his heavily orchestrated first two albums, and introducing a vibraphone player into his band. However, this attempted rejuvenation was a commercial failure; becoming largely based on improvisation, his performances were less accessible to the audiences who saw him as a folk-rock poster boy.

Middle Period

During 1969, Buckley began to write and record material for three different albums: Lorca, Blue Afternoon, and Starsailor. Inspired by the singing of avant-garde musician Cathy Berberian, he decided to integrate the ideas of composers such as Luciano Berio and Iannis Xenakis in an avant-garde rock genre. He started to fully use his voice's impressive range. According to guitarist Lee Underwood, Buckley knew that Lorca had little to no chance in the commercial market, and due to his old friend Herb Cohen starting up a new label venture with Frank Zappa, Straight Records, he wanted to provide an album of older material that was a step back from his current direction, but one that would have a better shot at making a dent in the public's minds. Selecting eight songs that had yet to be recorded, these tracks evolved into the sessions for the forgotten classic Blue Afternoon, an album that was quite similar to Happy Sad in style. Underwood himself contradicts this with a 1977 article he wrote for Down Beat Magazine chronicling Buckley's career - he states that Buckley's heart was not into the Blue Afternoon performances and that the album was a perfunctory response to please his business people.

Neither album sold well, with the near-simultaneous release of each seemingly "cancelling out" the other. Lorca was viewed as a failure by many fans who, shocked by its completely different style, found the vocal gymnastics too abstract and far removed from his previous folk-rock rooted albums; while Blue Afternoon was seen by some as boring and tepid - "[not] even good sulking music" one critic mocked. Blue Afternoon was Buckley's last album to hit the Billboard charts, reaching #192. After the lack of success for both records, Buckley began to focus more on what he felt to be his true masterpiece, Starsailor.

Starsailor came completely out of left field, with free jazz textures under Tim's most extreme grunting and shrieking to date. Different from his first three albums, this personal album shared the same response as Lorca. Impervious to Buckley's avant-garde style, few of his fans were aroused, and most disliked it. It included the more accessible "Song to the Siren", later covered on record by This Mortal Coil, Robert Plant and John Frusciante.

After the failure of Starsailor, Buckley's live performances degraded to insincere chores and he eventually ended up unsellable. Unable to produce his own music and almost completely broke, he turned to alcohol and drug binges. He also looked to become an actor, with the unreleased low-budget group therapy drama Why? from 1971 being the only film completed (it was actually shot on the new technology of videotape), after several abortive meetings with Hollywood producers. The film is a 3#FACT# minute short and also features the first recorded acting performance of O.J. Simpson.

Sex Funk Period

Tim abruptly disbanded his Starsailor ensemble in 1970, and assembled a new band of funk players including Joe Falsia and Buddy Helm. With this band, he cut three albums of what has been described as "sex funk": Greetings from L.A., Sefronia and Look at the Fool. They were all commercial flops. Tim had alienated much of his hippie fan base with his previous two albums, but retained tiny but obsessive cult following. Most of his remaining fans saw his adoption of the sex funk style as selling out. As a result, Tim was left with no dedicated fan base. Furthermore, Tim's often obscene lyrics ("whip me, spank me") prevented the radio-friendly sounding songs from actually being played over the radio.

Tim is often portrayed as hating these albums, doing them only out of bitter desperation or financial need. This claim is not apparently true, and is disputed by Tim's former guitarist Lee Underwood who insists that Tim was never less than thrilled with anything he did. In interviews from that period, Tim would often omit mention of the Starsailor period, telling absurd stories of him driving taxis during the time in which he was in fact on tour.

In 1975, having alienated his fanbase and squandered his money, Tim dropped his drug dependencies and engaged the musical press regarding a live album comeback. Buckley began performing revamped versions of material drawn from his whole career (except Starsailor and Lorca) as a response to the desires of his audience, desires he had always spurned in the past. However, Buckley relapsed and on June 29, 1975, he overdosed on heroin.


