Tim Buckley

From Academic Kids

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Starsailor Cover Art

Tim Buckley (February 14, 1947June 29, 1975) was an experimental artist and a unique vocalist. Starting with folk-rock he incorporated jazz, psychedelia, and avant-garde rock in a short and eclectic career spanning the late 1960s and early 1970s.



Gifted with an emotionally moving and flexible voice, he was able to sing both commercial rock and eerie jazz-fused rock with equal skill. On the albums Starsailor and Lorca he stretched his voice – ranging from low baritone to high, almost wailing vocals. Moving both audibly and lyrically, these were his most personal and difficult to define statements. Tim was able to produce his own records due to the misconception that he was just another folk-rock pin-up. With this freedom he delved into avant-garde and other original influences to paint a transient and often forgotten career. Too far removed from the mainstream, his music was never successful commercially.

Early Life

Born in Washington DC, Tim lived for ten years in New York before moving to South California. During his childhood he was a fan of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole, and Miles Davis, although country was his foremost passion. At eighteen he left school with twenty songs written with Larry Beckett under his belt – many of which would feature on his debut album. Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black introduced Tim to Herb Cohen, and he quickly got him signed to Elektra record company. Tim released his self-titled debut album on Elektra in 1966.

'Tim Buckley' The First Album

Tinted with psychedelic melodies and written with a lot of input from the poetic Beckett, this innocent folk-rock album was the starting point of an influence alternating career. Literary and comparatively prudent, it is less sullen and brooding in its lyrics than Tim's solo-written later work. The folk influenced and intellectually limiting structure of this first album led him to scathe it later in his career. Despite this debut album granting little recognition, he showed great adroit and ventured out to college and alley-way bars throughout New York, garnering a reputation as an adept act and vocalist in the process.

1960s Impact

The late sixties were a progressive time in music, with the Beatles Sgt Pepper's album embodying the movement. Experimental psychedelic music was being produced under and overground in the scene, and the influences of the time seeped into Tim's second album, Goodbye And Hello. The influence boded well for the success of his second release, which was his only to penetrate the top 200 music chart – peaking at 177. Five of the songs on the album were written solely by Tim, marking the start of him taking the reigns of his recordings.

Departure Of Beckett

Poignant and evocative as Beckett's lyrics were, when he left for the Army Tim was free to develop his own individual style, without the literary restraints of before. Uneducated both vocally and instrumentally in the fine aspects of melody and lyric structure, the quality of the tracks he produced cite the natural talent he possessed. Goodbye And Hello had sat him in the centre of the popular rock movement of the late sixties, but he was uncomfortable there. He described the jazz/blues-rock that he was associated with at the time as "White thievery and an emotional sham". Paradoxically the audience that appreciated his previous material admired a genre that now repulsed him. 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 Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis, he delved into his inner feelings and learned to release them through new means. Melancholy and haunting, his future independently recorded music was vastly different to previous recordings.

All That Jazz

With a new vision for his future material, Tim recorded the jazzy 'Happy Sad'. On an entirely different plane to his first two albums, it was more jazz than folk. Puzzled fans felt pushed aside by the immensely different course his music had taken, but Tim was fanning his creative flame independently of his commercial audience's wind; who to them sounded like a completely different artist. 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 introduced new songs into his gigs. However this attempted rejuvenation was a failure; it wasn't rehearsed and his performances instead went downward in quality.


During 1969 Tim wrote three albums – Lorca, Blue Afternoon, and Starsailor. Inspired after meeting the avant-garde musician Cathy Berberian, he gained the confidence needed to try to join the likes of Luciano Berio, Xenakis, and herself in the avant-garde rock movement of the time. The recording of Lorca signified the birth of Tim as an original and unique artist. He started to utilize his voices entire 5 octave range, stretching it to new limits creating a style and sound unknown to popular music. However Lorca was a complete failure; fans were shocked by the violently different style of it, finding the vocal gymnastics too abstract and far removed from his previous folk-rock rooted albums. A lot of listeners found it too 'weird'. Commercially it flopped belly first, and Tim had to cave into demands from his record company to digress to his old music.

Reluctantly Tim produced unrecorded tracks for Blue Afternoon; halting his newly born form of singing and musical orchestration, stuck in a limbo between the old and progression. He performed the tracks without any zeal, and in a time when success relied heavily on live performances it sold badly. Instead he was eager to record his most complete original album, Starsailor.


Similar to Lorca, Starsailor was a brave statement and few artists have released as abstract and powerful an album since. Vocally and instrumentally haunting, the album was unlike much else at the time; Tim chose words for their phonetic sounds instead of meaning, and admitted to using other languages if an English word didn't suffice. At times his voice sounds disturbed and depressed, certainly not a statement of happiness. An immense change of style compared to his first three albums, this personal and unique album shared the same response as Lorca. Impervious to Tim's avant-garde style, few of his fan base were aroused, with the majority disliking it.

After the failure of Starsailor, Tim was furious; his anger and frustration with his perennial work failing left him dejected and depressed. 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.

"Bye Bye Baby"

Two years onward. finances depleting and craving for recognition ripe, he released three rock albums, Greetings From L.A., Sefronia, and Look At The Fool. He did it the commercial way, but the albums weren't a success. Fundamentally Tim was unhappy with the systematic and shallow r&b structure of the lyrics and music; despite being a fan of the genre. Performances were impassioned and feeling withdrawn he went back to drug binges. On June 28 1975 he slipped back and started one at his friends house. Having diligently controlled his binging habit whilst on the road with his new material, his tolerance lowered and the combination of a large amount of drugs mixed with alcohol was too much. Witnessing Tim ingest as much as he had previously, his friend took him home thinking he was merely drunk. When his friend crouched down to ask how he was feeling, Tim softly said "Bye Bye Baby", and passed away.

Posthumous Following

Tim is remembered fondly by many as a fiery personality and an immensely original and talented performer. He is missed by the many people that his music touched throughout his short but influential life. Years after his death he is being rediscovered by people from all over the world. His new following hark to his then unique and eclectic career from the perspective of a liberated musical climate; both old and new fans make up a quite substantial fan base.

Jeff Buckley

Tim's son Jeff Buckley (November 17 1966May 29 1997) enjoyed a successful career as a singer songwriter in rock, before his premature death.


  • Tim Buckley (1966)
  • Hello and Goodbye (1967)
  • Happy/Sad (1969)
  • Lorca (1970)
  • Blue Afternoon (1970)
  • Starsailor (1970)
  • Greetings from L.A. (1972)
  • Sefronia (1973)
  • Look at the Fool (1974)

External links

de:Tim Buckley fr:Tim Buckley nl:Tim Buckley


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