Born in California's Orange County in 1966, Jeff Buckley emerged in New York City's avant-garde club scene in the 1990's as one of the most remarkable musical artists of his generation. His first commercial recording, the four-song EP Live At Sin-é, was released in December 1993 on Columbia Records in the United States and Big Cat Records in the United Kingdom and Europe. The EP captured Buckley, accompanying himself on electric guitar, in a tiny club in New York's East Village, the neighborhood he'd made his home; the record's selections included two cover tunes laced with soaring vocal improvisation: Edith Piaf's "Je N'en Connais Pas Le Fin," Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do" and two original songs showcasing his songwriting abilities: " Mojo Pin" and "Eternal Life." Buckley began to tour North America, the United Kingdom, France, and Holland as a solo acoustic/electric artist in support of the Live At Sin-é release.
During the fall of 1993, prior to the release of Live At Sin-é, Buckley entered the studio with his band, Mick Grondahl (bass) and Matt Johnson (drums), and producer Andy Wallace to begin recording the seven original songs ("Mojo Pin," "Grace," " Last Goodbye," "So Real," "Lover, You Should Have Come Over," "Eternal Life," "Dream Brother") and three covers ("Lilac Wine," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol") that comprise his debut album Grace. Guitarist Michael Tighe, who cowrote and performed on Grace's "So Real," joined Buckley's ensemble shortly thereafter as a permanent member.
In 1994, Jeff Buckley toured clubs, lounges, and coffeehouses in North America as a solo artist from January 15-March 5 as well as Europe from March 11-22; his "Peyote Radio Theatre Tour" of that year found him on the road with his band and lasted from June 2-August 16. His full-length full-band album, Grace was released in the United States on August 23, 1994, the same day Buckley and band kicked off a European tour in Dublin, Ireland; the 1994 European Tour ran through September 22, with Buckley and Ensemble performing at the CMJ convention at New York's Supper Club on September 24. The group headed back into America's clublands for a Fall Tour lasting from October 19-December 18.
On New Year's Eve 1994-95, Buckley returned to Sin-é to perform a solo concert; on New Year's Day, he read an original poem at the annual St. Mark's Church Marathon Poetry Reading. Two weeks later, he and his band were back in the United Kingdom for gigs in Dublin, Bristol, and London before launching an extensive tour of Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium, and the United Kingdom which lasted from January 29-March 5. On April 13 1995, it was announced that Jeff Buckley's Grace had earned him France's prestigious "Gran Prix International Du Disque -- Academie Charles CROS -- 1995"; an award given by a jury of producers, journalists, the president of France Culture, and music industry professionals, it had previously been given to Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Yves Montand, Georges Brassens, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell, among other musical luminaries. France also awarded Buckley a gold record certification for Grace. Buckley and band's Spring Tour 1995 found them back in the U.S.A. with gigs running from April 20-June 2. The band took off for Down Under to play six Australian shows between August 28-September 6, 1995. In November 1995, Buckley played two unannounced solo shows at Sin-é and celebrated New Year's Eve 1995-96 with a performance at New York's Mercury Lounge.
Jeff Buckley and his touring ensemble went back to Australia, where Grace had earned a gold record certification, for the "Hard Luck Tour," which ran from February 9-March 1 of 1996. Drummer Matt Johnson left the group after the final Australian show. In May of '96, Jeff played four gigs as a bass player with Mind Science of the Mind, a side-project of Buckley's friend, Nathan Larson of Shudder To Think. In September '96, Buckley played another unannounced solo gig at his old favorite haunt Sin-é. December of 1996 found Jeff Buckley embarking on his "phantom solo tour," a series of unannounced solo gigs played under a succession of aliases: the Crackrobats, Possessed By Elves, Father Demo, Smackrobiotic, Crit Club, Topless America, Martha & the Nicotines, A Puppet Show Named Julio.
On February 9, 1997, Jeff Buckley debuted his new drummer, Parker Kindred, in a show at Arlene's Grocery on New York's Lower East Side. He also played a couple of solo gigs in New York during the first months of 1997: a gig at the Daydream Cafe (featuring band members Mick Grondahl and Michael Tighe as "special guests") and a solo performance February 4 as part of the Knitting Factory's 10-Year Birthday Party.
Buckley and his current band line-up went to Memphis, Tennessee, in February 1997 to begin rehearsing in preparation for the recording, scheduled to commence June 30, of the eagerly-awaited follow-up to Grace. The new lineup debuted Buckley's new songs at Barrister's in Memphis on February 12 and 13. Beginning March 31, Jeff began a series of regularly scheduled Monday night solo performances at Barrister's. His last show there was on Monday, May 26, 1997.
In addition to his Columbia Records releases, Live At Sin-é and Grace, Jeff Buckley has appeared as a guest artist on several other recordings. He can be heard singing " Jolly Street," a track on the Jazz Passengers 1994 album In Love. He contributed tenor vocals to "Taipan" and "D. Popylepis," two recordings on John Zorn's Cobra Live At The Knitting Factory (1995). On Rebecca Moore's Admiral Charcoal's Song, Buckley plays electric six-string bass on "If You Please Me," "Outdoor Elevator," and "Needle Men" (on which he also plays drums). He both plays guitar and sings backup vocals on Brenda Kahn's "Faith Salons," a key track on her Destination Anywhere album (released 1996). Patti Smith's critically acclaimed Gone Again album features Buckley adding "voice" to the song "Beneath the Southern Cross" and "essrage" (a small fretless Indian stringed instrument) to "Fireflies." On kicks joy darkness, a various artists' spoken word tribute to beat poet Jack Kerouac, Jeff Buckley collaborated with erstwhile Nymphs' vocalist Inger Lorre on "Angel Mine"; Jeff plays guitar, sitar, and mouth sax (adding words at the poem's conclusion) on the track.