On June 28, 1975, Buckley completed the last show of a tour in Dallasmarker, Texasmarker, playing to a sold-out venue with 1,800 people in attendance. Buckley celebrated the culmination of the tour with a weekend of drinking with his band and friends, as was his normal routine. On June 29, 1975, after a spirited evening, in both the metaphorical and alcoholic sense, Buckley decided to accompany long-time friend Richard Keeling back to his house in the hope of obtaining some heroin. After spending an hour or so at the house, Buckley, in his inebriated state, walked in on Keeling in flagrante delicto, causing an argument between the two. Keeling, with the aim of placating him, handed Buckley a large dose of heroin and challenged him to "Go ahead, take it all". Given Buckley's contrary and rebellious nature, he duly snorted all the drug laid out for him.

Following this, Buckley was in such a bad condition that friends chose to take him home rather than leave him to his own devices. Upon his return home, his wife Judy, seeing his inebriated state, laid him down on a pillow on their living room floor and proceeded to question his friends as to what had happened. Soon Judy moved Buckley into bed. Checking on him later, she found he had turned blue and was no longer breathing. Attempts by friends and paramedics to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Having diligently controlled his drug habit while on the road, his tolerance was lowered, and the combination of the drugs he took mixed with the amount of alcohol he had consumed throughout the day was too much. The coroner's report by Dr. Joseph H. Choi stated that he died at 9:42pm, June 29, 1975, from "acute heroin/morphine and ethanol intoxication due to inhalation and ingestion of overdose". Long time friend and lead guitarist, Lee Underwood, has stated that "on many previous occasions Buckley had ingested considerably more alcohol and drugs than this."


Buckley's death shocked many of his friends and relatives. The drug-related death was in stark contrast to how people had seen him at the time. The sound recorder at Buckley's last show noted "someone offered him a drag off of a joint and he refused. He didn't appear strung out in any way. He was very together both physically and psychologically". Some friends were left dazed by the irreality of the situation, Buckley's old tour manager Bob Duffy stated: "It wasn't expected but it was like watching a movie, and that was its natural ending." Lee Underwood went on to write a biography about him, Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered, reflecting on his life and death and how he had been influenced by Buckley. However, some friends saw his fate as more predictable, if not inevitable; his lyricist, Larry Beckett later said of Buckley:

"He continually took chances with his life. He'd drive like a maniac, risking accidents. For a couple of years he drank a lot and took downers to the point where it nearly killed him, but he'd always escape. Then he got into this romantic heroin-taking thing. Then his luck ran out."

Given the circumstances of his death, police charged Richard Keeling with murder and distribution of heroin. However, evidence was insufficient and, at the hearing on August 14, 1975, at Santa Monicamarker Municipal Court, Keeling pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Keeling was given the chance to avoid time in jail by doing voluntary work but he failed to keep to the bargain and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and 4 years probation.

Buckley died with little to his name beyond the musical legacy of his nine albums. All he owned was a guitar and an amplifier and he died in debt. Friends and family, some 200 in number, attended the funeral at the Wilshire Funeral Home in Santa Monica. Those in attendance included: manager Herb Cohen, guitarist Lee Underwood, Tim's mother Elaine and sister Katey, and Buckley's widow Judy and her son, Taylor. Buckley's son Jeff was notably not informed of the date of the funeral and instead sang at a Tim Buckley tribute show, held in New York in 1991 to pay his last respects. Reportedly, on the evening of June 29, 1975, a friend heard Buckley's last words: "Bye, bye, baby", perhaps alluding to the line in Ray Charles' "Driftin' Blues".

Posthumous success

Buckley's premature death has not diminished his influence on musicians, nor has it reduced his critical appreciation or record sales. There have been a number of posthumous releases, ranging from live albums and retrospectives to tributes and covers of his material. Jeff Buckley's success, and later demise, also stoked interest in Tim Buckley's catalogue. Much of his catalogue has been re-released since the mid-1990s.


Studio albums

Live albums


Other releases


Tribute albums

References and notes

External links

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