Timothy Charles Buckley III (February 14, 1947 – June 29, 1975) was an experimental vocalist and musician who incorporated jazz, psychedelia, funk, soul, and avant-garde rock in a career spanning the late 1960s and early 1970s. Buckley often regarded his voice as an instrument, a talent principally showcased on his albums Goodbye and Hello, Lorca, and Starsailor. His first marriage was to Mary Guibert, with whom he had a child, musician Jeff Buckley. They divorced in 1968 and after this Buckley would meet with his son only once more. Buckley married second wife Judy Brejot Sutcliffe in 1970 and adopted her son, Taylor.
Buckley's career began with his 1966 debut Tim Buckley, its mix of pop and folk rock drawing on popular influences of the time. His popularity peaked with second album Goodbye and Hello, a more mature record with avant-garde influences and political sentiments. In the three years that followed Buckley was at his most prolific and experimental, producing four albums of varying styles. Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon showed Buckley's Folk roots while Lorca veered to more avant-garde styles. The final album of this period, Starsailor, is a mix of jazz, funk and avant-garde styles, representing his continual evolution in genre. This period, while garnering some critical success, proved disastrous for his record sales as the disparity of his styles caused his fanbase to all but disappear.
Following this Buckley changed genres again, with 1972 release Greetings from L.A., which incorporated the funk, R&B and soul sounds of the early 1970s in to his music. However this release and the following album Sefronia did not match up to the success of his previous work. In 1974, having alienated much of his fanbase and squandered money made at his peak, Buckley released Look at the Fool, which was neither well received by the public nor the majority of critics. By this point Buckley had grown disillusioned with the music industry and his drug abuse of the past seven years had affected him.
In spite of this, in early 1975, desperate for musical recognition and an escape from poverty and obscurity, Buckley dropped his drug dependencies and engaged the musical press regarding a live album comeback. Buckley began performing material drawn from his whole career as a response to the desires of his audience, desires he had always spurned in the past. However, Buckley relapsed and on June 28, 1975, he overdosed on heroin. His wife Judy, having earlier put him in bed, was unable to rouse him and paramedics pronounced him dead on arrival. He was 28 years old and was survived by his wife and adopted son Taylor, and his biological son, Jeff (who also died at a young age).
Buckley's first efforts into folk music were with high school friend, Don Gordon, drawing inspiration from The Kingston Trio. Buckley's musical tastes began to develop and, at sixteen-years-old, frequented the folk clubs that littered 1960's California and internalised the rhythm and blues and folk-rock sounds he heard. Buckley had initially practiced singing along to more restrained singers, such as Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis, however, inspired by singers like Little Richard, he began to explore his singing voice and pushed his vocal limits in unusual ways: singing along to high trumpet notes and screaming at passing buses. By the age of 17, Larry Beckett and Buckley had collaborated on material, Beckett writing the lyrics and Buckley playing guitar and singing. Jim Fielder, later of The Mothers of Invention and Buffalo Springfield, played bass guitar, and with Beckett on drums and Buckley as guitarist and singer they formed the trio The Bohemians, playing music of an early 1960s folk-pop style. 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.
By the time Buckley finished his studies at 18 he had already written over twenty songs with lyricist Beckett; and many of these songs 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. area, under the moniker of either "The Bohemians" or "Tim Buckley", the band started to generate much 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. Buckley married his long time girlfriend, Mary Guibert, in November of that year. 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 Troubadour.
Buckley and his wife largely lived separately and after an unexpected pregnancy their marriage faltered and Buckley began dating Jainie Goldstein, to whom debut album track "Song for Jainie" is dedicated. Following a gig at the venue It's Boss, impressed by the group, Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black introduced 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.
On later reflection, those involved with the album saw it as demonstrative of the potential of the group but not the finished product. Guitarist 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 Buckley "wasn't really comfortable in his own musical skin". Larry Beckett ventured that it was the band's desire to please their prospective audience which held them back.
Buckley's personal life became more complex during this period. His divorce was finalised; the relationship with Guibert suffering from his infidelity and difficulties arising from the pressures of his music career. Their son, Jeff Buckley, was born shortly afterwards on November 17, 1966. Subsequently, Buckley largely stayed out of contact with his child and ex-wife and Jeff Buckley would later comment he met his father only once. Buckley's child, Jeff, would also later become a noted musician in his own right.
Elektra released two singles promoting the debut album, "Wings" with "Grief in My Soul" as a b-side was released in December and "Aren't You the Girl" with "Strange Street Affair Under Blue" in January the following year. Buckley's manager 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 searched for the songs in the hope of including "Lady Give Me Your Key" on Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology, but the songs were not found in time for its release.
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 US 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 Buckley 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.
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.
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 uninteresting and tepid - one critic went as far as to say that the album "wasn't even good sulking music." Blue Afternoon was the last Tim Buckley 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.
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 minute short and also features the first recorded performance of O.J. Simpson.
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. A while later, Judy decided to move Buckley into bed, hoping he would recuperate by the morning. However, when she later returned to check on him, 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". Ironically, it was the fact that Buckley had tempered his drug habit that meant his tolerance was reduced, thus causing him to misjudge the dose. 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".
"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 situation 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 Monica 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 other than the musical legacy of the nine albums he made. Buckley's only personal possessions were his guitar and amplifier and he died in debt. Friends and family, 200 in number, attended the funeral at the Wilshire Funeral Home in Santa Monica. Those in attendance included; manager Herb Cohen, guitarist Lee Underwood, lyricist Larry Beckett, 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 a the line in Ray Charles' "Driftin' Blues".
Buckley's premature death has not stinted his influence on musicians and neither reduced his critical appreciation nor popularity. 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 onwards.