An ardent enthusiast for a myriad of musical forms, Jeff Buckley was an early champion among young American musicians for the work of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the world's foremost Qawwali (the music of the Sufis) singer. Buckley conducted an extensive interview with Nusrat in Interview magazine (January 1996) and wrote the liner notes for the singer's The Supreme Collection album which was released on Mercator/Caroline Records in August 1997.
A product of the Greenwich Village folkie and bohemian circuit, Buckley lived on the frontline, choosing to mix it amongst the communes and squats where he found what he called the last real writers, artists, expressionists; people he could relate to, people unafraid of society's mores and dictates, willing to take a chance. Over 1994 and 1995 I spoke to him twice.
Each time we spoke mostly of life, what he saw around him, the injustices, the fear, the laws that repelled him, the death of Western civilisation, the loss of spirituality, the problems he had coming to terms with the modern world and those in silent power, and, sometimes, the shadow of Tim, the father he hardly knew who died when he was just eight. Tim Buckley knew no limitations; for him, songs were a springboard for risk-tasking, for delving into the dark side of man's nature and the indefinable nature of the spirit. Tim only knew that once he found the edge, he had to go over it. And through a series of extraordinary albums that tested the limitations of jazz, folk and rock and his own freeform fusion of the elements he took those who listened with him.
On June 25, 1975, at the age of 28, Tim Buckley was dead from an accidental drug overdose. Today, he is revered as a true great, a man capable of charging songs with an emotional depth few have ever reached or dared to try and find: it was a trait that somehow passed itself onto Jeff, even though he was forever trying not to admit it. One stinking hot LA morning when the temperature had already soared past the older 100 degree mark, Buckley who had been talking with more and more lateralness for half-an-hour suddenly said, "All this stuff about my Dad, I never knew him, really. It's so hard to live with. I'm Jeff not Tim. Do you think what they say is true?" The question never got answered. How could you tell him, yes, he was so much his father's son. The way he sang, that extraordinary multi-octave voice, the jaggedness of his music, his willingness to throw it into freeform chaos, to bend between genres, and the passion and the scary, fractured, hanging on and yelling out emotion that flew effortlessly in unforgettable codas that spanned much more than words can ever transmit in songs such as Grace and So Real. No, Jeff Buckley could never be told that, it didn't seem right.
He so much just wanted to be Jeff Buckley, and he so badly wanted to change the world. Instead we talked about how LA's city fathers owned a tank, about the "no smoking in certain public places" law, about how he didn't want to write the second album the record company or anybody else wanted him to write and how he would write the songs that he felt, no matter what anybody thought.
To Jeff, it was all part of beating and breaking the system. The streets romanced him and the edge scared him - there he was different from his dad. He already feared what he might find out and he already feared what he might become. Somewhere towards the end of the conversation, he spoke of insanity - he saw it all around him - and how he feared that he too would become insane. Yet, you sensed there was something driving him on, something terribly urgent and restless within him.
He could, easily, have taken the soft option; given the music industry, the public, what they wanted - whatever that was. But it would have been a defeat Jeff Buckley could never have lived with and so he went on, taking a very long time to write his second album, which he was finally just about to go into the studio and record. Buckley was due to begin working up material for his long-awaited sophomore effort at Memphis's Easely Studios on Thursday, the day he disappeared. Former Television leader Tom Verlaine was originally down to produce the project, but that partnership was scrapped in March when Buckley decided he needed more time to come up with material for the album. Recording with Andy Wallace - who produced Buckley's phenomenal debut - was scheduled to begin at the end of June.
The album, to be called My Sweetheart, The Drunk was set for early 1998 release. Although Buckley already had more than two-dozen songs finished, he wanted to spend the next month preparing himself for the production of the album. Buckley most recently appeared on a track featuring Inger Lorre on Rykodisc's Jack Kerouac tribute, Kicks Joy Darkness. He was also going to contribute a song to Hal Willner's forthcoming Edgar Allan Poe tribute alongside Lou Reed, Diamanda Galas and Leonard Cohen; and will be appearing on the First Love, Last Rites soundtrack. The facts then as they are: Thursday night, May 29, Buckley was hanging out with a friend at the Mud Island Harbour marina, half a mile inland off the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. He and the friend were listening to a stereo and playing a guitar when Buckley waded, fully clothed, waist-high into the water. He started singing and laid back on the water, when a boat went by causing waves to come in to the shore.
The friend on shore turned his back to move the stereo away from the incoming waves and when he turned around, he couldn't see Buckley. After a 10-minute search, the friend called local police. The Memphis police department began dragging the waters that night and continued to do so - for two days afterward. Harsh rains hampered their search efforts. They also checked, in vain, on the chance of him having wandered out the water. Friends were contacted and people in the area of the marina questioned. They came up with nothing.
Jeff Buckley simply vanished.
He was found three days later by passengers on a steam boat, who saw a body in an Altamont T-shirt tangled up in some branches on the riverside, near Harbor Island.
He was 30 years old.